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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 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

In this quarter ending March 2020, the project team tried to complete fieldwork involved in installation of Smart Energy and Water Meters (SEWMs). In the first field trip carried out in January 2020, the researchers completed the outdoor installation of the pressure gauges and valves. These devices were required to perform the calibration phase of installed SEWMs. Next they conducted a survey of local farmers using a detailed questionnaires to get a better idea of the crops they grow and their irrigation practices.

In February, experts from the SEWM vendor visited the PI and his team. This allowed Dr. Zghibi and his students to gain a strong familiarity with smart metering as a new technology for water consumption monitoring. They also learned about the different steps in connecting, calibrating, and taking readouts from the SEWMs. During this visit, the two experts visited 14 pilot points of the project study area and realized firsthand the technical process of SWEM connection and calibration. They also collected information about the characteristics of pumps used by farmers and checked the performance of the meters.

During a field trip in March, the project team continued the connection and calibration of the remaining 11 SEWMs. The work was successfully finished, thanks to the guidance provided by the visiting experts, taking into account the characteristics of pumps at the last pilot points of their study area.

The PI reports that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has had an impact on the project activities. Like many countries, Tunisia has implemented temporary measures to slow down the spread of the virus, including closing public institutions and universities, which is unfortunately delaying or stopping research and administrative activities. Consequently, due to quarantine, Dr. Zghibi and his group had to suspend their laboratory tests and field trips. The team is now working remotely to develop their website and make it an interactive framework for all team members. However, they cannot ignore the enormous difficulties involved in working remotely, with all private and public institutions closed and strict prohibitions keeping people from moving around freely. Visits to check on installed meters have therefore been postponed until the restrictions are lifted.

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