Updating inefficient methods

Agricultural expert calls for modernization of Iraq’s water policy

BAGHDAD – Agricultural expert Alaa Al-Badran advocates for Iraq to modernize its water management strategies, moving from traditional flood control to advanced irrigation and storage techniques. He suggests adopting “closed systems” — methods like tanks designed to prevent water evaporation and underground reservoirs for storing rainwater using industrial-grade pipelines. These strategies, already implemented in various countries, aim to enhance water conservation.

In discussions with the state broadcaster, Al-Badran emphasized that Iraq’s water management entities rely on outdated models that fail to capitalize on “closed systems.” These systems distribute water efficiently through extensive networks of large to smaller pipes, differing significantly from conventional methods.

Al-Badran noted the benefits of using rainwater, given its quality compared to sometimes saline river water, which often requires filtration. This is particularly relevant in Basra, where the mix of river and seawater usually renders it unfit for agriculture due to high salinity, with the exception of the Tigris River area.

He clarified that in central and southern Iraq, farmers have alternatives beyond sprinkler irrigation systems. Techniques like drip irrigation—where water is delivered directly to the plant’s root zone through a network of valves, pipes, and emitters—and subsurface irrigation, which involves burying the irrigation system below the soil surface, allow for the use of saline water without harming crops.

These methods, successful in Gulf countries and Basra, are especially beneficial for crops like wheat, which might not thrive under sprinkler irrigation due to its inability to handle high-salinity water (above 1000 TDS, or Total Dissolved Solids, a measure of water’s salinity).

Highlighting the need for a strategic pivot, Al-Badran argues for minimizing reliance on sprinkler irrigation, which demands high-quality, low-salinity water. Drip irrigation, in contrast, offers a more cost-efficient solution for the water-intensive agricultural sector.

To conserve water, Al-Badran recommends enhancing desert aquifers with rainwater to mitigate environmental challenges. Some of these deep aquifers, extending into neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, necessitate focusing on internal water sources within Iraq, from the Al-Jazeera region to its deserts.

He hopes that water-harvesting dams, which collect rainwater to prevent its evaporation, could direct water into underground “basins” or reservoirs. Given that Iraq loses a significant portion of its water to climate change, evaporation, and drought, storing water in subterranean layers could preserve it for future use.

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