WLE's Salinity Management Framework
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  WLE Salinity Management Framework

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   Why a framework?

Investment options:

General comments

There are a broad range of investment options that are required to ensure the sustainable management of the irrigated areas of Central and Southern Iraq. This work has identified a subset of those and proposes that they be implemented within the near future, both by uptake within the Government of Iraq, and by uptake by International Donor agencies. The list provided below is by no means exhaustive, and further investment options could have been supplied from this project; we acknowledge that investments from other assessments and analyses of the problem are just as important and relevant. The list below represents what we believe to be the key investments, and they represent the quickest way to generate a return on investing in salinity management in the irrigated areas of the Mesopotamian Plain.

Investment options have been partitioned into four main areas;

  1. Land and Production Systems;
  2. Knowledge Extension;
  3. Water; and
  4. Enabling Actions.

Each is seen to be as self-contained as possible, but we also acknowledge that there are dependencies between the four areas. It is important to note that coordinated actions are required to achieve the final benefit, and we believe that all investment options to manage salinity should be implemented to obtain the maximum benefit. A brief description of the four areas is provided.

What is the return to the nation of particular investments in salinity management and irrigation refurbishment and can a greater return be gained elsewhere for the same input? This is a difficult question and is not easily answered. However, it is a necessary question in the case of Iraq where the task is large and the current funds are limited. Investment in Enabling Actions is required to allow this question to be answered and allow Government to provide a clear focus for salinity management, where the various responsibilities across Government can be channeled to assert a single point of action. Salinity in Iraq is a complicated and ongoing issue and short term projects for two to three years will not solve the problems in the long term. Authorities should explore an approach that establishes a National Program for Salinity Management in Iraq, similar to existing national agricultural programs. This would centralize the coordination of efforts and ensure high-level integration between the water, agricultural and environmental sectors of Government. All investment in Iraq’s irrigated lands across all three scales must be done within a robust investment framework where the benefits can be assessed relative to the costs.

One unpalatable truth is that not all land is capable of being irrigated the same way and as such, land needs to be classified in terms of its capability. Most investment should to be focused on land of high capability from a national good point of view. Some land will have such low capability that investment in these areas should be targeted at saline agricultural options as the most viable solution. Investment in Land and Production Systems will need to focus on the development of an agreed view of the capability of the lands of the Mesopotamian Plain and the matching of farming systems to the local capability. In this way, production can be maximized, with flow-on benefits for both the nation and the rural population. This process will allow both the management of salinity as well as adaptation to the problem.

Investment in the Water systems will take three forms; irrigation efficiency improvements, infrastructure rehabilitation and control of the salinity of surface waters. Despite the shortage of water, there is a general tendency for over-irrigation by Iraqi farmers. As a result, irrigation efficiencies are very low. Work has shown that by matching water requirements to crop use and groundwater depth, productivity can be increased and water used more efficiently (water is saved for use elsewhere). This provides a win-win situation for all involved. It will be critical to invest in establishing the optimal water application by generating reliable information on the irrigation requirements for different crops in areas with different agro-climatological conditions. This information, once agreed, can then be provided to irrigators via the knowledge extension network (see later investment option).

There is an urgent need to invest in rehabilitating and modernizing irrigation infrastructure. Irrigation delivery and drainage infrastructure needs to be modernized at the irrigation command level and integrated into a broader regional framework. Clear, appropriately resourced roles and responsibilities between Government and farmers should be agreed. Furthermore, there is a need to increase the capacity and capability of the managers of irrigation commands. This will be a hugely costly exercise, but is critical. We acknowledge that there are a range of programs already underway by the Ministry of Water Resources, but additional investment is required, and is appropriate. However, this investment must be clearly expended within a coordinated strategic framework. Investment can be made at a variety of scales based on the amount available to be invested. At the local scale, simple schemes of replacing or rehabilitating field and collector drains can be easily instituted. Similarly, small infrastructure refurbishment schemes where pump installations are upgraded are also possible. The investment in this manner can be scaled; that is, the more funds available, the larger the number of sites, or the greater the area that can be treated. Major investment in main delivery canals and associated facilities or in the main drainage network is also required.

Surface-water salinity must be controlled by tackling the major sources of saline water inflows to rivers within Iraq, including the increase in salinity due to reductions in flow. Options that can be adopted are varied and include major engineered structures and infrastructure such as water treatment. Improving water resource infrastructure efficiency and infrastructure operating guidelines for simultaneous water and salt load management (at multiple scales throughout the Mesopotamian Plain) is an intervention focusing on the water supply side. Since the objective of this intervention is to maximize the volume of good quality water, and minimize the volume of saline water, the primary goal is to separate good quality water from saline water, and to reduce evaporative losses in the fresh water system (e.g. pressurized irrigation systems).

Direct salt reduction interventions focus on the removal of salt influxes into the water supply system. This could be achieved by utilizing the Main Drain in a more efficient manner at lower cost, or by installing a groundwater-pumping network to intercept return saline flow to the Tigris and Euphrates for higher cost and more operation and maintenance cost. In the Mesopotamian Plain, the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers appear suitable for salt interception pumping systems. However, the investment and benefits of these interventions must be carefully evaluated.

Investment in building a better Knowledge Extension system will focus on two main areas; the delivery system and the information that is delivered. The Government of Iraq should refine its extension services to educate farmers on the technical and management aspects of appropriate farming systems; in order to improve management at different levels, it is important to increase the efficiency of extension systems, and increase farmer participation through robust extension delivery. Some suggestions are through bodies such as Water User Associations, Field Farmer Schools and Farmer Advisory Groups. A comprehensive on-farm water management program should be launched to educate farmers on the precise irrigation requirements of different crops under the conditions of the existing salinity and watertable depth, and this information extended through the networks established by the tasks just mentioned. It is also important to ensure that the information being extended is the latest available and has been developed within the broader national salinity management framework.

Coordinated action is critical.

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