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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

During this reporting period, the PI reports that their work mainly focused on the preparation of the visit program of their partner USGS Prof. Clifford I. Voss. They prepared the logistic program for the visit period between
08th and 17th March 2020 but considering the unprecedented situation of Covid 19 Pandemic in Tunisia, at the last moment, the visit ended on 14th March. They arranged a number of technical meetings with the Tunisian scientific hydrogeologists and the water sector authorities. 

Prof Voss met with the representatives of the Regional Commissariat of Agricultural Development in the Bizerte region involved in project activities. He understood its hydrogeological context  and this helped them to resolve
some technical issues. They held an International Conference on Groundwater Modelling. This event was officially opened by the Secretary of State in Charge of Water Resources, the President of the IRESA, the President of the University of Jendouba and the General Director of ESIM. Prof. VOSS presented a lecture on: “Informing Management of the World's Largest Groundwater Systems with Simply-Structured Model Analysis”

As for the ongoing research, the team needs to install all components of the smart groundwater monitoring system: sensors, IoT platform, Geoportal. We have made many technical meeting with suppliers in Tunisia.  They have continued the fieldwork by taking groundwater samples from wells and analyze it’s in the water analysis Laboratory of ESIM to identify the origin of mineralization and pollution of the Lower Valley of Medjerda aquifers. Afterward, these data were stored in the geodatabase of the project.

They have continued to perform the field surveys that carried out with farmers and water-users in order to collect data for the water management in the study basin.

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