Water Issues Along Egypt’s Nile River

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life

This is the 8th blog in our series on the Nile River in Egypt by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis, sophomore at Georgetown University. This essay addresses some of today’s most pressing water issues in the Nile River Basin. [NWNL expeditions have covered the Upper Nile, but due to current challenges for US photojournalists in Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using literary and online resources to investigate the Lower Nile.]

Over the past few years, water shortages, river pollution and saltwater intrusion have increasingly plagued Egypt. These issues are exacerbated by a population that’s grown by 41% since the early 1990’s.  In the next 50 years, the population is expected to double, yet Egypt has a very limited water supply. Egypt receives only 80 millimeters of rain per year, and so the Nile River provides 97% of its freshwater. This increasingly industrialized nation also faces a profusion of pollution in the Nile River coming from chemical runoff and industrial waste.1 As well, the Nile River Delta is experiencing saltwater intrusion due to its sinking northern corners.2 These three issues – among others – demand changes if Egypt and its Nile River are to continue to be healthy, functioning entities.


13_Nile_River_in_AswanThe Nile River near Aswan. Attribution: Sherif Ali Yousef

With one of the world’s lowest per capita water shares, Egypt barely meets its water needs today – and yet it also needs to prepare for millions of additional people in coming years. Only 6% of Egypt is arable agricultural land, with the rest being desert.  Inefficient water irrigation, uneven water distribution, and misuse of water resources have all contributed to Egypt’s current dire situation.The country faces a yearly water deficit of about 7 billion cubic meters. Its water comes from nonrenewable aquifers, meaning they cannot be recharged or reused once they are dry.

Despite these pressures, many farmers use an unproportionate amount of water by continuing to employ outdated and inefficient irrigation techniques. One of these is “basin irrigation,” where entire fields are flooded with water that evaporates or is later drained off. Ancient Egyptians used the same practice to water their crops, but then the population was much lower and as a result, water was more plentiful. The approximately 18,000 miles of canals supplying today’s farmers also contribute to water waste, because evaporation in the canals absorbs about 3 billion cubic meters of Nile River water per year.4

Env_contamination1.ifThe Pesticide Runoff Process
Attribution: Roy Bateman

Water pollution is particularly significant in the Nile River Delta where factories and industrial plants have sprung up. These companies often drain dangerous chemicals and hazardous materials into the river, causing fish and other aquatic wildlife to suffer. A large number of fish deaths, due to high levels of lead and ammonia, has been reported. Bacteria and metals in the water are particularly harmful. The agriculture sector also contributes to water pollution via pesticide and herbicide runoff.5 This toxic combination of pollutants has been known to cause liver disease and renal failure in humans.6

Saltwater intrusion is another large concern for the Nile River Delta, which is slowly sinking at a rate of 8 millimeters per year. This is an alarming amount since the Mediterranean Sea is rising about 3 millimeters per year and the Delta plain is only one meter above sea level. Although only the northern third of the delta is affected, saltwater intrusion could spell disaster for area crops if they do not adapt to soil with a high salinity.7  Further crop threats come from the lack of silt filtering downriver. This silt once provided enough nutrients to the fields that farmers did not have to apply synthetic fertilizers. With the construction of the Aswan High Dam, however, silt was blocked upstream and the Nile Delta suffers as a result.8

egypt_tmo_2014290_lrgAerial view of the Nile River Delta

The Nile River Basin is facing a plethora of largely human-driven issues from pollution to water overuse. In order to preserve the Nile River and its people, various steps are needed to protect its environs. Solutions include passing legislation to prevent industries from dumping hazardous waste, building more sewage treatment plants, and transferring silt downstream as natural fertilizer. Action is needed to save Egypt’s famous Nile, and it needs to be done with haste.

Sources

1 Dakkak, Amir. “Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster.” EcoMENA. 22 July 2017. Web.
2 Theroux, Peter. “The Imperiled.” National Geographic Magazine. January 1997.
3 Kuo, Lily. “The Nile River Delta, once the bread basket of the world, may soon be uninhabitable.” Quartz Africa. 16 March 2017. Web.
4 Dakkak, Amir. “Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster.” EcoMENA. 22 July 2017. Web.
5 Dakkak, Amir. “Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster.” EcoMENA. 22 July 2017. Web.
6 Theroux, Peter. “The Imperiled.” National Geographic Magazine. January 1997.
7 Kuo, Lily. “The Nile River Delta, once the bread basket of the world, may soon be uninhabitable.” Quartz Africa. 16 March 2017. Web.
8World Wildlife Foundation. “Nile Delta flooded savanna.” October 3, 2017. Web.

