Tigris-Euphrates levels increase, spur new irrigation techniques
By Mahmoud al-Mulhim in Baghdad
As Iraq reports increased water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers this year, water management officials and agricultural specialists are calling for the adoption of modern irrigation techniques to make the most of the resources.
"This year, we have seen a rise in the water reservoirs of dams due to rising water levels in the upper stretches of the Tigris and Euphrates," said Awn Thiab, director general of the Ministry of Water Resources' National Centre for Water Resource Management.
"For this reason, we have increased the daily releases of water [from the dams] according to a plan adopted by the ministry that includes the release of 400-600 cubic metres [of water] per second", he said.
Thiab told Mawtani that his ministry is working with the Ministry of Agriculture to help Iraq's farming industry benefit from the increased water levels.
"Rising water levels should not mean that we continue to use traditional systems for water delivery to agricultural fields, which usually involve excessive wastage," he said.
Thiab recommended a policy to conserve irrigation water and referenced some experiments that successfully increased conservation.
He pointed to the closed irrigation technique, which is currently employed in Najaf province and spanning some 3,500 dunams. Wasit and Diwaniya provinces are also preparing to adopt this technique and use it on larger areas, he added.
In addition, the Ministry of Water Resources is also considering using "lined rivers" (channels lined with various materials to prevent water from seeping out) to transfer water to agricultural farms, where the use of advanced irrigation methods are preferred, Thiab said.
He told Mawtani that Iraq must also learn from other countries' experiments in this field.
"There are experiments in other countries we can adopt and benefit from, especially in the field of agriculture, which at its core depends on water," he said, adding that modern techniques to deliver water will prevent losses incurred when employing traditional methods.
"There are projects that have been executed and others that are still in the pipeline, including projects for lining irrigation canals and the closed irrigation project adopted by the ministry, which proved widely successful in conserving water and raising the volume of production," Thiab said.
Meanwhile, Ali Hashim, the ministry's director general of projects, told Mawtani, "The water incoming from the Tigris and Euphrates reached 75% of its original average, which is considered good, and better than the past four years."
"The ministry's plan for this year seeks to provide water for three million agricultural dunams so various crops can be planted," Hashim said, adding that the plan aims to deliver water to all the provinces.
The plan also involves "using modern irrigation methods, removing the islands that accumulate in the middle of the riverbed and using accurate standards to gauge the amount of water entering into each province," he told Mawtani.
In turn, agriculture ministry specialist Riyad al-Azzawi said various Iraqi ministries are cooperating "to maintain the water balance and [preserve] what the country needs for its various purposes, the most prominent of which is agriculture".
"There are important and precise annual plans for storing water inside dams, and the general plan includes a change in traditional irrigation systems," al-Azzawi confirmed.
"This year will witness the planting of huge areas of shilib rice, which requires huge amounts of water," he said.
Thus, officials are working to gain the greatest crop yield for the least amount of resources.
A number of provinces "completed their projects to renew and line [irrigation] canals to ensure […] using the least amount of water to obtain the largest amount of crops," he sai