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Traditional Hydraulic Systems in Algeria

TKWRM 2012, International Conference on Traditional Knowledge for Water Resources Management. 21-23 February 2012 Yazd, Iran A. Dahmen*
* Department of architecture, University Saad Dahlab of Blida, route de Soumaa Blida Algeria, DZ

(E-mail: Abstract Algeria has experienced the development of several traditional hydraulic systems. Situated mainly in arid and semi arid zones, groundwater has been for centuries the sustainable solution for human settlements water supply in Saharan regions. People used to seek water following its modes of availability and eventually develop a local know how. Hydro geological conditions are thus relevant in the rise of various hydraulic systems. For centuries, these systems have provided life and prosperity in the Saharan oases. They contributed to develop knowledge, traditions and even a cultural heritage in relation to water. The discovery of the oil fields and underground water of the intercalary Continental (IC) named also the Albian aquifer at the beginning of second half twentieth century led upheaval in both life and development of these territories and, therefore, in the relationship of Saharan societies with water. While traditional systems were able to manage the shortage and scarcity of water, modern development programs often manage abundance with difficulty. To this fact, a better understanding of this heritage, still remaining in use for a good part, could be a great inspiration for new challenges related to water issues. Keywords Water; Traditional Hydraulic Systems; Algeria; Water Heritage

INTRODUCTION The study of ancient hydraulic systems finds its significance in the fact that these systems are identified in arid areas where water is generally lacking. Through history, water scarcity has not prevented prosperity of a huge of towns and settlements. Water challenge has enhanced development of both oasis and territory connection in a network of routes enabling trade and cooperation between oasis settlements and neighboring civilizations such as Roma, Africa (Carthage). Trade connection made this territory known very early. Herodotus1 related in the fifth century B.C this area he calls Libya where nomad tribes and sedentary populations were living. He described a desert territory made of sand, salt and water. It is the furthest testimony in the history that we reported the presence of settlement of these desert counties where water available but through ingenious efforts. After Herodotus, other authors have described or reported descriptions of these areas prosperity, agricultural and commercial activities with the Mediterranean and black African kingdoms. In these arid territories, it is excluded that human settlements can live without irrigated agriculture. Descriptions in old written sources are not accurate enough about hydraulic systems of these arid territories. The only reference which is known to us is that of Ibn-Khaldun2 which describes how
1 2

See [HERODOTUS, 484 B.C], French translation. See [IBN KHALDOUN, 1377] French translation. 1

digging artesian wells in the area of Oued Righ. However, the existing proof of prosperous territories since 25 centuries confirms local hydraulic know how as a precondition. Geographical and geological diversity was attested since these early times; due to the interrelation hydrogeologywater systems, systems, it is possible that hydraulic systems diversity is very old. When water flows in surface, continuous or discontinuously, it is collected and used for irrigation and domestic requirements. When there is no water on the ground, people explore underground and accurate their techniques to ensure water availability. Algerian Sahara presents diverse traditional hydraulic systems: foggaras (Qanats), artesian wells, water sources, dams, inferoflow, bour system and finally the Mzab wells systems. We will see all this with details. STUDY FOCUS: TRADITINAL HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS This study focuses on hydraulic systems as they exist in their genuine environment before French invasion. We will focus our work on the documentary resources describing these systems. Most of these documents are old and date of colonial era, those from before, we have seen; do not provide enough details of traditional water systems. The Maghreb is based on three major regions, a thin coastal Mediterranean climate zone called the Sahel. It is limited by the chain of tellian Atlas Mountains. Then a second region called the Highlands, with 250 km from north to south. The region is limited by the chain of the Saharan Atlas Mountains and characterized by a semi-arid climate. Both tellian and Saharan atlas chains are quite parallel with a northeast southwest inclination doing almost 30 with latitudes. The third region is the southern side which is the Sahara with its arid climate. In Algeria, the Sahara presents a variety of landforms (Fig. 1): down Sahara to the Northeast, the Zouzfana and Saoura valleys in the Northwest, the Tademait plateau in the centre, the two great ergs to the East and to the West, the mountains of Ahaggar South, Southeast Tassili plateau and the Tanezrouft Southwest. Each of these sub region has its geographical, hydrological and climate characteristics. Ground waters in the Sahara come from the southern slope of the Saharan Atlas chain which presents Saharan rivers called wadi, the most important is the Saoura River with its two confluents the Guir and the Zouzfana beginning in the high Moroccan atlas. The slopes of the central plateau of the Tademait give birth to small rivers; the most important element is Oued Mya. The more curious hydrological fact in Algerian Sahara is certainly the Igharghar river, a fossil river of nearly 2000km long beginning in the Ahaggar mountains south (central Sahara) and ending in Chott Melghigh (lower Sahara) at

Fig. 1, Algeria Hydrographic Scheme

an altitude of -40 m. So in the West the Saoura river streams south southeast while in the East the Igharghar is heading north. Underground water wasnt quite unknown by the past. The lower Sahara has early used artesian wells dug essentially in the Terminal Complex aquifer. The deeper aquifer of the Continental intercalary was only known around the Tademait plateau on north, west and south sides north. In these sub regions, consecutively the Gourara, Tuat and Tidikelt regions, the aquifer water table becomes a few meters depth. This region is exclusively for the foggara system. Geographical conditions promote one or more systems in each region, the table above shows the different systems according to the geographical Saharan regions. It is rare to note a single system in a given area (Fig. 2). This is explained by the systematic quest for any water resource even limited. Moulias said 3 : "the multiplicity of modes of use (of water) is verified everywhere where it is possible".
Regions/Systems Laghouat Zibans Oued Righ Souf Saoura Gourara_Touat-Tidikelt Hoggar-Tassili Foggara Artesian X X Sources X X X X X Fig. 2, Traditional hydraulic systems distribution by region X X Dikes X Inferoflux Bour Wells X X X X X X X

