Desalination of seawater is a way out of the drought dilemma…but at what cost? – Day 24

Along the road between Casablanca and Berrechid, vast areas of fields appear bare, after they were usually covered in this period of the year by ears of grain measuring approximately 60 centimetres.

88 percent of the farms in this region, which extends over 155,000 hectares, are irrigated directly by rain, and it is one of the most important sources of grain in the Kingdom, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

As for the farms allowed to be irrigated with dam water, their area decreased from 750,000 to 400,000 hectares in the country’s total regions, according to what the Minister of Agriculture, Muhammad Seddiqi, announced two weeks ago, due to “an exceptional and violent drought six years ago.”

This situation was exacerbated by the evaporation of water stored in dams, in light of an increase in the average temperature of 1.8 percent compared to the average period between the years 1981 and 2010.

In light of the dangers of scarcity of drinking water, the authorities closed public bathrooms and car washes three days a week in several cities, while preventing watering gardens and golf courses with drinking water.

With the renewal of drought for the sixth year in a row, the debate is once again raised about the effectiveness of the agricultural policy adopted in the Kingdom 15 years ago, which aims primarily to increase exports of vegetables and fruits that consume a large volume of water, while the latter is witnessing an absolute decline, as experts warn.

Morocco’s water needs are estimated at more than 16 billion cubic meters annually, 87 percent of which is for agricultural consumption, but water resources have not exceeded about 5 million cubic meters annually during the last five years.

The Kingdom is betting on seawater desalination to meet this deficit, and plans to build seven new desalination plants by the end of 2027 with a total capacity of 143 million cubic meters annually, while there are currently 12 plants with a total capacity of 179.3 million cubic meters annually, according to official data.

The authorities plan to direct 50 percent of the water that will be desalinated to drinking purposes by 2030, according to a statement by Nizar Baraka, Minister of Equipment and Water, noting that the government has prepared a plan to establish several desalination plants with the aim of reaching a production of one billion and 400 million cubic meters of water. Water.

According to data issued by the Ministry of Equipment and Water, Morocco currently has 14 seawater desalination plants with a total production capacity of 192 million cubic meters per year, in addition to 6 plants under construction with a production capacity of approximately 135 million cubic meters per year, in addition to To program 16 other stations with a total production capacity that will reach 1,490 million cubic meters per year.

As for the regions that will host these new stations, they are Casablanca and Nador, in addition to the cities of Tiznit, Tan-Tan, Guelmim, Essaouira 1 and 2, Oualidia, Boujdour and Tangier.

The Ministry announced the expansion of the Agadir, Sidi Ifni, Jorf Lasfar, Safi, and Tarfaya 1 and 2 stations, with production capacities reaching millions of cubic metres.

But this sweetener has hidden sides, and is fraught with dangers if not monitored closely.

Is the environment a loser…or a winner?

A number of Moroccan researchers and experts are not very enthusiastic about this technology; But at the same time, they did not declare that they are against this technology in general. Some of them say that it may be dangerous to Morocco’s biodiversity.

This process, i.e. water desalination technology, will take place in a marine environment, which is very important for Morocco, and we also have a huge fish wealth, but this technology may destroy this natural wealth.

Abdelhakim Al-Filali, a researcher in water and environmental issues at the Multidisciplinary College in Khouribga, confirms, in his conversation with “Al-Youm 24,” that seawater desalination technology may actually be dangerous to environmental balances.

He explains this by saying that among the risks presented is how to get rid of the concentration of salinity in the water, that is, when we filter sea water, we get rid of an important percentage of salt, and it will certainly lead to a disruption of environmental ties and will inevitably lead to a decline in biological life, whether quantitatively or Quality.

The researcher stresses that whether or not desalination is dangerous is mainly related to the method of getting rid of sea salt. He believes that it is necessary for the government and the companies that win deals for these huge projects in the field of water desalination to commit to respecting the environmental dimension, in addition to enforcing this respect in the tolerance book.

So, the highly salty water produced by these stations may cause the elimination of marine life on the coast, which constitutes the primary resource for many families that depend on marine fishing or other marine life.

“Youm 24” spoke to some professionals who collect algae in the city of El Jadida, some of whom expressed frankly that they fear the impact of the Jorf Lasfar plant, for example, on the life of algae in the coastal city, and some of them refused to talk to us with the justification that they are not aware of the danger of desalination. Water is his livelihood.

But this situation leads us to wonder to what extent the guardian ministry, and with it the government, are basically aware of the potential dangers of water desalination plants in Morocco to marine organisms and plants?

Potential risks… yes, but under control

We conveyed this question to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests, and it responded that it gives the utmost importance to the environmental aspect in all stages of launching seawater desalination projects, starting with structuring studies, through the construction stage, and ending with the exploitation stage.

She adds that, starting from the pre-study stage, she is working to determine the optimal technical option that provides the minimum possible environmental impacts.

