The Integrated Environmental Management of the Zarqa River in Jordan

Source: Hana Namrouqa, Jordan Times.

The Ministry of Environment has a busy agenda this year, with plans targeting a number of the country’s long-standing environmental hotspots, mainly the Zarqa River, according to a senior official.

The Kingdom has been suffering from several environmental problems over the past few decades, Environment Minister Khalid Irani told The Jordan Times in a recent interview, noting that it will take time before any planned improvements are noticeable. o­ne example is the severely polluted Zarqa River which has been a source of controversy and drawn complaints from area residents who say pollution levels have become so severe that the river emits a stench, attracting rodents and insects, particularly in the summer.

In early 2007, the ministry finalised an emergency plan to reduce pollution in the river, Irani said, adding that the ministry will continue to work o­n rehabilitating the Zarqa River this year. “We will be mainly focusing o­n raising funds for the implementation of programmes targeting the rehabilitation of the river,” the minister said. “In this regard, the ministry’s number o­ne priority is the establishment of an industrial wastewater treatment plant in Zarqa, projected to start in the second quarter of this year,” he added.

A local coalition won the bid for the construction of the plant and is currently negotiating with the central tenders committee o­n the prices and quality of the water that will be discharged after the treatment, according to the minister. The ministry contributed JD2.5 million to construction costs, while the government has allocated a piece of land in Zarqa near the river for the establishment of the facility, he said. As part of efforts to prevent factories or individuals from dumping waste in the river, the ministry and the Royal Department for Environment Protection set up task forces last year. Irani said that despite all efforts exerted to improve the river’s condition, local residents will still suffer from environmental problems, noting that it is a gradual process. “They will continue to be subjected to foul odours… we never claimed the problem of the river will end in o­ne or two years; any rehabilitation process takes 10-15 years,” he stressed. “Certain parts of the river will continue to stink if we do not develop a proper sewage network; it is not o­nly the ministry’s responsibility, but rather a shared o­ne which includes the ministries of water and irrigation and municipal affairs,” Irani noted. But efforts have not been completely futile, he said, pointing out that people living beyond the Khirbet Al Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant can now see frogs and fish in the river.

“We take regular samples of water from the river… and the quality of water in certain areas is much better than before; the impact will be felt gradually,” the minister said.

The rehabilitation of the river is linked to many other factors, such as expanding the Khirbet Al Samra plant, tackling the Ain Ghazal sewage tanker facility and the generated sewage, rehabilitating the area’s sewage networks which flow into the river every winter, and dealing with industrial wastewater from factories. Irani reviewed the ministry’s measures to address the river’s sources of pollution, noting that the Jordan Industrial Manifest Project launched in September 2007 creates a management system to track and limit the random release of liquid and semi-liquid industrial waste.

The system also seeks to control illegal trading of industrial waste, such as used batteries and tyres. The project not o­nly aims to control illegal dumping in the Zarqa River, but also seeks to limit illegal dumping of waste in valleys and quarries which pollutes underground water and poses a threat to public health.

More information o­n Zarqa River

The Zarqa River is the third largest river in the region in terms of its annual discharge and its waters are extensively used for municipal water supply, irrigation, and industrial needs. The watershed encompasses the most densely populated and industrialized area o­n the east side of the Jordan River. The area of the Zarqa River watershed is about 3,900 km2 and has two main branches- the Amman-Zarqa draining the higher rainfall areas of the Eastern Escarpment of the Jordan Rift Valley and parts of the Jordan Highland, and the Wadi Dhuliel draining the more arid areas of the Jordan Highland and Plateau. The mean rainfall for the watershed is 273 mm, and the median annual streamflow is 63.3 MCM.

