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Water in Morocco

Precious, Precarious and Problematic

Water is a beautifully simple molecule that is essential for survival (precious). Rivers have run dry, aquifers are overdrawn, pollution is widespread, and, with climate change, desert is encroaching and rains hard to predict (precarious). In Morocco, like much of the world, safe drinking water, water for basic sanitation, or water for agriculture, is in short supply and sometimes not available at all (problematic). We will examine water from a biological and technical perspective and delve into the historical, political, economic and social implications in Morocco—a country of diverse cultures and biotic zones from two oceans, mountain ranges and the driest of dry deserts. We will learn through readings, lectures, student presentations and field trips enhanced by visits to key cultural sites and homestays for the 12 days we are in Fez.

Like all countries, Morocco faces water pollution and clean water access problems as well as overall water maintenance challenges. Morocco is in a region where the effects of climate change will be hard felt as droughts will occur at greater frequency and temperatures projected to rise 2o in the next 50 years—a 1o rise from historical norms has already been seen. Finally, we will see how these challenges are exacerbated by a rapidly growing population and huge influx of tourists with high water demands.

Morocco is an Islamic country with a fascinating ancient history as a crossroads for trade from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Europe. Morocco is populated by people with diverse roots, has a wonderful array of architecture, foods, and traditions.we will see the very modern and ancient living side-by-side. We will benefit from interacting with the French class during our time in Fes.

Note: Content adapted from curricular project.

“Water in Morocco” was recently approved by the curriculum committee, counting as Multicultural Studies Global and Interdisciplinary Science credit. This course will travel to Morocco again in January of 2019.

This off-campus, 4-week January term, interdisciplinary 200-level course (Bio 253) is designed to explore the many ways water interfaces with the human, biotic and abiotic world. Basic science, technology and social factors are considered simultaneously. It counts toward the Biology major, Environmental Studies, Middle Eastern Studies.

This course is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Although no prior college biology is required, each student is expected to be willing to learn the biology presented and to contribute his/her disciplinary focus to the questions addressed. Students should have some experience at critically reading and extracting information to address both factual and synthesis questions using specific evidence. This skill is further developed in the course.

This is a science class with a strong interdisciplinary focus. For most of our class meetings and assignments we will draw multiple sciences and the intersection with social and political realities, as well as the religious/cultural values of water. We will begin in the capital Rabat to explore some ways in which the government is facing the reality of water—food, health, and the economy are dependent on water in ways that directly affect everyone.

We will visit Ramsar sites and Biosphere Reserves to consider the ecological impacts of water availability, pollution and climate change. In Fez, we will examine two urban water systems, the ancient Roman city of Volubilis and the evolution of water systems from ancient to modern Fez, learn how people use water at home, visit the Al Fassi dam to explore the role of dams in Morocco’s water strategy as well as have regular class periods to explore key topics in detail. We will travel over the Atlas Mountains to the south to explore desert biology, ancient and modern water access and the critical date palm oases. We will tour the NOOR solar plant on our way to the dry forest and ecolodge near Agadir before returning north up the coast to a small Atlantic fishing village.

Water drives everything in countries where it is scarce (unlike the sense of water availability in Minnesota). We will witness firsthand the consequences of water shortage and how individuals and societies deal with this at a local, national and international level.

The biologically related things we would hope to witness and share include:

  • Natural water cycle and how humans interrupt it when they attain and use water
  • Water in the natural world
  • Why individuals need water physiologically and for sanitation
  • Water and food – agriculture, fisheries
  • Ecological and physiological strategies to the inherent lack of water
  • Human technology and behaviors to obtain or conserve fresh water and handle sewage
  • Health consequences when water is lacking, agriculturally and/or industrially polluted, or saline
  • Stresses on water sources

Each of our topics has a human/social face.

  • Cost of handling water
  • Attitudes toward water itself including the “right” to water
  • Attitudes toward the environment and other species
  • Water demands related to energy and industry
  • Governance and civil society – individual vs. communal actions


Concept/Content Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify and locate key information regarding access to and treatment of water including geography, infrastructure, economics, cultural/social structures.
  2. Explain the issues surrounding water and agriculture.
  3. Describe the intersection between water and public health and demographics.
  4. Understand how organisms depend on water (and salts) and strategies for access and conserving it.
  5. Describe the impacts of human activities including pollution and climate change on the water cycle and access to clean water.


Higher Order Thinking Skills Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Compare the Moroccan data with global information (e.g., from the Atlas of Water) and their local communities.
  2. Articulate the relevant information needed to address a problem and evaluate a potential solution.


Multidisciplinary Analysis Goals

  • The importance of bringing multiple disciplines to the table for successful analysis and solutions.
  • Learning means of organizing different types of information.
  • Oral communication skills including formal presentations, discussions, and active listening.


