At a time when drinking water resources are becoming scarce, the use of non-conventional water is becoming a key issue in ensuring the water security of States. In Morocco, after the policy of dams, a new project is opening up to overcome the drought and the climatic changes which are beating down on the North African region.
Morocco will experience a water shortage of serious intensity in less than 20 years, according to the projections of a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The kingdom will be one of about 40 countries in the world to be classified in the “extremely high” risk zone of water shortages with a consumption of more than 80% of its water resources, in 2040.
Faced with this observation and also this year 2022 which is already announced from its first months as a year of acute drought which threatens the country’s food security in the first place, the Moroccan authorities have put in place a medium and long-term strategy to fight against the phenomenon of water stress.
This strategy takes place at several levels, part of which is devoted to the use of non-conventional water. These unconventional waters, from their name, indicate that they do not typically come from rainfall, and are not spring waters, on the contrary, they come from waste water, desalinated sea water, or water brackish.
“Unconventional waters are essentially waters resulting from the desalination of seawater, which means going from a salt concentration of around 35 grams per liter to almost zero grams per liter, but also the demineralization of brackish water, these are waters from deep groundwater which are loaded with less than 10 grams of salt per liter, and of course the reuse of wastewater,” said Taoufiq Marzouki Zerouali, general manager of Novec, an office of leading studies in Africa and the Middle East, specializing in engineering in building activities, water supply and sanitation, as well as major infrastructure such as dams.
Nearly 500 million cubic meters of desalinated water by 2030
In Morocco, water policy has been raised to the level of priority since the reign of the late King Hassan II who had led a major policy of dams. In 1975, with the reintegration of the southern provinces, in the Sahara, which have a desert climate characterized by low rainfall of less than 100 millimeters per year, the question of water security in these provinces quickly arose.
“Faced with the scarcity of conventional water resources, whether surface or groundwater of good quality, Morocco has naturally moved towards the commissioning of demineralization and desalination units to supply drinking water to the population. of the southern provinces”, explained the CEO of Novec during a webinar devoted to the mobilization of unconventional water in the water security strategy in Morocco, organized by the CDG Institute.
The first desalination plant installed in Morocco to combat water stress in the southern regions dates back to the 1970s, with a desalination unit in the city of Laayoune.
Currently the production capacity installed at the level of the 20 desalination or demineralization stations is approximately 180 million cubic meters per year, and almost 500 thousand cubic meters per day and more than half is at the level of the station. Agadir which has just been inaugurated.
In the first phase, which has just been commissioned in 2022, almost half of the water resources produced are redirected to drinking water and the other half is used for irrigation, explained Mr. Marzouki Zerouali.
In addition, there are also 12 stations which are under development offering an additional production of nearly 16 million cubic meters per year, and 9 stations are scheduled by 2030, all of which will produce approximately 425 million cubic meters per year of water from desalination.
In detail, these desalination stations are distributed in different regions of Morocco according to several criteria, including the size of the population, their water consumption needs. Thus for Casablanca, it is planned to set up a first tranche of 200 million cubic meters per year, and in the long term which should reach 300 million.
For the Oriental station, it should make 100 million cubic meters per year in the first phase, the Safi station which would make 60 million, for the industrialist OCP, there will be an extension of Jorf Lasfer for 50 million cubic meters per year.
For Dakhla, there will be 22,500 cubic meters per day or 8 million cubic meters per year, Sidi Ifni with 8,700 cubic meters per day or 3 million cubic meters per year, Tarfaya 1,300 per day, Smara 3,500 per day, Mrirt 6,000 per day, indicates the same source.
Desalinated water more expensive than conventional water
These stations have a high cost compared to that of the use of conventional water, and the end consumer does not pay for the water but rather the cost of the infrastructures, the distribution network and the maintenance, points out Mr. Marzouki Zerouali.
And to explain that the process used to desalinate the water is the reverse osmosis technique which “is the most widespread technique in Morocco”, he affirms, noting its high costs in terms of energy, which are variable between 10 and 16 dirhams per cubic meter for small desalination units of less than 50 million cubic meters.
Nevertheless, the larger the desalination plants in volume, the production and operating costs are revised downwards, he explains, but these prices remain well above those of surface water.
In comparison, with water from dams, the cost is almost 3 or 4 dirhams per cubic meter, added the official. But the future use of renewable energies will undoubtedly reduce these prices in the long term, and also reduce the carbon footprint of desalination plants.
With the improvement of technologies in recent years, the cost has come down significantly, because 30 years ago the cost was 50 dirhams per cubic meter.
At the level of wastewater, to date there are 31 reuse projects have been carried out or are in progress at the national level, for different uses, in particular for green spaces, gulfs and agriculture.
The volume of water reused at the end of 2020 was around 65 million cubic meters, including nearly 20 million for watering golf courses and green spaces. And, there were about twenty million dedicated for the city of Marrakech and about ten million for the city of Agadir.
“At the completion of the implementation of these projects, the purified used volume mobilized will reach 100 million cubic meters,” said Taoufiq Marzouki Zerouali.
The fight against water loss is essential
If projects for the use of non-conventional water seem to be an important and strategic contribution to Moroccan public policies, they should not replace conventional resources either.
Conventional water is “22 billion cubic meters and unconventional water will reach 500 million cubic meters eventually, maybe it could double in the long term, so there is a ratio of 1 to 20”, declares- he.
“And in my opinion, given that the mobilization of unconventional water is much more expensive, in addition to the problems of impact, it will always be necessary to favor conventional water when possible and when there is no ‘security imperative’, emphasizes the CEO of Novec.
According to him, “it is absolutely necessary to manage the demand for water via the fight against losses because there is an enormous deposit in the losses (…) save water by all means”, in particular by generalizing the use of drop by drop in agriculture, the use of taps with photovoltaic cells which mean that as soon as you remove your hand there is no more water flowing in households.
“There are a multitude of possibilities,” added the official, recalling the important role of “effective communication” in passing messages to target populations.
Finally, he also believes that it will be necessary to empower populations accustomed to wasting water, especially in urban centres, and to educate the youngest in the culture of not wasting water.
“There is also a tool which is great and which has already been used and which we will have to use again, and that is pricing. There are people who only understand their pocket. You touch their pocket, they react, you don’t touch their pocket, they don’t react,” he said.