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Neil Noble gravatar image
Energy

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system in Oman?

Does anybody know of anybody who can advise on adapting the traditional irrigation systems (the falaj) in Oman? These irrigation systems are traditionally hand dug and provide water for date palm crops which only require water once a week but people are now trying to diversify the crops grown and would like to have a more efficient (less leaky) system and to have water on demand rather than once a week.

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system?

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KnowledgePointAdmin gravatar image
RedR CCDRR

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system in Oman?

Does anybody know of anybody who can advise on adapting the traditional irrigation systems (the falaj) in Oman? These irrigation systems are traditionally hand dug and provide water for date palm crops which only require water once a week but people are now trying to diversify the crops grown and would like to have a more efficient (less leaky) system and to have water on demand rather than once a week.

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system?

***Update ***

My great thanks for interesting suggestions so far.

Please read my responses below to the points that have been raised by John, Martin and Ian.

John: You talk about assessing the resource potential of a wadi or seasonal river. There are three types of falaj in Oman: Ayni (water from a spring), Ghayli (water diverted from a wadi) and Daoudi (water accessed by hand-digging a tunnel – can be more than one or more kilometres long – such that the head of the tunnel taps the water table and the tunnel then flows by gravity to emerge at the village where traditionally some water was taken for domestic purposes and, again under gravity, most of the water is allocated to each garden in turn). We are working in Luzugh with a Daoudi falaj. Rainfall is low and very unpredictable in Oman. The strength of the Daoudi falaj is that the flow of water is ‘damped’ by the strata through which the rain water descends to the water table so although the falaj flow is quite varied it is very much more reliable than wadi flow. The Luzugh falaj seems never to dry up though the flow rate varies from 80l/s to under 10l/s over a series of years. Traditionally the villagers have coped by irrigating less land when the flow rate drops, but always giving priority to the date palm. But in these oil economy days dates form a much smaller proportion of the village diet and only minute proportion of the village economy.

John again: You also talk about undertaking a feasibility study. Quite a lot of people over the years, with varying levels of direct contact and discussion with villagers, have judged the potential value of changes to be made to the system. But to my knowledge only two attempts have been made to test change. One was too small and the other far too expensive – using high cost equipment whose use and maintenance was in no way sustainable. Our project in Luzugh is, essentially, a kind of feasibility study. I sometimes refer to the core of the project as being ‘action research’. On the basis of the best information available and in close discussion with the falaj managers and the falaj water users in Luzugh we want to test the feasibility (technically and socio-economically) of one or two action research (or pilot) projects to see whether in practice we can improve falaj water flow (less leakage and better distribution), and we want to monitor the situation today (hydrology, socio-economics and biodiversity) so that at some future point we can measure the impact of the changes that have been introduced.

Ian: Thanks for your thoughts on sand dams and sub-surface dams. As indicated above, ‘damming’ is a key part of the Daoudi falaj system in Oman but the rainwater is not dammed in sand, it is dammed in the strata which feed the falaj.

Martin: You ask whether the falaj can yield more water or whether improvements can be made to water conveyance and distribution. The action research that I mention above will be, in part, aimed at improving water conveyance and distribution and will also explore the possibility of using some of the water more than once (fish farming, then agriculture, for example). It will also be interesting to examine the possibilities for drip or micro-sprinkler irrigation but only if this can be done cheaply and if maintenance can be effected by the villagers without dependence on government or other outside agency. I attach a book extract and a photo record of some work we did previously with cheap drip irrigation on a well/diesel pump farm in a coastal Omani village (Khabura). This shows that drip irrigation need not be too expensive and that the system can be maintained and expanded without any outside agency being involved.

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KnowledgePointAdmin gravatar image
RedR CCDRR

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system in Oman?

Does anybody know of anybody who can advise on adapting the traditional irrigation systems (the falaj) in Oman? These irrigation systems are traditionally hand dug and provide water for date palm crops which only require water once a week but people are now trying to diversify the crops grown and would like to have a more efficient (less leaky) system and to have water on demand rather than once a week.

What options are there for upgrading the traditional falaj irrigation system?

***Update ***

My great thanks for interesting suggestions so far.

Please read my responses below to the points that have been raised by John, Martin and Ian.

John: You talk about assessing the resource potential of a wadi or seasonal river. There are three types of falaj in Oman: Ayni (water from a spring), Ghayli (water diverted from a wadi) and Daoudi (water accessed by hand-digging a tunnel – can be more than one or more kilometres long – such that the head of the tunnel taps the water table and the tunnel then flows by gravity to emerge at the village where traditionally some water was taken for domestic purposes and, again under gravity, most of the water is allocated to each garden in turn). We are working in Luzugh with a Daoudi falaj. Rainfall is low and very unpredictable in Oman. The strength of the Daoudi falaj is that the flow of water is ‘damped’ by the strata through which the rain water descends to the water table so although the falaj flow is quite varied it is very much more reliable than wadi flow. The Luzugh falaj seems never to dry up though the flow rate varies from 80l/s to under 10l/s over a series of years. Traditionally the villagers have coped by irrigating less land when the flow rate drops, but always giving priority to the date palm. But in these oil economy days dates form a much smaller proportion of the village diet and only minute proportion of the village economy.

John again: You also talk about undertaking a feasibility study. Quite a lot of people over the years, with varying levels of direct contact and discussion with villagers, have judged the potential value of changes to be made to the system. But to my knowledge only two attempts have been made to test change. One was too small and the other far too expensive – using high cost equipment whose use and maintenance was in no way sustainable. Our project in Luzugh is, essentially, a kind of feasibility study. I sometimes refer to the core of the project as being ‘action research’. On the basis of the best information available and in close discussion with the falaj managers and the falaj water users in Luzugh we want to test the feasibility (technically and socio-economically) of one or two action research (or pilot) projects to see whether in practice we can improve falaj water flow (less leakage and better distribution), and we want to monitor the situation today (hydrology, socio-economics and biodiversity) so that at some future point we can measure the impact of the changes that have been introduced.

Ian: Thanks for your thoughts on sand dams and sub-surface dams. As indicated above, ‘damming’ is a key part of the Daoudi falaj system in Oman but the rainwater is not dammed in sand, it is dammed in the strata which feed the falaj.

Martin: You ask whether the falaj can yield more water or whether improvements can be made to water conveyance and distribution. The action research that I mention above will be, in part, aimed at improving water conveyance and distribution and will also explore the possibility of using some of the water more than once (fish farming, then agriculture, for example). It will also be interesting to examine the possibilities for drip or micro-sprinkler irrigation but only if this can be done cheaply and if maintenance can be effected by the villagers without dependence on government or other outside agency. I attach a book extract and a photo record of some work we did previously with cheap drip irrigation on a well/diesel pump farm in a coastal Omani village (Khabura). This shows that drip irrigation need not be too expensive and that the system can be maintained and expanded without any outside agency being involved.