See Resources & Materials for full schedule

Day 3 l Introduction to class

Visit Director of INRA, Dr. Badraoui

Day 4 l Travel to Tangiers

Visit Sidi Boughaba & Merja Zerga

Day 5 l Mediterranean Fishery

Day 6 l Rif Mountain Forests

Day 9 l Pollution & Sewage Treatment

Oued Fez and Sebou Rivers

Day 10 l Dams Impoundments

Day 11 l Volubilis (Water)

Day 12 l Moroccan Culture Today

Taught by Professor Nashid

Day 14 l Health Issues & Access to Drinking Water

Day 15 l Sanitation Practices & Religious Views of Water

Day 16 l Agricultural Plants & Climate Change

Day 17 l Hidden Waters of Fez

Atlas Mountains, Animal adaptations and resilience to climate change (camels)

Day 20 l Khettara water systems

Day 21 l Desert, Tourism, & Water

Erg Chebbi, Date palm oasis

Day 22 l NOOR Solar Power Plant

With Mustapha Sellam, Site Director

Day 23 l Ecotourism

Atlas Kasbah with Dr. Hassan Aboutayeb, Argan Biosphere

Day 24 l Tourism & Water Management

Day 26 l Final Reflections & Discussions

Day 27 l Final Exam

Day 28 l Depart

Dissemination Strategies

Teaching Notes

  1. Providing resources and guiding questions that were read by the entire class helped ensure that the presentations were well-prepared and thoughtful discussion followed.
  2. Since this class took place during a four-week course in Morocco with considerable traveling, it was important to have everything ready well ahead of time for me and for the students.
  3. When selecting students to present, it is valuable to take advantage of their multiple majors, expertise and personal interests.
  4. The final discussion was absolutely critical to pull the material together as each topic was discussed in depth, often at a field site, but not always in a logical order for building ideas.
  5. Presentations from Moroccan experts were extremely valuable and preparing students by providing some background material was successful.

Resources & Materials

Water in Morocco Full Course Schedule

Course Texts

Black, M. 2016. The Atlas of Water 3rd edition. University of California Press.

Sedlak, David. 2014. Water 4.0: The past, present, and future of the world’s most vital resource. Yale University Press.

Web Resources 

Geography of Morocco is a valuable website summarizing key information, including the relationship between Morocco’s geography and climate, its biodiversity, natural resources, land fertility, and environmental issues.

Hidden Waters of Fez (2012) Joseph Lukawski, Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange, The French Institute of Fez, and Fulbright. Documents the changes in the water system of Fez with some reference to its remarkable beginnings to the current challenges in the context of religious views, historic preservation goals and modern population pressure in the nouvelle ville and old medina.


Appendix I-IV 

Each lesson example has a list of resources (chapters in The Atlas of Water, primary literature) and a set of question prompts. I’ve chosen sewage treatment (I), as an example that uses different types of literature and questions. This, and all other topics unless indicated otherwise, was presented by groups of two-four students in approximately one-hour lesson/discussion sessions either in a classroom in Fez or various locations “on the road”. See Appendix I-IV for three additional lesson examples.

Appendix I l Sewage treatment


The Atlas of Water – Chapters 14 & 15, 27, 28

Cunningham & Cunningham. 2015. Section from text: Environmental Science that describes basics of sewage treatment.

Bdour, A.N., M.R. Hamdi and Z. Tarawneh. 2009. Perspectives on sustainable wastewater treatment technologies and reuse options in the urban areas of the Mediterranean region. Desalination 237:162-174. A very readable discussion of sustainable waste water treatment facilities and the mistakes one makes when applying western technologies to arid environments. A few cases of bad and good examples.

Bouabid A. & G.E. Lewis. 2015. Capacity factor analysis for evaluating water and sanitation infrastructure choices for developing communities. Journal of Environmental Management 161:335-343. This paper addresses, in a very formal manner, how to determine the appropriate sanitation infrastructure for a community. I would SKIM the intro, look at the figures and READ the case study on a village in Morocco and Discussion. 


  1. What is waste water? Grey water? black water? Storm water?
  2. What happens to it in your community at home (recall homework)?
  3. Why does industry add another level of complexity?
  4. What needs to be removed?  How can this be done? Where do the leftovers go? E.g., sludge, water, biogas?
  5. What are the biological / hydrological factors that must be considered?
  6. What are the human factors that need to be considered when designing a system?
  7. Why is it useful to link wastewater treatment to agriculture?  Pros/cons? Concerns?

Outcomes and Significance

Student Assessment 

Focused on student presentations, associated discussions, thoughtful entries into academic journals and a final exam.

Students will be active participants for every aspect of the course.  The following items will be evaluated:

  • Two individual presentations on a topic (35%)
  • Individual preparation to meet and converse effectively with lecturers and guests (5%)
  • Participation in routine debriefs on homestays, Moroccan Arabic and field trips (5%)
    • Cross-cultural communication will be practiced with host families (12 nights) and guides
    • Moroccan-Arabic lessons will contribute to ability to negotiate the Medina and converse with guides.
  • Participation in discussions on formal topics (10%)
    • Contributions to daily discussions will be expected.
  • Routine journal entries, some in response to prompts that will reflect and support discussions (15%)
  • Final exam covering the biological, technological and cultural aspects of the course with a focus on overarching challenges (30%)

Each topic presentation had a biological or science component as well as a social science component, and some had humanities aspects. Assessment was on the “whole” using facts, synthesis and evaluation. Each student brought something different to the course so that topics were chosen to develop their strengths. I commented on journal entries using them as jumping off places to encourage individual development: vague generalizations got lower grades than focused thoughtful analyses.

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