The river is controlled by the King Talal Dam, which was completed in 1970 to provide a storage capacity of 55 MCM and raised in 1987 to provide 86 MCM. Connected through a canal and pipes to the King Abdullah Canal, the river provides irrigation for a further 8,400 hectares of land. Withdrawals for water supply from aquifers in the upper Amman-Zarqa groundwater basin have reduced the natural baseflow of the Zarqa River. The flow characteristics have been further modified by the discharge to the river of treated domestic and industrial wastewater that compose nearly all of the summer flow and substantially degrade the water quality.

Flow characteristics of Zarqa River are measured above the King Talal Dam at New Jerash Bridge where the drainage area is 3,100 km 2 . The Zarqa River is perennial with typical monthly flows of 2 to 3 MCM during the summer and 5 to more than 8 MCM during the winter. The maximum observed flood occurred o­n November 29, 1979 (1980 water year) and produced a single day volume of 2.5 MCM.

Source: Water Data Banks Project: Multilateral Working Group o­n Water Resources, Overview of Middle East Water Resources
Natural History

The geological origins of the Zarqa river are about 30 million years old, when the Great Rift Valley was formed. A ripple effect of its formation was the creation of side-wadis. The Zarqa river carved into the western edge of o­ne of these side wadis.[12] The earliest exposed formations in the area date from the Triassic and early Jurassic periods, and have been named Zerqa and Kurnub formations.

The rock formations are marine sediments, remnants of the prehistoric Tethys Sea, which used to cover the area running roughly east – west, halfway across the present Dead Sea. Along the Zarqa, we find crystalline limestone alternating with shale. The next layer is a 20-30 meter high layer of gypsum, argillaceous marly lime, shales and iron-rich stone and sandstone. This layer is rich in fossils.[13] The Zarqa valley was an important passageway connecting the Eastern Desert with the Jordan Valley.


Archaeological finds of charcoaled remains indicate that poplar and tamarix used to grow along the banks of the Zarqa, with forests of wild oak growing o­n the hillsides.[14] Today, tamarix thickets are still widespread in the floodplains, and the banks are cultivated with fruit orchards and vegetable fields. Along the course of Zarqa river, water is pumped directly and used to irrigate crops of leafy vegetables such as parsley, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce, as well as potatoes. Olive trees are also found along the river’s banks.[15] Tulips grow o­n many hillsides of the river,[16] while in the springs area and the watercourse, water vegetation is found.[17] Natural pine forests grow in the King Talal Dam area.[10] Along the upstream banks, where the river runs wild, o­ne finds the common reed, oleander and Typha species.[9] Since the waters of the Zarqa are highly contaminated, with high levels of organic matter and various chemical compounds (especially detergents and dyes), the use of Zarqa water for irrigation has significantly altered the biodiversity of the natural flora, and caused the disappearance of the majority of fresh water species.[18]


In prehistoric times, the area was rich with fauna, and 45 distinct animal species have been identified, half of them wild animals. Domesticated goats were the most common, and gazelles were the most frequently occurring wild animal species.
Today, the area is still home to a diverse population of birds and mammals, and some of the breeding species found do not breed anywhere else in Jordan.[19] Among the bird species found are the European Roller, Desert Lark, Dead Sea Sparrow, Desert Finch and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. The King Talal dam has created a lake which is a habitat for migratory waterfowl and various fish species. Notable birds found in the lake area include the Little Bittern, Cattle Egrets, Grey Herons, White Storks, Common Teal and Eurasian Coot. The lake’s waters sustain stock of fish, some of which is indigenous species and some introduced species. The most common are Tilapia. Migratory birds also winter in the man-made pools which make up the Kherbit Al-Samra Sewage Treatment Plant, located in a broad depression close to Wadi Dhulayl, the main tributary of the Zarqa River. As many as 6,000 White Storks have been spotted roosting there. Mammals found in the are include the Common Otter (Lutra lutra), and the Persian Squirrel (Sciurus anomalus).[10] The otter is considered a threatened species.[9]

Source: Wikipedia

Updated on 5/5/2009 3:43:20 PM.