A booming fish-farming industry and uncontrolled overuse of groundwater in Armenia’s Ararat Valley are drying up artesian wells and springs local communities depend on for drinking water and irrigation. The valley is considered Armenia’s breadbasket—accounting for almost half of the country’s agricultural production—making dwindling groundwater a threat to Armenia’s food supplies and economy.
“Every piece of land is valuable in the Ararat Valley. Without cultivation, the farmlands are gradually degrading,” said Balabek Sargsyan, mayor of the village of Hayanist in the Ararat Valley.
The Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by ME&A, Inc., is working to reduce groundwater extraction to sustainable levels and assist the more than 30 communities in the valley facing water shortages. ASPIRED supports sustainable water resources management and sustainable practices of water users through science, technology, innovation, and partnerships.
“ASPIRED is USAID’s largest project in the Armenian water sector at present,” said ASPIRED Chief of Party Magda Avetisyan. “We have developed an integrated approach based on technology and science for tackling Ararat Valley’s groundwater challenges.”
Science-Based Solutions for Data Management
ASPIRED is working with the Armenian Ministry of Environment to make groundwater use-related data publicly available on the Water Resource Management Agency’s website. In line with United Nations “Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production” and specifically “12.2: By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources,” the publicly available data will support the Armenian government in its commitment to improving transparency and citizen participation in water resources management.
“We will integrate specific components of the water cadaster into the Agency’s website at www.wrma.am to make sure there is transparency of the data on water,” said Lilit Harutyunyan, ASPIRED’s basin management planning and environmental specialist.
ASPIRED also worked with Armenia’s Ministry of Environment to identify wells to connect to the Agency’s online monitoring system. ASPIRED equipped four fisheries with flow meters and data-loggers on 19 water use points. The system transmits data to the online server, enabling real-time monitoring of groundwater extraction volumes.
In addition, ASPIRED created a Geographic Information System (GIS) with three-dimensional hydraulic, hydrologic, and groundwater modeling capabilities as well as a computerized Decision Support System (DSS). The DSS enables the Ministry of Environment to assess water availability in natural conditions, analyze human and climate change impacts on water resources, estimate ecological flow values for water use permitting and compliance enforcement, and make other data-informed water resource management and planning decisions.
Innovative Re-Use of Fish Farm Water for Irrigation
ASPIRED piloted the re-use of fish farm outlet water for irrigation to demonstrate more sustainable and responsible fish farm practices other communities in the valley can replicate. So far two communities—Hayanist and Sayat-Nova—are benefiting from the innovation and the return of 100 hectares of abandoned community farmlands back to cultivation, creating income-generating opportunities for 183 households.
As part of a public-private partnership, Coca-Cola Hellenic Armenia helped fund the Hayanist pilot along with installation of the online groundwater monitoring system.
“Partnerships are cross-cutting through the ASPIRED Project,” Avetisyan said. “We collaborate with the Government, the water sector institutions, and other donor-funded initiatives in Armenia to provide need-based technical assistance to our stakeholders, mobilizing existing resources, and avoiding duplication of effort.”
Water and Energy Saving Projects
Most recently, ASPIRED completed large-scale water infrastructure improvements in the community of Aratashen to provide 3,200 residents with access to clean drinking water 24 hours a day. The improvements included installing a new pumping station, replacing 10 km of corroded piping, and introducing a consumption-based metering system. Initial figures from July through September 2019 show the new system uses three times less electricity than the old system with half as much water pumped. The old system, decaying since the Soviet era, suffered major system losses, battled contamination, and was unable to stay operational 24 hours a day despite three pumps.
ASPIRED also has instituted several water conservation projects. A self-flowing well near Sipanik was permanently sealed, conserving about 1.9 million cubic meters of water annually. A self-flowing well in Hovtashat was equipped with a valve, which the community can open during irrigation season and close the rest of the year. The valve is saving 1.4 million cubic meters of groundwater annually. ASPIRED is currently funded to pilot innovations to further conserve groundwater through 2020.
“With access to water, people can cultivate land, make their living,” Sargsyan said. “When there is water, there is life.”