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On the water loss problem

September 19, 2008

Officials like to deemphasize the importance of “technical losses” in the water distribution system. Based on the statements of Hazim el Naser, I have estimated that about 25 million cubic meters per year are lost annually due to faulty distribution lines (a quarter of a half of 200 million cubic meters pumped for domestic use).

We are sometimes told that the leakage rate in Jordan is comparable to systems in developed countries. Our water situation in Jordan is different, and what can be tolerated in a water-rich country should not be tolerated here.

25 million cubic meters is a lot of water. It is the volume of water pumped from the Azraq basin every year. If we stop pumping from the Azraq basin, we can restore (to the extent that it can be restored) the so-called Azraq oasis reserve, which is supposed to be under international protection as an important wetland site.

Anyway, the excuse for not seriously addressing the leakage problem is the prohibitive cost to replace the water system. Huge numbers are thrown out to discourage people from exploring this option.

But this is misleading. I don’t think that it is necessary to replace the entire system. A serious effort to find where leakage is occurring is needed. Leakage can show up as leaks on the surface, which are easy to identify and fix, and underground leaks that may not show up except maybe as subsidence features on the street. Finding such leaks is more of a challenge.

To find them, the distribution system should be monitored to find out the areas where the volume pumped is significantly less than what is measured by the water meters in homes and businesses. Once such areas are identified, well known geophysical techniques can be used to find areas of low electrical resistivity may indicate leakage. These can then be dug up and replaced. No need for total removal. We are not the first to face or tackle such a problem.

I know that this is easier said then done. It will require detailed and continued monitoring of various areas in addition to the geophysical work. The fact that the task may be tedious is not enough reason not to attempt it. The fact that the minister will probably not get on TV talking about fixing pipes is not a good enough reason either. Moreover, the rusted pipes won’t fix themselves, no matter how much we wish the problem to go away.

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