Hydraulic studies began properly two decades after French invasion of Algiers. Wanting to consolidate the colonization of the whole Algeria, the military administration, which was ruling the south territories, had to accurate its domination through a relevant territory control and a sufficient knowledge. Hydraulic studies grew then with the expansion of colonization process. Historians consider that Saharan territory domination began with the capture of Laghouat in December 1852. Already in 1851 Adrien Berbrugger4 was appointed by the General Governor of Algeria to undertake a broad investigation into the artesian structures in northeast Sahara; the work took two years (1851-1852). In the late 19th century (23 January 1896) the General Government of Algeria (GGA) sent a statement to the mayors to undertake a search about ancient hydraulic structures in Algeria. The investigation has not led too much; work was resumed by Stphane Gsell5 that he published in 1902. The work was essentially about agricultural hydraulics in North Algeria. (Its work reached the region of Biskra, door of Eastern Sahara, and Wadi Djedi pp119-143). With the quite total colonization by the end of the nineteenth century, some works have been achieved classifying the Saharan regions due to their hydraulic organization. We can cite as not exhaustive but quite significant, the Rolland works on Sahara hydrology (Rolland G. 1894), those of Hhnel6 involving all the Maghreb on the morphology and hydrography of the oasis and the work of Brunhes7 in a study of human geography, published in 1902 on irrigation in Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Twenty-five years after, Daniel Moulias, head of the Office of indigenous affairs and doctor in law, published a book on hydraulic organization of Saharan oases. Each of these

See [MOULIAS, 1927] p-37. [BERBRUGGER, 1862] 5 [GSELL, 1902] See particularly pp-104-114. 6 [HHNEL, 1895] 7 [BRUNHES, 1902]

studies is based on different criteria assessing hydraulic organization, geographic, hydrographic or legal criteria. Even though, none took as classification criterion the hydraulic system itself. If water presence conditions influence the choice of water techniques, practice finishes with time to consolidate hydraulic systems perfectly recognizable. We will see in the description that follows several systems which will appear sometimes similar due to some aspects, but we will notice in other cases some major differences. FOGGARA SYSTEM The foggara8 is the equivalent of the qanat or kahrez in East, it has another name ifli or iffeli in Amazigh (Berber) language; in Morocco, and it is called "khettara". The principle is to drain by gravity groundwater to the surface of a lower soil. From this point begins the distribution with what it requires organization, management, and works. The foggaras are present in Algeria on the Western limits of the Continental Intercalary aquifer. The three sub regions of Gourara, Tuat and Tidikelt are surrounding the Tademait plateau, a highland situated at the country middle. These regions have respectively for capital Timimoun, Adrar and Ain Salah. In these regions as noticed before, underground water table comes almost in touch with the ground. The foggaras exist elsewhere following the southern boundaries of the great Western erg (Ouled Aissa), on the southwest slopes of Saharan Atlas (Beni Ounif) and also in the Hoggar (Tamanrasset). The resource can be a flowing river, a river bed, or the shallow water in the sands of the Great erg. Algeria counts more than 1400 foggaras, almost 900 are still being in use (source ABHS), in the wilaya of Adrar, almost half of the agricultural land is irrigated by foggaras. On a map we can see from Gourara to Tidikelt how the gallery lines, underlined by the shafts, seem like rays going from Tademait plateau through the surrounding territory (Fig. 3). Gallery comes to the surface where first distribution takes place (Kesria) in a location in the village (ksar). Then canals share water through the ksar to reach below and irrigate the gardens. Through the ksar, channel supply houses, mosques and public laundries. Water distribution is in general by volume of flow (note on other distributions). Water ownership is different from land ownership which is different from palm ownership. A part of water could be acquired either by assignment of a right due to a contribution in the works of digging, reviving or extension of the foggara, by inheritance or commercial transactions. It is curious to note the importance of waqf shares in water distribution (an inalienable property of public utility) which benefits

Fig. 3, Timimoun at the center with foggara radial lines

Foggara is singular, fegaguir in plural. 4

of the mosques, Coranic schools, zaouia scholars or other. Foggara flow is shared using a copper plate called Hallafa or Chakfa, which includes holes of measures9. The basic unit is called Habba or Madjel or Kherga. This unit is divided as follows: 1 Habba 1 Kirat 1 Kirat 1 Kirat 1 Kirat 1 Kirat = = = = = = 24 Kirat 3 Thelt (third) 4 Reba (quarter) 6 Soudus (sixth) 8 Thmen (eighth) 24 Kirat-El-Kirat 1 Wedjba 1 Thelt 1 Reba 1 Soudus 1 Thmen = = = = = 12 Hours 8 Kirat-El-Kirat 6 Kirat-El-Kirat 4 Kirat-El-Kirat 3 Kirat-El-Kirat

