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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)


The use of modeling, monitoring and smart metering for sustainable groundwater management in a Tunisian coastal aquifer

PI: Adel Zghibi (adelzguibi@yahoo.fr), University Tunis El Manar
U.S. Partner: Ali Mirchi, Oklahoma State University
Project dates: December 2018 - November 2020

Project Overview:

This project is an innovative effort to turn the threat of climate change impacts and groundwater depletion to sustainable irrigated agriculture in coastal areas of Tunisia into an opportunity for socioeconomic development using novel technological solutions for optimizing agricultural production. To this end, the principal investigator and his team will examine a novel socio-technical approach that facilitates addressing the problem of unsustainable agricultural water use in order to save agricultural jobs while also creating new opportunities for business and entrepreneurship. The proposed research will advance smart agriculture in Tunisia based on farm-level water-energy nexus concepts. The team's research design combines state-of-the-art data collection and delivery methods through the use of smart energy and water meters (SEWMs) and smart phone apps along with traditional agricultural extension approaches (e.g., stakeholder interaction and information dissemination workshops) to empower farming communities. They will pilot their innovative stakeholder-centered groundwater management network in a coastal region of Tunisia that faces groundwater depletion and seawater intrusion. The project will also employ state-of-the-art water resources modeling approaches to diagnose major causes of the groundwater table decline. Engaging stakeholders in quantitative examination of the cost-effectiveness of groundwater conservation by leveraging the economic incentives to reduce energy consumption will be a novel contribution. The research team will investigate the potential of smart agricultural water management as an innovative strategy for creating new agribusiness opportunities in a rural developing country setting while addressing water sustainability challenges.

Their research incorporates elements that are closely in line with USAID’s interests and objectives in general, as well as the development objectives of the USAID Mission in Tunisia in particular. These elements include improved groundwater management, technology transfer, and community engagement, which will contribute to sustainable agriculture and economic development through smart agricultural water management. The sustainability of agricultural production in the Cap-Bon region of Tunisia is threatened by severe groundwater depletion and seawater intrusion. In the long run, these problems will limit the ability of the farming community to maintain agribusinesses. The project will advance data-driven efficient agricultural water management, contributing to preservation of fresh water resources and maintaining jobs and food security.

Summary of Recent Activities

During this period the project executed activities ranging from field investigation, PI's Visiting of Sultan Qaboos University " SQU" Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering awarded as Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship and the Progress Meeting of project committees were conducted. 

Field visits were carried out in order to engage a representative sample of 25 farmers to implement the smart energy and water meters on selected wells and to increase the awareness of farmers and agriculture extension workers on improved technologies for sustainable water resources management using smart metering technology. They got an oppurtunity to learn to measure and to collect several samples from monitoring wells, Chiba dam and rivers and submitted and analyzed for general chemistry, anions, nutrients, select metals and isotopic analyses. These methods are very useful and widely used due to their simplicity and efficiency in calculation as well as estimation of discharge through rivers and dam.

In order to improve overall scientific skills, Dr. Zghibi (PI) visited Sultan Qaboos University " SQU" Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering awarded as Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship hosted by Dr. Mahad Baawain. The visit aimed to benefit from the experience in modeling, smart metering and precision agriculture. Adel ZGHIBI shared the outcomes of this fellowship with his project Partner and discussed water resources management challenges and research opportunities that can be implemented under SMARTWATER project. Given the interest in technological advancements in the area of groundwater modelling, solute transport, Cost Benefit Analysis techniques and Smart Agribusiness Management, there may be opportunities for collaboration between SMARTWATER members and Dr. Luminda Hewawasam, assistant professor at SQU. Dr. Slim Zekri, Associate Professor and Head of his Department of Natural Resource Economics (NRE) of Sultan Qaboos University, will facilitate the potential collaboration.

Progress Meeting of project committees, was carried out. The agenda of the meeting included the presentation of the project progress, a comprehensive presentation of the milestone achievement and key issues concerning the current stats of the project teamwork, as well as the discussion and planning of the necessary steps to overtake the upcoming months. 20 participants attended the meeting. In the 2nd part of the meeting, website presentation and one webinar were organized during this
session;

During a webinar, Dr Ali MIRCHI - Oklahoma State University, USA presented the PEER project and spoke about opportunities that will provide the platform for scientific exchange between US-based researchers and the PEER project team. Dr Ali discussed about the current stats of the project and the importance of the realized fieldwork and the efficiency of the integration of smart irrigation technology and proclaimed the solid collaboration between project members and students in order to fast publish results and outcomes. Dr Ali spoke about the upcoming steps in the project schedule such as the installation of the SWEMS and the possibility of collaboration with researcher team from the University of California, USA. The discussions led by partners and members focused on the preliminary results identified by the project, principal difficulties, possible interference, future actions.

The next steps of the project for the coming 3-6 months are:
- Intensive field survey in order to collect data and hydrological informations,
- Visit of our industrial partner and installation of SEWMs (last August 2019)
- Workshop organization to train farmers to exploit the SEWMs data
- Continue working on WP1 and WP2 (Water resources characterization and smart monitoring and metering)


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