Morocco High Atlas Mountains Irrigation Aqueduct

The Rotary Club of San Carlos is leading a project to build an aqueduct in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. We are building this aqueduct in the Berber villages where San Carlos Rotarian Steve Carlson previously served in the Peace Corps. The project showcases the power of Rotary – hundreds of friends and neighbors and fellow Rotarians have contributed over $250,000 to bring this project to fruition. This project follows five years of planning, and builds on long-standing relationships, cross-cultural communication, and steady perseverance. Construction began in October 2019 and has continued throughout 2020, with Rotary constructing a mile of aqueduct to transport snowmelt from the mountain peaks to the villagers’ fields for irrigation. The project received the honor of being showcased in Rotarian Magazine in February 2020.

Here is a gallery of some of the latest activity from the project.

Before: Here's the irrigation ditch in August 2016

After: Irrigation aqueduct today

Before: Here's the irrigation ditch in March 2019

After: Irrigation aqueduct today

The project was launched in 2016 through the party Reubens for Rotary, featuring home-crafted charcuterie, cheeses, breads, and the finest Reuben sandwiches this side of the Danube. Following that success, we sent a Moroccan volunteer from the group Corps Africa to the village of Ait Daoud, where Steve previously lived for two years. We asked the locals what they needed for a water project, and the immediate answer was to improve the existing irrigation ditch by lining it with concrete.
To confirm that this project was the right focus for Rotary, we visited the site and rang in the New Year of 2017 in Ait Daoud (it’s cold up there in the winter!!!). We made the trek with the then-president of the Rotary Club of Marrakesh – Majorelle, Khadija El Bourkadi, and a member of Corps Africa, Aziz Noujoum.

We walked the length of the irrigation ditch with local leaders to better understand the impact of the project. We were also feted in true Berber style, with tribal drumming, roast goat, and glass after glass of mint tea.

Our trip had an impact. The locals had been petitioning the government for years to line the irrigation ditch with concrete. After we Rotarians brought attention to the project, the next spring the local government sent a crew to build the first third of the aqueduct. We agreed that Rotary would aim to build the remainder.

The water for the aqueduct comes from the snowmelt from the peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. The waters flow through a gorge, and the river is blocked with boulders to divert the water into a ditch.

The ditch then runs downhill through three villages – Ait Mousou Daoud, Ait Youb, and then Ait Daoud. The total length of the ditch is about 2 miles (3.5 km). This ditch is used to irrigate all the fields in the tri-village area of Ait Mousou Daoud, Ait Youb, and Ait Daoud. Here’s a map of the area, showing the sections the government has built, and the proposed phases of the Rotary project:

Converting the earthen ditch to a concrete aqueduct has several important benefits, including: 1) less loss of water through absorption into the ground; 2) faster flow of water along the channel when it is opened; and 3) faster ability to divert water laterally from the primary channel into the tributaries to flood the fields.

To coordinate the project, we enlisted the help of a non-governmental organization, Corps Africa-Morocco. This group was founded by Liz Fanning, a friend of Steve’s from the Peace Corps. It is essentially Peace Corps by the Moroccans for the Moroccans. Its volunteers are recent college graduates and aspiring leaders from Morocco. Two volunteers, Hamza Aboubaigi and Mostafa Essalai, were assigned to live in Ait Daoud and work with the locals to coordinate the project.

In the course of living in Ait Daoud for a year, they helped specify how the aqueduct would be built, and identified the need for laundry stations along its length so that detergent and bleach could be diverted away from the fields. They also helped develop metrics for assessing the success of the aqueduct in improving water flow.

We returned to Ait Daoud in April 2019 to finalize plans. This included meeting with the contractor, inspecting the work that was previously done, and detailing the exact specifications for the aqueduct and determining the count and location for the doors for lateral flow. It was a great trip.

We received final approval for our Global Grant from the Rotary International headquarters in August 2019, which freed up matching funds for the project. The total amount of the San Carlos Global Grant is $175,000. Construction began in October 2019. We staged the construction, with three phases of 500 meters each. For each phase we pre-paid half of the construction amount, and then paid the remainder for the phase upon completion. We completed construction of 1600 meters in October 2020.

We additionally built two washing stations along the aqueduct. Laundry is back-breaking labor performed by women, and a problem is that the detergent and bleach may re-enter the aqueduct, ultimately flowing into the fields and damaging the crops. Accordingly, we identified locations where a laundry station could be built alongside the aqueduct, such that wastewater could be diverted to an unused area and subject to ground-filtration.

The Rotary Club of San Carlos has now passed the baton to the Rotary Club of Redwood City, which has taken the responsibility of completing the project. We are grateful for their enthusiasm (and their fundraising!) and we look forward to bringing this project to completion together.

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this project, in particular the following Rotary Clubs which have helped fund the project with generous contributions of cash and their District Designated Funds: Rotary Club of San Carlos; Rotary Club of Redwood City; Rotary Club of Foster City; Rotary Club of Terra Linda; Rotary Club of San Francisco #2; Rotary Club of San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf; Rotary Club of San Francisco Chinatown; Rotary Club of San Francisco West; Rotary Club of Pacifica; Rotary Club of Millbrae; Rotary Club of South San Francisco; Rotary Club of Belmond/Redwood Shores; Rotary Club of Menlo Park; Rotary Club of Peninsula Sunrise; and Rotary Club of Marrakesh-Majorelle.

For more information, linked are various powerpoint presentations that we have delivered over the course of this project and some materials submitted in support of the grant application. Please feel free to reach out with questions to Steve Carlson at