The management of water rights is transcribed in a written document called zmam. All zmams are required by an official called Bab-n-zmam (literally father, or owner, of the zmam) or even Mqeddem. The person is appointed collegially and the function does not go to his inheritants. The zmams are kept in a local. In Timimoun, the local was in Ouled Brahim village neighborhood, then in Mechouar village; the zmams have again changed hand after the Mqaddem death in the 1970s. The foggara system presents other functions which contribute to the management. The Khabir (the expert) is a Manager to whom is assigned the foggara responsibility, and the Kyyel, (Measurer) expert in measurements of flows. The Kyyel is not assigned to an appropriate foggara or oasis but for a group of oasis. The last Kyyel known in Timimoun region is El-Hadj Abdesselam Messahel. For the revitalization works of Amokane foggara, the oldest foggara in Timimoun, hydraulics services appointed khabir Mohamed Boullel as technical advisor to follow the works. Distribution channels are made of gullies, hewn stones in a quarry near a former bath Hammam Qbou in Tin-Sayin old village ruins in Timimoun Northeast. In other oasis, especially in the erg, channels are built of stones bound with lime; the sand sediments in the canal form eventually with the limestone dissolved in water an impermeable layer that prevents leaks. Maintenance is always needed and thus is part of common life in the oasis. More specific still repair works after a gallery or a well collapse. Then alert is given and every person able to work participates in the works that can take all night. The operation stops when the water flows again. It is to note women participation particularly during the evacuation of the sands of the collapse. They bring water to moisten the sand to keep from going down again. The foggara exists also in the Hoggar region where they are dug within river valleys. River floods may cause cyclic destruction but they are restored by Touiza self help. With limited size and, foggaras have been introduced in Hoggar region at least for one century10. ARTESIAN SYSTEM The artesian system is based on the simple rule to allow underground water under pressure to come on the ground. The existence of artesian system is very old; the oldest known source is the IbnKhaldun which is a description of the achievement of wells in the 14th century in the region of Oued Righ.

The name is depending of the region; it is Habba in North Gourara; Kherga in the Auguerout; Thmen in Timimoun and Madjel in Tuat region. See: [MERCADIER, 1946] p-25. 10 This is according to local witnesses. 5

The artesian system is the most appropriate that identify the Lower Sahara (Northeast) from the Ziban region (Biskra) at the foot of Saharan atlas to Oued Righ (Ouargla) in the south. El-Golea is the more western artesian oasis. Artesian water comes from the Terminal Complex aquifer. One oasis which has long prospered with this system is Touggourt, capital of Oued Righ. The most ancient historical sources witnessed its longevity. Water availability seems more easy and abundant in artesian region; it explains early interests of French occupation to enhance water resources in order to consolidate more crops and European permanent presence. The region offers a huge of lakes called sebkha attesting water abundance. In general artesian wells are flowing; in Oued Righ the well has a depth from 45 m to 80 m. Wells are dug through different layers, almost limestone and clay. In order to prevent sand and saltwater, the parts of the well which are not through stone layers have to be covered by sections of palm tree11 (Fig. 4). The wells are 0, 7 to 1m large12. Digging artesian wells is a very hard work, so it is always undertook collectively. No artesian well could be found with one single owner; water division is the common rule. A network of canals ensures water distribution through the palm tree gardens while other wells supply water for the village. Water sharing system is based on time division, it is the main rule in Algerian Sahara. The artesian system has a particular aspect due to the necessity to drain water irrigation away from the oasis. Drain water is not waste but has to be took away. There are two kinds of canals; irrigating canals and draining canals. The first network supply water irrigation for the gardens, the second discharge water after irrigation to a sebkha, in this case the sebkha is called chemoura. In the case of Touggourt, where is the most concentrated artesian wells, water drain is collected in a main canal called Hemmala which conduct water to Timimouns chemmoura. While the Hemmala canal goes close to Tebesbest village, it is used to irrigate a great part of its gardens. Tebestest used to irrigate its gardens by a simple derivation from Hemmala canal. The result is a double benefit: recuperation of excess water from Timimoun and supply water irrigation for free.

Fig. 4, Longitudinal Section of an artesian well in Oued-Righ region. LAURENT 1859.

Artesian wells need a hard work to be dug and to remain in use. The first menace is infected water from some layers through the well depth. The second is more difficult when sand, carried by
11 12

[LAURENT, 1859] Over Ibn-Khaldoun citation, Berbrugger has witnessed the dig of a new artesian well at Nezla Oasis. The responsible of works, Megueddem Bouchmal has sent him forward to Algiers all the details about senses end costs to let him compare costs with European digging methods. 6