As an example, the Ministry tells Al-Youm 24 that the location of seawater intakes and concentrated water discharge channels is being studied in a way that allows avoiding chemical or thermal imbalances in the marine ecosystem. Therefore, during the project study phase, supporting studies are included, including current studies, in order to study the dilution and spread of salt liquid in the ocean, and to study the quality of sea water.

These studies enable determining the location and discharge of concentrated water, as well as the distance between them, in an open marine environment, where the dynamics of the sea and its currents are of high importance, which enhances the reduction of the accumulation of salt concentration in the depth of the sea.

Moreover, before launching the project, an environmental and social impact assessment is carried out, within the framework of Law 03-12 on environmental impact studies, in accordance with Law 49-17 on environmental assessment and in accordance with international standards.

This is always done based, according to the Ministry, on the request of the project company, with the aim of obtaining environmental approval from the National Committee for Impact Studies (CNEI). This study aims to analyze the effects of implementing a water desalination system on the environment. This includes identifying, characterizing and evaluating the positive and negative impacts that may have on the environment and, if necessary, developing corrective measures to reduce them. This study also includes developing an environmental management plan to ensure the effective implementation of the recommended preventive and corrective measures.

This study contains: a description of the initial state of the environment, such as a description of the physical and biological environment, landscape, social and economic criteria in addition to natural risks, in order to determine the sensitivity of the environment in which the project wishes to be implemented.

It also includes identifying and evaluating impacts, such as identifying interactions between the environment and project activities, and describing and evaluating the project’s impacts on the environment. In addition to mitigation and compensation measures: a detailed description of the main preventive or corrective measures that will be applied for each identified potential impact.

Among what the aforementioned study includes is the Environmental Surveillance and Surveillance Program, which is a presentation of the monitoring procedures and indicators included in the PSSE Environmental Monitoring and Monitoring Plan.

The government follows companies like its shadow… through desalination!

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests, in its answers to “Al-Youm 24”, reveals the environmental control and monitoring program, which consists of several procedures that the private partner must strictly adhere to in order to protect the environmental environment potentially affected by the project.

As an example, with regard to living organisms (plants and animals), care is taken that they are not affected indirectly by increased salinity or directly by colliding with infrastructure or suction at the fetch level by regularly monitoring the composition of effluent, and adapting the seawater suction speed to 0.1. m/s to reduce the entrapment of marine organisms, as well as implementing monitoring of the biotic population at the drainage level and in the area of ​​direct influence of the latter.

For marine plants, to avoid accumulation of salt water and pollutants, populations at the discharge level and in the direct impact area are monitored regularly.

The project is being implemented by the private partner within the framework of public-private partnerships, and it will be responsible for ensuring that all its partners on construction sites and during the period of exploitation respect the terms of the specifications and are informed of the working conditions and completion of the chosen measures. The private partner is responsible for compliance with the environmental requirements imposed within the framework of the aforementioned studies.

The private partner is also responsible for implementing all measures that will ensure reducing the impact of the project infrastructure on the environment, as well as supervising all works, and must monitor the extent to which their implementation is compatible with applicable regulations and the planned schedule.

In the event that it does not comply with its obligations stipulated in this document and in the environmental and social impact assessment, the private partner will be subject to the penalties stipulated in the laws in force regarding environmental protection, and may be subject to legal proceedings, in accordance with the provisions of Law 12-03.

Desalination… with penalties

Laws regulating this field, such as Law 12-03 related to studies of the impact on the environment, we find that it addresses the penalties resulting from environmental violations in general in five articles, that is, from Article 14 to Article 18, but it does not specify these penalties, in contrast to Law 49.17, which includes The name of the environmental assessment, which seems to fill the legal gaps in the aforementioned law, as we find it is a chapter on the subject of penalties through ten articles, that is, from Article 21 to Article 30, specifying for each type of violation a minimum and maximum financial fine.

Judicial police officers and administrative police inspectors are also designated to control environmental violations, with the exception of sworn agents and those assigned by territorial communities, as is the case under Law 12-03 relating to environmental impact studies.

Observers have recorded that some study offices specialized in conducting environmental impact studies, in addition to scientific research, pose a number of problems.

For example, a number of hackers in this field consider that they are laying eggs for gold, by providing information that may be false in order to recommend the project being studied or vice versa. The same problem is posed by public research.

This is why some people wonder about the objectivity and credibility of the results of environmental studies and public research in light of the possibility of influencing them either through support for the project or through incitement against the project for political considerations or commercial goals.

Environmental Assessment Law No. 49.17 regulates dealing with specialized study offices in completing environmental impact studies. It specified the list of offices approved by the administration, and according to this law, study offices are obligated to adhere to the aspect of objectivity, and not to provide any incorrect information to recommend the studied project, under penalty of the penalty stipulated in Article 27 (a fine of 10,000.00 to 100,000.00 dirhams). It is doubled in the case of recidivism, and in the second case of recidivism, the owner of the relevant study office is prohibited from completing environmental impact studies for a period of 5 years.

It stipulated the adoption of a book of tolerances in addition to the environmental impact studies, which would give the environmental impact studies, which are of a purely technical nature, a legal force of a mandatory nature for the project owner.

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