Saving Water: Strengthening Oversight of Armenia’s Water Resources

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Ararat Valley
USAID/ASPIRED

For decades, water usage in Armenia’s fertile Ararat Valley has suffered from a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.  Corruption and weak enforcement of existing regulations, government decisions informed by outdated data and calculations, a rapid increase in the number of fish farms, and poor infrastructure resulted in users extracting far more water than could naturally recharge.  Due to this over-exploitation from 2013 to 2020, groundwater levels decreased by six to nine meters on average, and in some areas by as much as 15 meters.  More than 30 communities in the Ararat Valley lost access to their drinking and irrigation water.  In an effort to stem the loss of water, over the past six years, USAID/Armenia’s Advanced Science & Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) project has transformed Armenia’s approach to water management and put it on a path to sustainability.

Sustainable management of Armenia’s water resources is critical for the agricultural sector and future economic growth.  The Ararat Valley’s groundwater reserves are used for drinking water, irrigation, fish farms, and to cool Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant.  Approximately 30 percent of the region’s population is engaged in agriculture, and the sector contributes roughly 15 percent to GDP annually.  The Ararat Valley is the bread basket of Armenia, producing over one third of the country’s total agricultural output annually, and is home to a significant portion of Armenia’s vineyards and orchards.  Many farms and communities in the valley rely on decades-old, Soviet-era irrigation equipment, much of which loses a significant amount of the water extracted from the ground.

Map showing declining water levels in the Ararat Valley in 1984, 2007, and 2016.
Map showing declining water levels in the Ararat Valley in 1984, 2007, and 2016.
USAID/ASPIRED
Through ASPIRED, USAID directly addressed the ineffective oversight and management of the country’s water resources by equipping the Government of Armenia with the data it needs to make evidence-based, sustainable water allocation decisions.  Prior to ASPIRED, the government was using nearly 40 year old data.  USAID has helped install ten new water monitoring posts in communities throughout Ararat Valley, and equipped the government with real time monitoring tools for several of the largest fish farms - by far the heaviest water users in the region.  The government now has access to reliable, up-to-date data to better inform decisions.  
Map showing wells inventoried by ASPIRED
USAID/ASPIRED
 
USAID trained the government in sophisticated data modeling techniques, and developed a detailed understanding of the Ararat Valley’s artesian basin, which had previously not existed.  The data provided through these systems and tools  will serve as the basis for the Government to develop balanced water sector policies and regulations, which prioritize long-term resource conservation while meeting the region’s water needs.  USAID also supported the government in assembling a cross-sectoral working group representing agricultural operations, fish farms, the national nuclear plant, and water regulatory authorities in the Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure.  This group’s support and input has led to the government’s adoption of the “Programme of Measures for Effective Management of Water Resources,” which defines groundwater management targets in the Ararat Valley.  
 
The ASPIRED project also catalyzed economic growth by restoring communities’ irrigation systems, bringing water to approximately 550 hectares of farmland across 6 communities.  In the village of Hayanist, USAID collaborated with Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company Armenia to support the construction of a new irrigation system that redirected waste water from a nearby fish farm to efficiently irrigate surrounding community farmland.  This was a novel approach and helped restore 40 hectares of land that had been left idle for two decades, while saving 1.1 million cubic meters of groundwater annually.  The nearby Sayat-Nova community up-scaled Hayanist’s model and adopted this same technology to irrigate nearly 190 hectares of farmland, in collaboration with another USAID project, Partnership for Rural Prosperity (PRP), and the Fund for Armenian Relief.  With more efficient irrigation systems, communities can pump less water out of the ground, grow more in their fields, and turn a profit, while saving thousands of dollars in electricity costs which can be redirected to other community needs.  
Water Infrastructure
USAID/ASPIRED
 
With USAID’s support, Armenia now has a clear understanding of the path forward to sustainable water management in the Ararat Valley.  Even as ASPIRED concludes, USAID will remain committed to supporting the government in expanding improved water management practices throughout Armenia; the long term benefits will stem water loss, increase agricultural outputs, allow critical groundwater to recharge, and strengthen Armenia’s economic security. 

Last updated: November 19, 2021

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