Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ain Ghazal Samra pipe leak: Glitch or environmental disaster?

A pipeline carrying partially treated wastewater from the Ain Ghazal sewage treatment facility to the Khirbit as Samra treatment plant is leaking. A capsule designed to clean the pipeline is stuck inside, causing this problem.

The pipeline follows the flow of the Zerqa river, which runs northeast from Ras el Ain to Ain Ghazal to Zerqa, and then veering west into the Jordan Valley. The drainage basin of the Zerqa river includes over 60% of the population of Jordan, and is thus heavily modified to meet the water supply and sanitary requirements of the people living there. In Amman, the river is covered with a concrete roof. Water of the river used to come from springs in Amman, the largest of which was at Ras el Ain. Because of the heavy utilization of groundwater, the water table at the headwaters is lower than in its natural state, and thus the historic flow of the river is diminished. Most of the flow in the river occurs in the winter, when rain water runs off directly into the stream. The second component is treated wastewater which enters the stream at Khirbet as Samra east of Zerqa and flows into the King Talal Dam. The 75 million cubic meter storage capacity of the dam is utilized to irrigate crops in the Jordan Valley.

Initially, a waste water treatment plant at Ain Ghazal was enough to treat the effluent from the much smaller Amman. With the explosive population growth, a second treatment plant was set up at Khirbet Samra, which is now severely overused and is in the process of being upgraded. This means that the water reaching KS is currently not receiving optimal treatment before flowing into the KTD.

Back to the leak. Reports are varying between 110 and 120 thousand cubic meters are flowing daily from the AG to the KH plants. Ministry of water and irrigation officials are quick to point out that the volume of water is miniscule compare to the storage volume of the KTD. As long as the issue is resolved soon, then the quality of the dam water should not be severely compromised. On the other hand, the Russeifa area where a lot of this water is now leaking is a major recharge area for ground water, and vulnerability maps show that ground water in this particular area is extremely susceptible to pollution. Ground water is actually a more important water supply source than surface water in the area.

Finger pointing has already started. Ministry sources have told Al Arab Al Yawm reporters that the capsule that is stuck in the pipeline belongs to a private company which has taken responsibility from the government to do this. According to the source, the capsule is of outdated technology and that the ministry used to use more advanced equipment when it was doing this work. The physical and chemical wastewater properties in Jordan are different than in other areas. It has higher amounts of suspended material, because people try to minimize their use of water. The nature of this wastewater necessitates using technologies which are adapted to the characteristics of the water here. While it may be true that a private contractor is in charge, the government can't escape responsibility. They should set the appropriate standards for the contractor and to ensure that he abides by them.

Possible solutions might include using an older disused line temporarily, or trying to dislodge the capsule using high water flows. In any case, this is a very serious situation, and if it isn't resolved soon, serious environmental damage to both surface and groundwater resources in the most populated area in the country will occur.

UPDATE: The immediate problem has been solved, thanks to the hard work of the ministry of water and irrigation and the help of God. The Zerqa river system will always be susceptible to disruption due to it's nature and the population pressures in the area.


At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a SHAME
I read the article today,
2 big complanies can't fix it??
what does this tell you?

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first read the news about this a thought and a mental image crossed my mind. The thought was memory of the incident more than a decade ago when the biomass in the drinking water rose significantly adding a special aroma which could be enjoyed simply by turning the kitchen faucet on. The related mental image was that of the minister of water and irrigation, M.H. at that time if I remember right, drinking "allegedly" tap water from a flask in front of the cameras.

Good days these were. I am glad that while organisms in our water flourish in their newly enriched habitat, Jordanians are receiving their full recommended daily (or twice a week if you are of the majority of people) values of biological material in a potable dosage form...that's not to mention the trace elements that, at worse, will accumulate in the central nervous system creating a generation which cannot differentiate between piss and water.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hi Jameed: Presumably, there is no danger to drinking water in the short term, and drinking water is closely monitored. On the other hand, groundwater degredation will be difficult to replace or remediate.

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