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Notes on the Geography of Morocco: Irrigation technologies

A juxtaposition of traditional and modern methods.

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Much of northern Morocco supports rainfed winter grain crops.

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Here, near Meknes, the straw is built into barnlike stacks.

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A simpler farm, closer to subsistence.

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You can find combines and tractors, and you can find donkeys.

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There are old waterwheels like this, near Meknes.

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For more about such wheels, see the scarce, four-volume Le Domaine Colonial Francais (Paris, 1929-30), a semi-official survey sponsored by the Colonial Union and with illustrations of waterwheels from Morocco all the way to Vietnam.

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On the plains around Marrakech, more drastic remedies are called for. Fortunately, the plain is not as level as it looks and actually slopes very gently to the north, away from the High Atlas Mountains.

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Here is one of those remedies, a deep well, reaching down to a tunnel that runs for miles from the base of the High Atlas northward.

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Such a water tunnel, serviced by hundreds of wells or shafts, requires constant maintenance.

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Here, a line of wells can be seen heading in the direction of the oases in the distance, where the water tunnel emerges at the surface.

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The upshot: olive groves.

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Ingenious as such systems are, they're inefficient compared to the large-scale systems introduced by the French. This one's empty, but when the water level in the foreground rises to a critical height, the floating and balanced gate opens automatically, rising buoyantly and letting water flow downstream, away from the camera. The system is in this way adjusted so that canal offtakes behind the camera receive water before any water is allowed to pass through the gate and to downstream offtakes.

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The steel plates that control local distributaries can be raised or lowered--and locked into place--to release a precise quantity of water.

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Everything runs by gravity, even if that requires elevation of semicircular channels.

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The only catch is that farmers don't always want the water, since rainfall is often adequate for their needs. Perhaps the farmers would take the water in any case, if it were free, but it is not. Here, billing clerks work with the irrigation records of thousands of farmers.

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Meanwhile, out on the desert fringe, older methods continue.

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Fill 'er up.


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