artesian water, is deposited progressively in the well to seal it completely. A group of Ghattassin, local divers, will strive to clear the sand up to reopen the well again. Water pressure can be so strong that the worker can die asphyxiated. Having learned to prevent danger, divers have developed a knowledge do to keep them alive even if they carry out no more than three or four round-trip to excavate each time approximately 10 kg of sand. The artesian well can live more than a century when it is dug in stoned site without a sand layer or bad waters intermediate aquifer; in worst cases, it lives almost for five years. Oases can live in prosperity if artesian wells remain in use and maintenance works are ensured. When some wells stop carrying water even after hard works reviving it, gardens irrigated will collapse. French sources give a witness of Tamerna oasis, between Djama and Touggourt, which became in ruins for more than its half since 1849. French engineering conducted the first works with European equipments; they finally gave the oasis a new life when the first French artesian well was dug 60 m depth and gives flowing water in date of June 9th 1956 with a flow of 3600 l/mn first to reach 4500 l/mn after days. It was a great event for French occupation and celebrated a year later by the Imperial Academy by a poesy competition13. This good result has boosted both French and Algerian enthusiasm. A huge of artesian wells have been dug in Oued Righ, Ziban, El-Golea, Tidikelt, Tuat, other regions also as Ghardaia but with less success. By time they realize that more wells may not ensure more resources. After almost sixty years of artesian digging campaigns, French authority took the decision to limit digging new artesian wells in Oued Righ and the Ziban with respect to new conditions preserving existing well flood. This happened in July 3rd 1915. WATER SOURCE SYSTEM Water sources exist as single cases in various regions due to particular water availability. This fact is not a special feature of southern regions; Algiers is originally a town of sources. But there is a region where water sources are globally numerous14 as the main hydraulic system for all a region: the Ziban region 15 which Biskra is the capital. The Ziban region is the northern part of lower Sahara. It is limited by Saharan atlas foot north and the big depression of Chott Melghigh south. Two facts are responsible of this particular situation; the mass of water carried by the southern slope of Saharan Atlas and the important aquifer called Terminal Complex which provides pressure flowing its underground water into surface. There are two major groups of oases, first the sub region of Zab Dhahraoui around Tolga oasis; the second is the sub region of Zab Guebli around Melili and Oumache oases. Both two regions are serial lines at the foot of Saharan Atlas. Water sources could be situated within the oases like in Zab Dhahraoui, or far from the oases as in Zab Guebli. The group of Mlili-Ourellal-Bigou oases is situated in Zab Guebli; however they are supplied from sources situated in Metref Mountain in Zab Dhahraoui. The oases receive water by a canal of 7 km long16. The oasis of Oumache receives water by a canal from sources situated 12 km far. As we have seen in artesian system, the oasis of Lioua from Zab Guebli uses water surplus from Tolga by a canal 10 km long. Small water sorces are often grouped together in order to give relevant flow.

13 14

[CHAVANNE, 1858] In 1908, Flamand has counted 114 water sources; the great part is in Zab Dhahraoui. See [Flamand 1908], p-47. 15 Ziban in plural, Zab means Oasis in berber language so Ziban means oases. 16 In 1907, Flamand notices a flow of 450 l/s. 7

Tolga oasis has six principal water sources covering almost the total needs of the oasis. These sources are from south to north17: Sedoud, Mernaneche, Foultana, Rassouta, Mrara and Zaouia. With the increase of water needs, artesian wells have been dug by the beginning of the twentieth century. After first years of euphoria, some works confirmed that water sources and artesian wells could come from a same local aquifer. In February 9th 1913, when Ben-Tobbi artesian well flowed for the first time, Rassouta water source has almost stopped working. At the opposite, during the same year, the digging of Buchre artesian well allowed more flow at Foultana water source. Water division is basically calculated on time, the round tour is function of water source importance. More generally the round tour is 14 days. It is 12 days for Sedoud or Oum-Es-Saeg water sources and only 4 days in the case of small water sources. The tour is called Oudjba or Nouba; there is a day tour and a night tour. The Oudjba is divided in 12 Sa, literally hour. This system has been applied for artesian wells; in some cases due to flow importance, the Oudjba is divided in 24 Sa. Water part owner has a document proving his ownership. In some cases, divisions are gathered in a common document called Zmam. DIKE SYSTEM The dike system, or river system, is the proper of oases located near a river coming from the southern slope of tellian Atlas. There are two principal groups of oases; at the west, the Saoura river group where water comes from the higher atlas at Southeast of Morocco, a good rainfall region which causes periodic floods. The second group is east at the Aures region where some rivers carrying mountain rains into the south. Most known are the permanent flow rivers: El-Abiodh River, El-Arab, Abdi and Fedhala. Rainfall is almost good and floods less periodic than in the west. While the high Moroccan atlas is not very populated, the southern slope of Aures Mountains is relatively populated. Water is therefore shared between mountain settlements and Saharan oases. If mountain settlements use all water they need directly from the river, oases settlements have to share the exceeding water river coming from mountains. Sidi-Okba oasis, a famous oasis 18 , used to live exclusively on El-Abiodh River among particular distribution networks. It shares the river flow with other oases through a system of canals 19 called in singular Seguia. Foum-El-Gherza Gorge marks by a

Fig. 5, Sidi-Okba region water canals network

There are other small water sources : Belelmi, Oubarech, El-Gueber, Metamir, Oum-Es-Sag and more recently Amara which looks like a foggara, and Belkacem-ben-Hamoud. See [MOULIAS, 1927] pp 47-48. 18 Sidi-Okba is the name of the Muslim conqueror and Prophet Companion, Okba-Ibn-Naf Al-Fihri, died in 683 and buried in this oasis which took his name. Sidi-Okba is considered as the holy city and religious capital of Ziban region. 19 [FELIU, 1896], pp 56-63. 8

dam the first water distribution on two canals (Fig. 5), Saguia Gartia to Garta oasis and FehalEzzab to Sidi-Okba, Tehouda, Seriana oases and south Garta. The distribution is valid from September 28th to May 27th. During summer, when the river has less flow, Fehal-Ezzab distributes only for Sidi-Okba, Tehouda, and Seriana. The rule of distribution is based on volume distribution between oases. In Sidi-Okba, El-Mecidia canal is distributed through five canals; this distribution is also in volume. Over that, all divisions are by time. The volume unit division is called Lokza, clenched fist in Arabic20. It is the water flow of a hole made by a clenched fist. Summer apart, the entire river volume measures 77, 5 Lokza distributed to the four oases. Time division is used only between gardens. In Sidi-Okba time division is organized in a principal unit is the day and night or 24 hours, it is called Semeche. The tour comes back after nine days (rotation period). The day, or Semeche, is divided to: 1 Semeche 1 Wedjba 1 Thmen 1 Kharrouba 1 Tounsia = = = = = 2 Wedjba 2 Thmen 2 Kharrouba 2 Tounsia 7,5 Dirham 1 Wedjba 1 Thmen 1 Kharrouba 1 Tounsia 1 Dirham = = = = = 12 Hours 6 Hours 3 Hours 1 Hour, 30 Minutes 12 Minutes

