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Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)

Improving sustainable groundwater management: A major challenge in the over-exploited Medjerda basin (North Tunisia)

PI: Fatma Trabelsi (, Higher School of Engineers of Medjez El Bab IRESA/University of Jendouba
U.S. Partner: Clifford I. Voss, U.S. Geological Survey
Dates: January 2019 - December 2020

Project Overview:

Water scarcity and pollution are severe problems in Tunisia, seriously affecting socioeconomic development. In the northwestern regions of Tunisia crossed by the Medjerda River, groundwater resources are being increasingly exploited. Unfortunately, not only over-exploitation of groundwater but also agricultural and industrial practices in the region and saltwater intrusion into the coastal aquifers have led to significant water quality degradation. Moreover, the population is not sufficiently aware of how critical the water resources situation is to become positively involved in water resources management. Presently, the lack of accurate data on the current situation of Medjerda basin groundwater resources undermines the capacity of the decision-makers and water users to understand and sustainably manage water resources. In particular, there is no existing GIS-based tool for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) for the Medjerda River basin, which is Tunisia’s main water resource. Surface and groundwater resource spatial data are scattered among various organizations that are divided by administrative governorates. Furthermore, the data is not readable by non-GIS experts, and up to now no effort has been made to remedy this situation. The consequences of these factors are poor planning and unclear understanding of groundwater resources management by decision makers.

Thus, the key objective of this project is to implement an innovative approach to improve the sustainable groundwater management for the Medjerda basin. The outcomes of the project are based on three main pillars: (1) overall initial assessment of groundwater resources availability and quality, (2) data management and numerical simulation of water resources, and (3) capacity development. The main practical outputs of this project are (1) implementation of a water monitoring system, and (2) development of a GIS-integrated modelling platform for simulation of groundwater quantity and quality that can be used by managers in water resource decision making. In this platform, large spatio-temporal datasets will be stored, maintained, and visualized, and several simulation codes (including the widely used USGS MODFLOW family) will be integrated for evaluation of hydrological, hydrochemical, and hydrogeological processes that affect basin water resources. In this study, the hydrogeological setting of the basin's aquifers will be considered as an alternative to surface reservoirs for storage of excess water during exceptional flood events. The project will provide thematic research outputs to serve as a basis for sustainable groundwater management of Medjerda River basin. To do so, "smart" water monitoring systems will be implemented to get accurate and time-continuous data needed for groundwater resources modelling framework and for the GIS modelling platform-based decision support system tool, to be shared with water managers, decision-makers, and stakeholders. The project will also evaluate the impact of hydraulic structures in the basin on surface-water interactions with groundwater.

Summary of Recent Activities

A Kick-off meeting of the project was organized at ESIM (Tunisia), in May 2019 where the project team (ESIM) met with the national, regional and local water decision-makers, the representatives of the General Direction of water resources (DGRE) and the four Regional Commissariat agricultural development (CRDA) for the four regions of study area (Béjà, Manouba, Ariana, Bizerte) in order to present the project and the scheduled activities.

Another technical Meeting at the General Direction of water resources (DGRE) was organized to get authorization to install smart devices in the piezometers of the CRDA’s and to discuss about the signature of a framework convention between the ESIM and the authorities (DGRE and these services the CRDA) regulating the modalities of the management of the smart monitoring system that will be set up by the project. Technical meetings have been made in each CRDA to select the piezometers that we will install the smart device, to fix the needed number of the device that will be purchased and to sign the framework convention.

The PI and her team are also collecting and organizing all available data from local, regional and national administrations. The multiple data sources include alphanumerical and spatial hydrochemical and water quality data, (hydro-) geological data, climatic data, satellite images as well as various reports.

The project team organized an advanced training course that was held in April 2019 in the topic of "Data management using Machine learning models". The participants included PhD and Engineers students, Engineers from General Direction of water resources (DGRE) and the Regional Commissariat agricultural development (CRDA Manouba) , Engineers from the National Mapping and Remote Sensing Center (CNCT), Engineers from the Regional Remote Sensing Center for North African States (CRTEAN), researcher from the National Research Institute of rural engineering, Water and Forests (INRGREF).

In the next 3-6 months, the team will continue to work in the field: groundwater sampling, survey with water stakeholders, installation of smart groundwater devices and take the measurements and they will finish the development of Geographic Information System (GIS) platform.

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