Atlas Mountains Project Update

The Rotary Club of San Carlos is proceeding to formalize its water project in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, in collaboration with its partners the Rotary Club of Marrakesh – Majorelle and Corps Africa-Morocco.  The first phase of the project will be an improved aqueduct for irrigation of the fields in the rugged and beautiful Ait Zekri region of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains.

Project Background and our Partners

Our target area is where San Carlos Rotarian Steve Carlson previously served for two years in the Peace Corps, focusing on health and sanitation issues.  Through that experience he was fortunate to learn the local Berber language (Tamazight) and the needs of the community.   Twenty years after closing his service there, he is leading this project to return the favor of their hospitality.
After our initial fundraising party (Reubens for Rotary 2016 [hyperlink]), we asked our partner Corps Africa-Morocco, to visit the village to determine their needs and a suitable project.  The people from the village identified as a first priority the need to improve the irrigation ditch that currently provides water to the fields.

Rotary Club of Marrakesh-Majorelle

Rotary’s leadership of this project in Morocco is through the Rotary Club of Marrakesh – Majorelle.  This club is a dynamic group of women in Marrakesh who have done a similar water improvement project in another region of the High Atlas Mountains.  On December 28, 2016, Steve Carlson gave a presentation at the Rotary Club of Marrakesh – Majorelle to describe the project and get to know the club on a personal level.  The point person for the coordination is the remarkable and talented Khadija El Bourkadi.
In attendance at the meeting was Tahar Outazarine, the son of the man who took care of Steve during his Peace Corps service, along with representatives of Corps Africa-Morocco.

Corps Africa – Morocco

Our other partner in this endeavor is Corps Africa – Morocco.  This group is modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps, and sends recent Moroccan university graduates to serve for a year in rural Morocco.  At our meeting in Marrakesh, Corps Africa-Morocco signed a framework agreement with the Rotary Club of Marrakesh-Majorelle to collaborate on a range of projects, including ours.  This agreement will allow Corps Africa volunteers to help with the day-to-day implementation of Rotary’s projects in Morocco.  Here is the head of Corps Africa-Morocco, Omar Laafoura, along with Rotary’s Khadija El Bourkadi.
We are currently sponsoring one Corps Africa volunteer, Lahcen Chanchaf, who is serving in a rural village in the mountains outside of Marrakesh.
We were also joined by Corps Africa staff member Aziz Noujoum, who is originally from that area, and is one of the more funny, warm, bright, and caring people you will meet, here showing his family’s rose water distillery in the town of Kelaa Mgouna.
Corps Africa-Morocco will provide a volunteer who will live at the site, who will help plan the project in coordination with the locals, oversee the day-to-day implementation of the project, and serve as a liaison to other resources through the Ministry of Agriculture.  Rotary will maintain the overall supervision of the project.

Trip to Ait Daoud

The day following the Rotary meeting, we hopped in a village transport van and drove up over the world-renowned Tichka pass through the High Atlas Mountains, en route to Ouarzazate providence.  The top of the Tichka pass was very very cold!
Here is a map of the area in Southern Morocco.  Starting in Marrakesh, we drove to Ouarzazate, where we spent the night, followed by a drive to Kelaa Mgouna, and then up into the mountains to the village of Ait Daoud (marked with a star):
Our long journey eventually brought us to Steve’s old village of Ait Daoud, which now has a paved road and electricity.
We stayed at the home of Ait Tazarine, Steve’s Berber family.

The Project

Flooding fields with irrigation ditch

There is an age-old network of irrigation ditches that bring water from the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains to the villagers’ fields.  Here is an example of the fields being flooded by the irrigation water brought from the ditches.
In order to flood a particular field, there is a sub-network of ditches that bring the water from the main channel to each particular field.  To get the water into that particular sub-channel, the water in the main ditch is stopped, to allow the water level to rise sufficiently to redirect the water into the sub-channels.  Here is a photo showing the main channel, and the rocks that are used to close that channel (with mud) to raise the level and redirect the water to flood fields (to the right in this photo).
The traditional system has drawbacks.  One, the ditch is earthen, so water is lost through the bottom. This is particularly a problem in the summer when the ditches run dry on off-days for watering.  Furthermore, the process of raising and lowering the water in the ditches, to allow the redirection of the water, is slow and wasteful of water, as all down-stream watering is cut off while an upstream farmer shunts the water to his or her field.  It currently takes hours to raise the level to allow the water to raise and be redirected.  This has to do with the ditches being too wide in many places, requiring a large volume of water to raise the level.  It is also a matter of high and low spots in the ditch, which should be more properly leveled.  Here is a video of the Ait Daoud Association president, Hamed Amgoun, explaining this problem, translated by Aziz Noujoum of Corps Africa, along with Rotary’s Khadija El Bourkadi:

Here is another video reflecting this same concern:

The solution to the problem is to reconstruct at least the main aqueduct in cement.  Here is an example of a small segment that was constructed in this manner when the paved road was put in, along a bridge.
The cement aqueduct would have metal doors that open and close to raise and lower the level of water in the aqueduct, and to divert water through the sides of the aqueduct into the fields.  This would replace the current use of mud and rocks to divert the flow.  The aqueduct would serve four villages:  Ait Daoud, Ait Youb, Ait Mousou Daoud, and Toujgelt (which has fields in the village of Ait Youb).

 Reinforcement Section

The section at the top end of the aqueduct, where the aqueduct is filled with river water, would be reinforced.  The location where the river is diverted into the aqueduct is about a quarter mile above the entrance to the gorge.  This photo shows the blockage of the river, with the river diverted into the mouth of the aqueduct.
As the elevation of the riverbed drops along the length of the gorge, the aqueduct continues at a nearly flat trajectory, necessitating a built-up levee that holds the aqueduct above the river floor:
Here is a video of the president of the Ait Daoud association explaining how the river is diverted into the aqueduct:



With this built-up levee, the aqueduct is at the level of the fields of the first village, Ait Mousou Daoud.  The aqueduct continues at this elevation, with a slight downhill incline, through the three villages of Ait Mousou Daoud, Ait Youb, and Ait Daoud.  A vulnerability of the system is that, as the levee exits the gorge, it is susceptible to being undercut and washed out during times of flood.  In heavy rains, the river water will far exceed the capacity of the aqueduct, and the river will swell and flow against the base of the levee.  A few years ago, a section of the levee washed out, cutting off all irrigation water.  The villagers pooled funds and worked with the government to quickly repair the washed out section. Here is a photo of the repaired section, followed by a video of this explanation:

To prevent against such a wash-out in the future, the locals have asked that we include as part of the project a reinforcement of the levee.  This would basically consist of a concrete and rebar footing for the levee.
The following aerial map shows the gorge (upper left), and the ditch that comes down through Ait Mousou Daoud, Ait Youb, and Ait Daoud.

Ministry of Agriculture Participation

After contacting the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture about this project, they announced that they would reinforce the top segment of the aqueduct (approximately 1 km).  The Ministry completed this work in mid-2017.  It built an improved aqueduct from the mouth of the gorge through the village of Ait Youb.   We were thrilled to see the photos below.
Thus, about 3.5 kilometers of the project remain that need funding, which we will do through Rotary.  Providing this funding to allow the final 3.2 kilometers of the aqueduct is our goal.  We will likely do this in two phases the yellow and blue segments depicted above)
 The Ministry stated that the price for these aqueduct projects is typically $70-$75 USD (700 to 750 Moroccan Dirhams) per meter, including labor.  Multiplied by 3200 meters (and using the higher end of $75), that gives an overall price tag of about $240,000 USD for the project (subject to exchange rates).

Next Steps

We are in the process of preparing our Global Grant Application (GG1750555).  We expect that we will do the work in two phases, shown above.
We are finalizing a budget to do “Phase One” of Rotary’s work, to bring the aqueduct up to the border of the third village, Ait Daoud.   We are coordinating this work through the sheikh of the tribe, named Souhail:
We are continuing to solicit funds to improve the entire remaining length of the ditch (i.e., the blue segment pictured above).
When construction approaches, we will engage a volunteer from Corps Africa-Morocco who will be responsible for residing at the site and overseeing day-to-day implementation of the project.
Corps Africa-Morocco will also serve as a liaison to the Ministry of Agriculture to tap into additional resources.  Corps Africa-Morocco’s President, Omar Laafoura, is a farmer and a lawyer with extensive knowledge of water rights, irrigation practices, the market for agricultural products, and the resources available through the Ministry.  The Ministry has existing well-funded programs to promote drip irrigation systems, which would be ideal for irrigation of the region’s fruit and nut trees, which should boost yields of this cash crop.  There is further potential to create a farmers’ collective which would facilitate marketing of the fruits and nuts, to generate additional revenue for the region.
In addition to the irrigation project, we envision various ways to improve the drinking water in the area.  There are a number of half-measures currently in place for drinking water.  With a successful implementation of the irrigation project, we envision a number of ways to address the problem of clean drinking water.