Each canal is controlled by a person appointed by the Djema, traditional social organization in almost all Maghreb. Measurements are made by day with the controller shadow counted by his feet. By night measurement is made by a water clock called Mechkouda, a conical copper container with a hole in its bottom. Put in water, it fills after a time that serves as a fixed time unit measurement. It is the equivalent of Gaddous of Ghadames oasis in Libya or Clepsydra in Iran. Due to night variation following the year, the number of Mechkouda per hour will be different in each season. For example one hour is equal to 8 Mechkouda during autumn and spring, 9 in winter and 7 in summer. Even though, the real water quantity for each shareholder will vary with the river water flow. We have seen how Fehal-Ezzab water volume varies from 62 Lokza to 22, 5 Lokza in summer. Because of flow variation, sometimes water flow becomes so low that shares can no longer be used for irrigation. In accordance with the Djema, shareholders may decide offer for sale at public auction all of the flow which can then be sufficient to irrigate a garden. Default share water, the owners share the sale price. The purchaser has to drive water through the main canal through the houses to allow inhabitants for their domestic needs. At the opposite, when river floods, the opportunity concerns all people. Water floods are seemed as a wedding gift which may benefits more widely. From flood announcers, music group to the last participant in diverting works; all will receive a part of the flood even those non shareholders.
The distribution is : Gartia (15,5), Fehal_Ezzab (62) divided itself, from septembre 28th to May 27th on : ElOuarchania (15,25) ; Benia (7) ; Tehoudia (14,25) ; El-Mecidia (16,5) and Ksar-Errouah (9). From May 28th to September 27th Fehal_Ezzab divides only 22,5 Lokza between only three canals : Benia (2) ; Tehoudia (3) and ElMecidia (16,5). Only Sidi-Okba canal remains with same flow because of its palm trees which need to be irrigated continuously. See [MOULIAS, 1927] pp 76-79.

Another kind of transaction between oases is the pre-colonial agreement between Sidi-Okba and Sidi-Khelil oases. Sidi-Okba has bought a part of Bezania water source which is 12 km far. From June to October, Sidi-Okba uses all Bezania water source 25 days a month 21 . In 1891 military administration, ruling south territories, has asked the General Government in Algiers for a special budget for works on Bezania water source and its canal to improve more water flow to Sidi-Okba oasis22. MZAB SYSTEM Mzab region seems to be very particular due to its geography and hydrography, but also for the genuine works people achieved for centuries. The Mzab system may be considered the most artificial historical hydraulic system in the whole Sahara. The Mzab is located some 600 km South of Algiers. The area is served by a limestone plateau with an altitude of 250 to 750 m. Average rainfall does not exceed 100 mm per year, however the stone plateau, being waterproof and sloping to the South, flows water to the region by a group of rivers: Mzab, Metlili, Seb-Seb, Nsa and Zeghrir. Flows are not permanent but when doing, they run fast enough to avoid evaporation and infiltration in the soil. It is this network of rivers which form the network more known as Chebka du M'zab. With its underground water situated up to 55 m depth, the valley enables viable settlements through irrigation efforts. At first view, temptation is to consider Mzab region as a dike system as it lives on rivers. However reality is more complicated. River flooding is not frequent enough to ensure prosperity. Here appears the Mozabites23 genius achievement. The principle is basically to divert water from flood to the river aquifer in order to be reused continuously thereafter. This requires such organization and some engineering implementation. Mozabites have organized the territory of the Valley in a set of five cities built since early 11th century24 on the rocky hills along the river; these are El-Ateuf, Bounoura, Melika, Beni-Izguen and finally the most famous Ghardaia (Fig. 6). Every city has its date palm gardens within the valley. When flood comes to Ghardaia valley, it is first blocked by a system of dikes upstream. The dikes are equipped with floodgates which allow controlling flow downstream. Through the dykes, water is conducted into main canals that direct water to a dam or a floodgate called Tissembad sharing in six galleries. Galleries distribute water to the date palm gardens according to a system of canals dividing repartition which define each owner a definite part of water volume.
Fig. 6, Ghardaia region with its five cities on the river escarpments. It more known as Mzab Pentapole
21 22

Sidi-Okba oasis tried without success to achieve a similar agreement with Mechouneche oasis situated northeast. See :[CONSEIL SUPERIEUR DU GOUVERNEMENT, 1889] pp 80-81. 23 Mzab citizens are called Mozabites. 24 The first city to be built is El-Ateuf in 1012 and Bounoura in 1046. 10

