Integrated Water Resource Management in the Lower Jordan Valley

The SMART research project has the goal of developing a transferable approach for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in the water shortage region of the Lower Jordan Valley. In this context the following questions play a central role: How to increase the water availability and water quality in the catchment area of the Lower Jordan River without endanger vital ecosystems and social and economical welfare? Which innovative technologies, decision support systems and management strategies can be applied in a reasonable and effective way for a sustainable use of water resources?

Framework and basic conditions

The investigation area is located in the Middle East and includes parts of Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian territories in the West Bank. It extends from the Lake Kinneret in the north to the Dead Sea in the south and is part of the catchment area of the Lower Jordan River with an area of about 5000 km2. It includes the 8-15 km wide Jordan Valley and the highlands- the rift escarpments - that border the valley on both sides and are deeply incised by several wadis.

In the Lower Jordan Valley aride climate dominates with annual precipitations heights between 50 – 150 mm and annual potential evaporation heights up to 2.600 mm.
Groundwater recharge takes place mainly in the western and eastern highlands.

The catchment area is characterized by extreme water shortage, over-exploitation of the groundwater resources as well as fast increase in population. The rate of water abstraction from the aquifers is much higher then the amount of groundwater recharge leading to decreasing groundwater levels and dried up well systems.

The former annual discharge rate of the Jordan River of about 650 Mill. m³ has meanwhile decreased dramatically due to the fact that large water amounts from the Lake Kinneret  and the Yarmouk River are conveyed over the National Water Carrier system to the coastal plain.

Nowadays, the residual flowing in the Dead Sea, composed of salt- and brackish water inflows, discharged contaminated water and return flows form agriculture, is not suitable for further usage. The main environmental impacts results mainly from uncontrolled outflows of untreated waste water.

At present and also in the near future, the main economic activities in the Jordan Valley and the riparian states Israel, Jordan and Palestine comprise an intensified agriculture development. From today’s perspective this region only stand a change for development if additional freshwater sources can be made available.

Goals of the SMART project

The SMART multilateral, interdisciplinary project is composed of a core team of seventeen partners from ministries, water authorities, regulatory bodies, universities, research institutes, NGOs, water providers and commercial companies from Germany, Israel, Jordan and Palestine as well as several external experts.

The overall objective of SMART is to develop an IWRM concept for the Lower Jordan River Basin (LJRB) and to support further developments to improve water availability. By using a multidisciplinary approach all water resources of the LJRB, namely groundwater, waste water, saline water and flood water are taken into consideration. This requires the investigation and evaluation of water resources that were not considered so far for usage due to qualitative or storage deficits. Dependant on the further usage and local characteristics suitable treatment techniques and solutions for intermediate storage will be developed. The implementation and impacts of infiltrating reclaimed wastewater and water from flash floods is studied at various test sites using innovative technologies, model concepts and monitoring strategies (Fig. 2). A demonstration plant for decentralised wastewater treatment will be constructed close to Amman, Jordan. The test sites are embedded into water balance studies and finally, numerical groundwater flow models, vulnerability and risk maps will be constructed for major parts of the LJRB. A team of socio-economists assesses the water demand in different sectors along with the market potential of innovative technologies. The complex chain of cause and effect will be integrated into a decision support system (DSS) based on modified DPSIR (Drivers, Pressures, States, Impact and Responses) concepts. Together with key stakeholders from the three countries involved, scenarios of current and future water management are set up. These scenarios are evaluated with special regard to their environmental, social and economical impacts on the region.

Within the framework of the SMART project know-how and expertise form various fields of knowledge (waste water, groundwater, geophysics, socio-economy) and different countries are brought together. As far as possible a detailed evaluation of various development scenarios in the LJRB will take place, with the main focus on the development of innovative technologies and their impacts. In contrast to previous projects, all information will be organized within a modern knowledge management framework and made available to user groups via internet services.

