Water user associations: Participative irrigation management in the Jordan valley

Countries: Jordan
Level: Local
Region: MENA Region
Tags: Agriculture | Economic instrument | Institutional measure
Target audience: Agricultural authorities | Citizens | Environmental authorities | Farmers | National government | NGOs and CSOs | Regional government | Students/university | Water authorities

Until fairly recently, the Jordan Valley had been known as the supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to Jordan. This status, however, was challenged over the years by the continuous stress on water resources. The Jordan Valley Authority (JVA), established in 1977, served as an excellent model for bulk water management; but in the 1990s, the retail distribution of irrigation water became gradually less efficient due to several factors, such as maintenance costs and deterioration of the network. Overwhelmed by bureaucracy and a lack of resources to manage the situation, the efficiency of water distribution in the valley was jeopardised, which resulted in a lack of trust between farmers and the authority, loss of faith in the operation, and competition for water. Driven by these factors, in line with national strategies and policies and motivated by donors, JVA introduced the Irrigation Management Transfer scheme at retail distribution level. The partial devolvement of management responsibility followed an agreement reached between the JVA and the Water Users Associations (WUAs), targeting 12 of the 23 WUAs established in the Jordan Valley.

 The establishment and operation of WUAs is considered a successful measure also from the perspective of water demand management. This arrangement contributes to increased fee collection, which is important both for asset maintenance and as an incentive to save water. Experience from the Jordan Valley shows that the operating and maintenance costs of the irrigation system decreased, distribution efficiency increased, and illegal abstraction declined. Cooperation between farmers is critical when there are scarce water resources that need to be allocated and water use needs to be monitored.

Case analysis  

Retail irrigation water management in the Jordan Valley has been subjected to a comprehensive program for improvement since 2001, with the aim of improving the efficiency of water distribution. A participative irrigation management approach was selected as a strategic option. The programme was launched in three pilots (north, middle, and south). The programme started by rebuilding trust and advancing mutual understanding between the farmers and the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA), following some years of difficulty between the two parties. The programme also contributed to the reconstruction of network segments and the provision of know-how transfer to bring the farmers to an appropriate operational position and cooperative mode.

WUAs in Jordan are established under the Jordan Cooperative Corporation (JCC) following the procedures stipulated in Article 3 of the Cooperative Associations by-law of 1998. As such, the WUA acquired a legal status allowing for its financial and administrative independence (Article 17 of JCC Law No. 18/1997) and enabling it to own funds and assets, and to stipulate contracts. Eligible members are Jordanian landowners or tenants (of not less than 3 hectares) within the association service area, above 18 years of age (except when a minor is a legitimate inheritor of a deceased member), and of good reputation.

Membership is compulsory and 90 percent of the farmers are members. However, the WUA serves members and non-members alike. An association is established with no fewer than 10 people. Founders elect a preparatory committee, consisting of a minimum of three members. The preparatory committee is responsible for the association registration (application and follow up) and preparation of the internal statute. The application signed by all the founders is submitted to the JCC director in the required form together with the internal statute (equally signed by all founders). An association is effectively dissolved if 75 percent of its members approve it through signing or finger-stamping the request.

The farmers initially showed resistance to the transfer to be performed under the umbrella of the JCC. The resistance was justified, given the bad experiences farmers had with cooperatives established in the 1970s in the Jordan Valley, which were characterised by inefficient financial and administrative management. Moreover, the duality in irrigation management involving both JVA and the WUA accentuated the farmers’ fear and resistance to the transfer.

However, after several meetings involving farmers, the JVA and the JCC, the farmers decided to step forward and establish a formal WUA with a defined statute. In 2003, the first WUA was founded and a management committee was elected. Also, two subcommittees were elected among the management committee members to participate on a voluntary basis in irrigation water distribution in collaboration with JVA. In 2009, the task of retail water distribution on 1,050 hectares out of a total of 1,065 was transferred to the WUA through an agreement stipulated with the JVA that defines the functions and duties of each of the parties, and which is annually renewed based on target indicators.

Phases of Water Users Association Development in Jordan Valley (See image)

The WUA concept is being replicated in many communities of the Jordan Valley. At present, there are  more than 20 WUAs. The establishment of Water Users Associations has led to:

  • A more efficient and decentralised distribution of irrigation water;
  • Greater stabilisation of network water pressure and water structure;
  • A decreased percentage of penalties related to illegal water use and maintenance;
  •  Greater trust and cooperation between JVA and farmers; and
  •  The transfer of water distribution tasks from the JVA to 11 WUAs.

The successive propagation of the adoption of the participative irrigation approach is a good indication of the acceptance of the process. Moreover, farmer satisfaction is high: 95 percent of farmers are well served with water, while only 5 percent were benefiting earlier. Continued high levels of satisfaction will guarantee the sustainability of the WUA.

Results obtained

  • As of April 2010, 22 WUAs in the Jordan Valley had been established, covering almost 80 percent of the irrigated area in the Jordan Valley; and
  • The performance records of the WUA for Pump 55 (a pilot district within the Jordan Valley), which is annually evaluated by the JVA, show the achievement of the following positive results:
    • reduced irrigation O&M cost to farmers by 15 percent;
    • reduced irrigation O&M cost to government by 15 percent;
    • increased efficiency of fee collection (reaching 100 percent in 2011, compared with 67 percent prior to the task transfer); and
    • improved quality of maintenance.

Success factors

  • The bottom-up approach was a key success factor (the ideas were gathered from the field—i.e. from farmers);
  • The concerted ability and commitment to make a change among the dedicated farmers (WUAs) and the authority was also an important element. This was developed through continuous dialogue between stakeholders (farmers, the GTZ project, JVA) and was backed by of wise project undertakings and support. The dialogue led to immediate action and implementation, which demonstration good intentions, and built up trust and confidence; and
  • Another key was respect for the status new water management entities.

Indicators used

  • Distribution efficiency increased from 86 percent in 2007 to 93 percent in 2009;
  • The equity of water delivery reduced penalties and improved overall farmer satisfaction: reduced illegal abstractions and improved pressure levels increased flow rates from from 2 litres per second to 6 litres per second; and
  • The utilisation of modern irrigation techniques boosted crop yields, thanks also in part to better management of the irrigation system and better service provided to users.

The WUA concept is being replicated in many communities in the Jordan Valley, and there are now more than 20 WUAs. This concept can also serve as a good example for other territories within the MENA region to improve cooperation between farmers and to manage assets and water resources more efficiently.


Mr. Ziad Ababneh, Director of WUA Unit – JVA


  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GIZ 2010), German-Jordanian Programme: Management of Water Resources
  • Adwan A. and Hayek B. (2011), “Participative Irrigation Management in the Jordan Valley”, WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 145.
  • SWIM (2012) Regional assessment, “Water users’ associations in the SWIM-SM partner countries”, final document produced after discussion and validation during the WUAs expert regional workshop, April 23–24, 2012, Athens, Greece.