Thus the most important flood is used to complete the dikes, dam and irrigate the gardens by the canals network. A particular important flood may allow even to directly fill in the wells; the valley aquifer is then not loaded only by infiltration but more quickly through the wells. If flood is particularly important, there are overflow parts on the canal boards to redirect water back to the river. By the past, this system prevents Mzab cities from scarcity for up to seven dry years25. All this implementation is managed by a group of controllers called Oumana-Essayl, under the authority of the Djema26 called here Azzaba. Oumana-Essayl expect the climate changes, expect the rain, ensure coordination and change information from gardens to the first dikes using mirror signs during the day and fire signs by night. Flood waters are exceptional and its division is by volume. More often, water irrigation comes from well extraction. Division in gardens is always needed due to successive inheritance; a single garden called Ghaba, is divided into several parts called Haouza, means forest, with an average of 50 palm trees. A single well distributes in some cases up to twenty shareholders; water division is therefore by time27. Each day is divided in 24 units called kharrouba; division continues then like this: 1 day/ night 1 Kharrouba 1 Thmen 1 Mouzouna = = = = 24 Kharrouba 8 Thmen 3 Mouzouna 30 Dirhem 1 Kharrouba 1 Thmen 1 Mouzouna 1 Dirhem = = = = 1 Hour 7,5 Minutes 2,5 Minutes 5 seconds

These units are called white or black due to day or night sharing. In practice, only Kharrouba units are applicable, the other units serve for calculation. Whatever the daily share value is, it is gathered up to reach a quarter day and given in one time. Time shares are defined shadow measurement by day and stars positons by night. The Mzab wells are more than 3000 with various flows, more than 1700 are in Ghardaia. As citied are quite separated from the gardens, each city has its wells for domestic use. Wells have 8 to 55 m depth. Additional galleries are dug horizontally from the well to reinforce its drain capacity. Some people used to work in water issues witness that some of these galleries make an underground connection28. Charlet has classified wells into four categories: A: 302 wells giving water up to six months after a river flood, B: 900 wells giving water up to one year and half to two years of drought, C: 490 wells giving water during a long drought period but with less flow? D: 19 wells called Warwara giving water with good flow whenever; As Ghardaia is surrounded by artesian regions, such as Touggourt Northeast or El-Golea Southwest, several times Mozabites, and French military administration after, tried to find an artesian aquifer without any success. These unsuccessful episodes show to what extent people can spend efforts and money to reach more water resources.
25 26

Witnesses reported by the author in Ghardaia after the devastating floods of 2008. Two groups of traditional agents manage life in the Mzab, first group is Oumana-Essayl in charge of water issues, and the second is Oumana-El-Kasr in charge of the city issues. 27 This division is described in [MOULIAS, 1927] p-195, Charlet gives a more simple description; the well daily water is divided in 16 Kharrouba. During summer water is scarce, parts are therefore counted by basin volume units; see [CHARLET, 1905] p-49. 28 The experience is practiced in several regions: a coloured powder, mainly red colour, is put in a well upstream, it is expected to colour water in wells situated down. 11

INFEROFLOW SYSTEM This system is also related to rivers with this difference that extraction is done locally by simple wells dug within the valley river. The system exists in general in Saoura region or in some oases in the Ziban region as a secondary system; but it becomes principal one in Central Sahara settlements like Djanet in Tassili plateau and Tamanrasset in the Hoggar Mountains. Djanet oasis as an example is situated at the southwest limit of Tassili rocky plateau. Due to its altitude (1600-1800 m) and while the sandstones do not absorb water, Djanet receives almost the entire rainwater coming from the plateau by Edjeriou29 river. The site is a part of the river where rocky escarpments are on both sides. The west side escarpment goes south till it becomes a cliff. Every four years, Djanet registers an average of 3.5 flood days per year and one major flood event per four years. It is easy to see then water arriving from the plateau by the river (Oued Edjeriou). Water noise acts as a warning system to prevent people away from the floods. Major floods can some years be catastrophic. The subsoil water of the river, or inferoflow, is 3 to 7 m deep and sometimes less during good seasons. The alluvial river water consists of sand and sandstone rubble, its thickness varies between 10 and 25 m, the width of the valley up 700 to 800 m. The situation helps to keep water in the subsoil; this may, in case of a good year, ensure life oasis for two years. When annual rainfall average is good, water reappears sufficiently on the ground few kilometers above in a small lake at a place called In-Debirene. Djanet is a group of three villages called Ksar (ksour in plural) situated on both Edjeriou riversides. Azzelouaz and El-Mihane are on the east side and Adjahil on the opposite (Fig. 7). TinKhatma is the town center, a former Libyan Senoussya religious school 30 (zaouia). All of them are built on the rocky escarpments; gardens are situated on the higher river area out of the floods. Floods periodicity plays a major role keeping Djanet in its genuine system.

Fig. 7, Djanet oasis on Edjeriou river in Tassili

In these conditions, a well of few meters deep may irrigate gardens using a balancer. Each garden has its own well to avoid recourse to the sharing of the water. The west part is irrigated also by a series of water sources raising right the cliff31. The flow of water sources is relatively low. Two sources were exceptionally important: Oueltedez and Telmezaiste. Each garden is irrigated by a well
29 30