SMART Project main objectives:

  • Develop an integrated water resources management (IWRM) concept for the Lower Jordan Valley using a multidisciplinary approach
  • Include all water resources, minimize quality degradation and maximize efficiency
  • Apply innovative technologies for waste water treatment and artificial recharge
  • Consider & evaluate specific social, economical and ecologic conditions & impacts of water resource development options
  • Identify the benefit and applicability of alternative technologies for sustainable water usage
  • Increase the understanding of the hydrological system of the Lower Jordan Valley
  • Develop adapted and feasible operating and financing models
  • Integrate the adapted technologies & operation models into existing institutional and administrative processes for water resource management
  • Raise the awareness and knowledge transfer through capacity building for various user groups on local, regional and national level
  • Develop a Decision Support System (DSS) as a flexible tool for optimising water’s contribution to sustainable development
  • Define key parameters and provide a comprehensive IWRM knowledge-base for stakeholders in semi-arid regions.

The SMART project results from the collective application of three German research institutes (University of Karlsruhe, University of Göttingen, Environmental Research Center Leipzig), whereas University of Karlsruhe acts as main coordinator. The most important project partners of the target region are stake-holder institutions like the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) in Jordan, the governmental Israeli water distribution company MEKOROT, as well as the Palestinian Hydrological Group that cooperates closely with the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA). Local universities and research centers play an important role for the implementation of the research aspects.

Implementation strategy

Within the SMART project specific problems are investigated in a first step in suitable small test sites and respectively sub-chatchment areas. The applicability of innovative technologies, modeling concepts and monitoring strategies is investigated by means of focus regions and demonstration plants and is then transferred in a second step to the entire catchment area of the Lower Jordan Valley. If possible, a detailed description and evaluation of the different development scenarios will be conducted, whereas one focus will be the implementation of innovative technologies and the evaluation of the caused effects. The methodical-thematical focus, the project aims and chosen methods are defined within several work packages. 

The goals shall be achieved within a multilateral, interdisciplinary research group from science and industry including local NGO’s and technical authorities. On the basis of natural scientific, engineering services and socio-economic studies, the IWRM concept shall contribute to an implementation of effective strategies and management tools for solutions of the water shortage problem. Water resources models as well as the adoption of existing, and the development of new technical solutions will contribute to this process. The IWRM shall initiate in the target region a self-supporting IWRM process, that continues after the end of the SMART project. The main objective is the improvement of the water shortage situation, including also a better general development of the region. This integrated approach of implementing a water management system is novel and cannot access any experiences of effective and successful operation of IWRMs in arid areas. Therefore, there is a worldwide demand of research in this topic and new technologies are needed for the implementation of IWRMs. For the German industry therefore the possibility exists to develop and make accessible global new markets by adoption of existing methods and systems,  and respectively their further development. To reach this development objectives and to tackle specific challenges of national water supply, specially in arid countries extended investments concerning the collection of  and  knowledge about hydrogeological spatial data and the water infrastructure have to be made. In addition, the comprehensive management of the water resources have tried to be improved permanently. If the strategy considers beside natural also technical and socio-economical effects, misguided developments can be avoided or retarded, and expenses can be saved. 


Cost-efficient technology for waste water treatment is needed worldwide. In many development countries, in addition to limited freshwater resources, sustainable water management concepts including capacity building as important task are missing.

The results achieved within the SMART project shall be transferable to other semi-arid regions with transboundary water resources. The agriculture sector still shows worldwide the highest water consumption. Other countries with comparable situations need decentralized system solutions of water supply and waste water treatment that are able to provide sanitized water for irrigation purposes with low operation costs. Water- and other public authorities are often inadequately equipped with human and financial resources. Urgently needed cooperation between nature protection and landscape conservation and other interests, between water management and land use raise many questions regarding a sustainable implementation.

The Decision-Support-System developed within the SMART project for the riparian countries of the LJRB with the personal, scientific, technological, institutional potential of the individual country shall be transferable to other Middle East countries and accordingly to other semi-arid regions with similar characteristics.


  • Prof. Dr. Nico Goldscheider

    • Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) , Institut für Angewandte Geowissenschaften
    • Adenauerring 20b
    • 76131 Karlsruhe
    • Telephone: + 49 (0)721 60847610
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