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Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)

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

PI: Adel Zghibi (, University Tunis El Manar
U.S. Partner: Ali Mirchi, Oklahoma State University
Project dates: December 2018 - November 2021

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 team tried to valorize the data recorded by the Smart Energy and Water Meters (SEWMs) and to use these information to improve hydrgeological and and hydroeconomic modeling.  Despite the difficulties encountered during the first two months considering the confinement, the project team was tried to work remotely and to discuss with the equipment supplier the possibility of integrating a phone application that can help farmers to enhance the utility of information given by SEWMs.
Thus, the evolving situation related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has an important impact on our work. Eventually a database was built and available online to exchange information between different members of the project team and working with the Smart Metering Inc technical experts to achieve the calibration of some meters where a problem of readout was found.

All these tools were helpful for their PhD student for the assessment of Water Supply–Demand Using Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) Model for Chiba watershed. Moreover, the information gathered from the SEWMs was used for The Long range Energy Alternatives Planning System (LEAP) Model that is a software tool integrating a modeling tool that can be used to track energy consumption, production and resource extraction in all sectors of an economy. The month of June was marked by a gradual return of activities and during this period the team project try to program upcoming field trips to complete the socio-economic surveys and make a feedback investigations about the assimilation degree of this new technology for the control of water and energy of groundwater consumption by farmers.

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