It is called also Djanet River. Khatma, literally the End, is when scholars end reading the holy Kuran. 31 There are more than 60 small sources on the southwest side; see [DAHMEN, 1996] p12

or a water source. Gardens situated in the southwest part close to the cliff are irrigated by a water supply distributing from the two big water sources. Water distribution in inferoflow system is generally useless. Water is carried from gardens to the villages for domestic use; there was no water supply. Adjahil village is more linked to gardens. Garden water supplies coming from the two major sources are used for some domestic activities like washing clothes. BOUR SYSTEM In Arabic, Bour means agriculture without irrigation. The Bour system seems therefore the simplest hydraulic system it may exist; in spite to supply water to irrigate gardens, mainly date palms, gardens are driven below up to water table that trees become irrigated directly by the aquifer itself. Of course there is no need to develop any implementation organizing water distribution or managing water shares. The Bour system exists mainly on the board of the two great Ergs. The Erg is a sea of uninterrupted sand dunes; it is the most difficult area to cross in Sahara. At the verge of ergs, some aquifers may exist under the sand. In the western Great Erg, oases often present foggara and bour systems, however at the North side of the Eastern Great Erg, oases are exclusively organized by the Bour system. This region is the south part of the lower Sahara; it is called Souf region; its capital is El-Oued. It is the main oasis in a sery of sites which mark the Northern fringes of the Eastern Great Erg. The territory is called the Souf and El Oued is its capital. In Souf region, water is located under sand dunes; the ground is characterized by gypsum presence. This makes water going in a very low flow; wells give therefore a very limited flow. In 1950 it was noted that the largest wells empty for some 150 water seals. The well should take four or five hours till the water get back to its equilibrium level32. It is just enough to irrigate a small garden of vegetables but not palm trees needing water even during summer.

Fig. 8, El-Oued oasis in Souf region surrounded by Ghouts. BATAILLON 1956

This fact led to overthrow the usual logic in oasis spaces, rather than bring water to the palm trees; it takes palm trees closer to water. To do this, excavations are made in the sand of the erg; they are called Ghout or Houdh. The principle is to achieve first a limited excavation in the sand arriving near to the level of water. Then a well is dug to irrigate a small garden. The small garden is enlarged thus by successive excavations. Gardens finally form together a Ghout network constituing a cellular shape (Fig. 8).

See [BATAILLON, 1956] pp 12-13. 13

The operation requires a lot of efforts; thousands of cubic meters of sand are excavated manually in a collective self-help form called Touiza. According to local tradition, the Ghout takes the name of the family that owns it. It usually takes round elliptical and a variable surface area exceeding one hectare planted exclusively of Palm trees. The ghout represents a land unit in the soil ownership system. A small water supply may exist in the Ghout (Fig. 7) where several gardens can be grouped. Each garden is irrigated by a well called Khettara, a well with appropriate traditional handling system to non deep wells. Other deeper wells are dug in the village for domestic use. GENERAL OUTLINES This overview through Algerian historic hydraulic systems enables to dress the following outlines. Saharan settlements have been prospered for a very long time according two major reasons: local irrigated agriculture enabled, by appropriate hydraulic systems, to ensure subsistence; and trade exchanges keeping relationships with the surrounded civilizations in both African and Mediterranean sides. The exchange ensures complement needs and at least new know how necessary to continue water source investigation. Complement needs are not only for domestic life; water is extracted by animals often brought by caravans from southern African cities. Hydraulic systems exist together even there is always a major system. Nevertheless, there is a case of single system in south Gourara where only foggara system is in use. In Djanet, People have tried to dig a foggara but results were not successful. In Ghardaia explorations were undertook aiming to find any artesian aquifer. In Tolga water source system was the sole system until 1903 when begun artesian discovery in its region33. This means where exists a single system, the reason is that no other possibility for another system. The important issue is to look for more water resources, and when found, the appropriate system would be found and implemented. Some oases present a double system of equal importance, Djanet (Inferoflow-Source), Ngoussa near Ouargla (Artesian-Bour), Beni-Abbes (Foggara-Source), Ghardaia (Dike, well),..Etc. this fact has a major influence on oasis organization. Ngoussa is situated near a small part of Eastern Great Erg on its south side, the example is interesting ; artesian wells enables to group in quite juxtaposition all gardens as a same peace ; while bour system requires to dig ghouts. Oasis landscape appears therefore in two side parts : continuous land on west side and cellular lands on east side ; it is not meaningless if eastsides name is El-Bour. Most prosperous oases are those having continuous resources without any need to extraction. It is more obvious in the case of water source oases, water is always available and no great efforts are needed. Tolga is one of the oldest oases known before the roman period34. The second kind is artesian system which ensures much water without extraction but a genius maintenance is required to keep artesian wells in use ; Touggourt and Ouargla used to be famous Saharan cities for a very long time. The third kind is for sure foggara system ; water is always available ; important efforts are required to remain foggaras in use, but no extraction efforts are needed. Ownership system considers separately: water, palms and land. The priority order of importance is different and no common rule is found out. In foggara system water ownership has is priority ; in Gharadaia however, palm trees are sold with specification of its surrounding land called Horma and
33 34

French administration created artesian wells since 1903 and 1902 in Ain-Salah in Tidikelt. We can cite also Biskra, Laghouat and Beni-Abbes in Algeria ; Figuig in South Morocco ; and Ghadames in Libya. 14

