“Innovative Aquifers Governance for Resilient Water Management and Sustainable Ecosystems in Stressed Mediterranean Agricultural Areas”
is an R&I project co-funded under the PRIMA programme section II, for a period of 3 years starting from June 2022. The project is composed of a multidisciplinary team of ten partners from 7 countries Morocco ((UM6P, UIZ), Spain (OBREAL-Global), Germany (TUB, DELTA), France (IAMM, SEMIDE), Tunisia (CERTE), Jordan (GJU) and Italy (IRIDRA). AGREEMED aims to improve the capacities of water actors in developing integrated aquifer management plans and demonstrating such development in strategic pilot areas (watersheds) in the Mediterranean region: Souss-Massa in Morocco, Hammamet in Tunisia, and Jordan Valley in Jordan. The targeted aquifer management plans will contribute to safeguarding groundwater resources, supporting socio-economic growth, and preserving ecosystems in the context of global changes. Transferring scientific knowledge, exchanging successful institutional and technological innovations between partners as well as developing pilot area’s specific solutions are the key pillars of AGREEMed project.
To achieve this main goal,
eight specific objectives have been set:
1 - To deliver up-to-date and accurate scientific knowledge about key groundwater processes and their associated ecosystems in the pilot areas:
Through the comprehensive study of processes interfering with quantity and quality aspects of groundwater (such as seawater intrusion, aquifer recharge, channel transmission…), more accurate estimation of water budget and dependent ecosystems vulnerability will be possible including under global changes. Spatio-temporal monitoring of groundwater balance deficit and pollution dynamics will help in tailoring the solutions portfolio to be suggested, and will help to feed other actions and policies in relation to water governance in the pilot areas while involving all stakeholders (e.g. water authorities, farmers, private sector, etc.).
2 - To evaluate the current status of non-conventional water technologies in the Mediterranean region:
A scientific and technical review on the use of non-conventional water will be the basis for the evaluation of the existing technological approaches and solutions. The area is not only covering the Mediterranean (Med) region as the European countries have also many experiences, have strong R&D activities and foster reuse (e.g. Reuse Regulation 2020/741). Best-practices identified in this review will be considered in the discussion of governance schemes as in the objective (d).
3 - To increase water availability and its efficient use in agriculture by demonstration and dissemination of technological solutions for brine management:
Sustainable brine management requires technological solutions to increase the water yield and to separate the dissolved substances into reusable and safely disposable materials. A prototype will be designed (in Jordan Valley), optimized, and operated to increase the yield of an existing solar driven brackish water reverse osmosis (RO) plant from 50% to >80%. This prototype will be co-designed and adapted in Tunisia to be demonstrated in Hammamet too. The demonstrations are the main tool to increase the TRL and for the transfer into application, practical capacity building and assisting to create scientific-based guidelines. AGREEMed’s research will contribute to reducing the economic, environmental, and social costs of desalination for irrigation purposes. While direct discussions help in understanding farmers attitudes, field demonstrations and awareness initiatives will boost the acceptance.
4 - To leverage the role of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) in adaptive water governance plans within the pilot areas:
Recharging groundwater with treated wastewater mitigates the impacts of overexploitation of aquifers. Similarly, the reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture reduces the pressure on groundwater abstraction for agriculture. To consider these two options, it is necessary to adapt water quality to both uses and above all to control the related risks. The aim is to develop a technical and sustainable solution for tertiary treatment at the user level. The combination of nature-based processes with oxidation methods, when necessary (substrate with an active material, conductive material, bacterial consortium...), will allow cost control and a water quality adapted to the target use. The sustainability of the systems can be increased by using renewable energy. The feasibility of other NBS practices (such as: water harvest, tree buffers, and vegetative waterways) will be investigated as part of groundwater quality and quantity safeguarding plans.
5 - To foster participatory approach and dialogue-based institutional solutions for integrated water resources management:
All AGREEMed activities will be developed in consultation with the Stakeholders Board (at the three pilot areas) that will be specifically built for the project as a demonstration of dialogue mechanism and will include water users, authorities, NGOs, and scientists. Regulatory and institutional frameworks are of major importance in water governance. Encouraging collective intelligence principles for reduction of water use, equitable and sustainable water allocation and boosting people-public-private partnerships to preserve groundwater resources will be among the key sub-objectives of AGREEMed. An analysis of the successful institutional innovations in the Med region will be carried out to identify the most adapted ones to be transferred and adapted to specific pilot areas in collaboration with the Stakeholders Board. Morocco’s “Aquifer Agreement” represents an important example of solutions that seeks to place aquifers management in the heart of policy responses to groundwater resources depletion and degradation. Living labs will be organized at the site level for exchange and co-design of adapted governance schemes.
6 - To co-build ICT and data-based systems to help in sustainable groundwater governance:
In addition to the Copernicus program and other remote sensing products, findings of AGREEMed’s scientific investigations and socio-economic consultations will feed the development of Big Data-based tools for decision making specifically for the pilote areas. Climate and land use changes, social and economic dynamics, and local ecosystems vulnerability indicators will be embedded in the developed Decision Support Tool (DST) to assess both effectiveness and consequences of decisions related to households and irrigation management. The developed DST will include real-time exchange and communication between stakeholders, irrigation water allocation scenarios testing, and general ecosystems evaluation.
7 - To foster the environmental and socio-economic footprints of aquifers governance plans:
brine management to mitigate water desalination impacts is one of the key environmental centers of interest of AGREEMed. Furthermore, and as per the socio-economic sub-objectives, AGREEMed will investigate and promote investment opportunities in the developed solutions and technologies within government, public-private, and start-ups communities through business models creation and dissemination. For example, incubation programs in the Moroccan pilot area (Cité d’Innovation and U-Founder) and in the Tunisian pilot area (Technopark of Borj cedria) will be involved in specific stages of the project to inspire the affiliated startups on potential entrepreneurship opportunities across the water value chain for potential value and jobs creation.
8 - To upscale the innovative aquifers management strategies and to promote AGREEMed outcomes:
through cross-country interactive dissemination strategy based on learning workshops and public communication with participants. A social learning approach in the selected pilot areas will be implemented using innovative tools. These actions will contribute to the appropriation of AGREEMed concepts by other partners in the Mediterranean region and elsewhere.