Water desalination plants save Morocco from severe drought


However, the program depends on whether the installations can be powered by renewable energy

Residents of the Moroccan city of Agadir see their new water desalination plant as a model that could help the country deal with a long-term drought that has left farmers desperate and many villages on the brink of survival, Reuters reports, quoted by BTA. However, the program depends on whether the installations can be powered by renewable energy.

Several consecutive dry winters have emptied the water reservoirs that supply people’s homes and are used for irrigation. Harvests decreased, people began to migrate to the cities, which in turn were subjected to a strict water regime.

Although Morocco has long had small water desalination plants, the Agadir plant, which opened this summer, is not only the largest in the country, but also the first to address the challenges posed by the lack of rainfall.

“In short, without this plant, Agadir will not have enough drinking water and we will have to introduce a long and strict water regime,” Rashid Buchenfer, a representative of the local government, told Reuters.

The assessment of the performance of the Agadir plant is of particular importance as Moroccan authorities plan to build 12 more such plants as part of investments in water projects totaling $12 billion over the period 2020-27. The new plants are due to be operational by 2035, states the state water and electricity company ONEE (ONEE).

Morocco relies on surface and groundwater collected in 149 large dams for its daily consumption. However, five consecutive years of drought have almost emptied them, and last week Agriculture Minister Mohamed Sadiqi told parliament that most of the water should be diverted for drinking purposes, not irrigation.

Agadir is among the cities whose regions feel the effects of the drought the hardest. The city of a million people, located south of Casablanca, in recent years has had to introduce a water regime at night, as well as use irrigation water for drinking purposes.

The surrounding dams are almost dry and the city has to rely almost entirely on the water desalination plant, providing 275,000 cubic meters of water per day. Some of this water can even be used for irrigation and ease the lives of farmers in the surrounding regions.

The planned 12 new water desalination plants, some of which are already under construction, should reduce reliance on surface and groundwater to 80 percent in 2035, down from 97 percent now, the U.N.E. said. Their daily capacity is projected to reach 1.3 million cubic meters. The most important of them, which should supply the largest city in Morocco – Casablanca, should be operational in 2026.

However, a problem may be the fact that Morocco relies for energy production on imported fossil fuels, the price of which is rising, and this negatively affects the country’s trade balance. Energy makes up 45 percent of the total cost of desalination, says OPE chief Abderrahman el Hafidi.

Morocco aims to expand the use of renewable energy sources to 52 percent of total energy production by 2030, up from just 20 percent now, to reduce its dependence on imports and lower the cost of electricity.

All new desalination plants must be powered by renewable energy. But for now, the one in Agadir draws directly from the national grid. A tender for a renewable energy installation to power it has yet to be announced.

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