its water part. In Laghouat in northern Sahara, shareholders receive water in accordance to their land size. Just these three examples show how diverse are priorities order ; finally the single common rule is ownership separation between land, palm tree and water. Water division is more generally managed by time with diverse details in the processing way ; the tour is therefore a variable number of days35. Nevertheless we have seen in dike systems how both volume and time divisions are used in complementary way. We noticed also in Mzab region during summer how time shares are converted in corresponding volume through appropriate number of basin water volume. Volume division is the particular method of foggara system. But we may add that some foggara regions keep a singular rule of volume or time division : in Tamentit, an oasis close to Adrar in Tuat region, Hennou foggara is almost the oldest, division time is still being the rule. It is also the case in Tabelbala oasis situated on Bechar south . Water division may concern more than one oasis in the case of dike system. We have seen also that oases can negotiate agreements to buy water shares as between Sidi-Okba and Sidi-Khelil. More generally, water can transit from one oasis to another; Touggourt drained water is partly used by Tebestbest oasis and Tolga exceeding water diverted to Lioua oasis. Names are often interchangeable; khettara is used to designate a well in Mzab region or the traditional extraction system for non deep well dug in a river bed or in Souf or Saoura regions, it is also the foggara name in Moroccan oases. Water clock is called Mechkouda in Northeast and Taghyra in western oases. Kharrouba or Dirham are water division units but may be used for different values in different places. This fact leads to consider more generally that people are regardless to toponimy. Women participation in water works may be the most unexpected feature. Women participate in maintenance works, different helps considered as necessary contribution in waterworks. This fact is witnessed in Gourara, Tuat and Oued Righ. In Sahara, we can conclude obviously that human settlements follow water sources. If the water level goes down in the sources or in the foggaras, people use khettaras in order to bring water up to the level used to be irrigated; otherwise they bring down garden level to continue irrigating by gravitation. These adaptations are achieved permanently since water becomes very scarce or disappears. People look therefore to find a new resource elsewhere and a new oasis is created. CONCLUSION This presentation has tried to show how diverse and particular the history of traditional hydraulic systems in Algeria as the largest Maghreb country. The seven systems described may exist in all Maghreb and we have no details about other traditional systems elsewhere. Water systems used to be central regarding to oases life. Water is the first and the most important wealth a man can own in Sahara. Water sharing units in foggara system are divided in a report of 1 to 24. Curiously, it is similar to gold weight units. Water takes importance also from its public character. Water challenges are directly linked to community life. This historical importance has not found proportional interest in search fields. The interest has begun slowly almost two decades before and needs are great for systematic investigation to preserve

More commonly, the tour is after 14 days; it is much easy if each share comes the same day of the week. 15

this common heritage. The authorities will to ensure much water available went sometimes through the collapse of traditional hydraulic systems36. Two years ago, in Timimoun, I met Cheikh Abdesselam Da Sidi, the responsible of Amokane foggara, the oldest foggara in the oasis37. After first timid responses he finally said: during our life and especially since independence, we faced three major threats. The first was the Agrarian Revolution when we did face much turbulence in our agricultural and commercial process. The second was agriculture development programs which enabled everybody to undertake new projects without any regards to traditional activity. The third was more catastrophic by digging albian deep wells which disturbed foggara water. The positive aspect in this worst situation is that brings finally more alerts through civil actions towards people and administration to stop the damage. The hope is to see increasing interest through academic works, public programs and educational and cultural activities to improve common feeling about how relevant is to preserve this millenary heritage.


Drinking water rate in Timimoun oasis is 458 litres/day.inhabitant; in Zeggour oasis it reaches 1038. The whole Timimoun county average is 544 litres/day.inhabitant; so it is three times and half the national average. There is one explanation: water is not only used for drinking but more often for irrigation. 37 Amokane foggara is more than 13 centuries old, 7 kilometre length and 700 shafts. 16

REFREES _ BATAILLON C. Le Souf, tude de gographie humaine , Mmoire n 2, Institut de Recherches Sahariennes, Alger 1956 _ BERBRUGGER A. Les Puits artsiens des oasis mridionales de l'Algrie , Bastide Paris 1862 _ BRUNHES J. L'irrigation, ses conditions gographiques, ses modes et son organisation dans la Pninsule Ibrique et dans l'Afrique du Nord , Thse de gographie humaine, Naud, Paris 1902 _ CHARLET, Lt. Les palmiers du Mzab , in Bulletin de la Socit de Gographie dAlger et de lAfrique du Nord, Zamith & Cie, Alger, 1905, pp-11-87. _ CHAVANNE (de la,) D. Concours pour le prix de la posie: Le premier puits artsiens dans le Sahara, session publique du 30 Juin 1857. In MEMOIRES DE LACADEMIE IMPERIALE DES SCIENCES ET BELLES LETTRES ET ARTS DE LYON, Classes des lettres, Tome VI, Vingtrinier, Lyon (France), 1857-58, pp 66-88. _ CONSEIL SUPERIEUR du GOUVERNEMENT, Rvisions budgtaires pour lexercice 1891 , Giralt, Alger 1889 _ DAHMEN Abdelkrim, Infrastructures Hydrauliques et Etablissement Humain, Cas dtude, lOasis de Djanet , Mmoire de Magister, Ecole Polytechnique dArchitecture et dUrbanisme, Alger 1996. _ FELIU E., Le rgime des eaux dans le Sahara constantinois , Mauguin, Bida (Algrie) 1896. _ FLAMAND G. B. M. (Service Gologique des Territoires du Sud de lAlgrie) Compte Rendu de la Campagne 1907-1908 , Heintz, Alger 1908 _ GSELL S. Enqute administrative sur les travaux hydrauliques anciens en Algrie , Leroux, Paris 1902. _ HHNEL G. die morphologie und Hydrographie der Oasen in der Sahara , Bunzlau (Germany) 1895 _ HERODOTUS Histoire d'Hrodote , trad. Larcher, revue et corrige par Pessonneaux, Charpentier, Paris 1889. _ LAURENT CH. Mmoire sur le Sahara oriental au point de vue de ltablissement des puits artsiens dans lOued-Souf, lOued-Rir et les Zibans , Bourdier, Paris 1859. _ MOULIAS Daniel Lorganisation hydraulique des oasis sahariennes , Carbonel, Alger, 1927