Raritan River Week!

New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River
New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River

We love the Raritan River!

Celebrate RARITAN RIVER WEEK
April 16-30, 2016!

Check out the events page for rain barrel workshops, nature walks, stream cleanups, composting/gardening sessions and more for people of all ages to enjoy! There’s also a great list of resources for the region which includes maps of parks and protected areas, a book list, and lesson plans for teachers.

Did you know that there’s a Quarterly publication called Raritan too?Raritan offers writers and readers the opportunity for sustained reflection and aesthetic pleasure, uncluttered by academic jargon. Founded in 1981 by the distinguished literary critic Richard Poirier, and supported by Rutgers University, Raritan aims to reach the common reader in everyone and to provide a particular experience of reading, one that nurtures an engaged and questioning approach to cultural texts of all sorts: literary, artistic, political, historical, sociological, even scientific.”

USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin
USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin

The Raritan River We Know and Love

By Judy Shaw, Ph.D., Urban Environmental Planner,
Watershed Policy Coordinator, Author

The Raritan River, a long unsung treasure of New Jersey, was high on the list of special places for No Water No Life Founder and Director, Alison Jones. She lived in this NWNL case-study watershed all through her childhood and much of her adulthood. Thanks to documentary efforts by Alison and other Raritan stewards, the Raritan has risen in the esteem of many.

I had the pleasure of working with her and the many organizations that dedicate themselves to restoring and protecting this river. My recently-published book, The Raritan River: Our Landscape, Our Legacy, contains her images and those of many others who clearly love this river and this region.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.46.47 PM
The book presents the story of key organizations and their leaders by region, so everyone can appreciate their hard work and dedication to the protection of the watershed. The beautiful banks of over 2000 miles of tributaries moved many area photographers and artists to capture its magical nature.

The book offers New Jersey people across the country to say, “Hey. This is the New Jersey we know and love. It’s more than a turnpike and heavy industry. It’s beautiful and it’s really special.”

USA: New Jersey, Mountainville, Upper Raritan River Basin, Tewksbury Township, spring blooms on hard wood tree, Saw Mill Rd.

Since I retired from Rutgers University in December as the Founding Director of the Edward J. Bloustein School’s Sustainable Raritan Initiative, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the stewardship torch pass brightly on to the many who care as much as I did. So, get out and enjoy your natural treasures and capture the wonder in photos or paintings. You’ll be glad you did!

–Blog Post Written By Judy Shaw, NWNL Advisor

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We all live downstream

USA:  New Jersey, Lower Raritan River, NY/NJ Baykeeper headed downstream towards Middlesex County Landfill
USA: New Jersey, Lower Raritan River, NY/NJ Baykeeper headed downstream towards Middlesex County Landfill

 

USA: Washington, Palouse,  downstream of Little Goose Lock and Dam, USACE hydro and run-of-the-river dam on the Snake River
USA: Washington, Palouse, downstream of Little Goose Lock and Dam, USACE hydro and run-of-the-river dam on the Snake River

 

USA:  Mississippi, Natchez, downstream view of the Natchez MS-Vidalia LA bridge over the MIssissippi River
USA: Mississippi, Natchez, downstream view of the Natchez MS-Vidalia LA bridge over the MIssissippi River

Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.

A Cinderella Story: Las Vegas isn’t a Water Hog

Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Mention of water usage in Las Vegas prompts most people to roll their eyes in exasperation. I saw this last week during a lecture on mega-droughts presented to an audience of environmentalists. Few realized that, rather than being the “ugly sister” of wise water consumption, Las Vegas – even with all casinos, glitz and fountains galore – is Cinderella’s fairy godmother waving a wand of solutions for arid communities.

This still-growing Nevada city is coping better than California with drought conditions, despite differences in the sources of their water supplies. Las Vegas draws from Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir dammed by Hoover Dam and known for the recreation it affords. California’s water users depend on aqueduct delivery of surface water (including the Colorado River) and groundwater reserves.   But, nevertheless, their droughts elicit the same fears of the economic consequences of not having enough water.

USA: Southern California, CA Drought Spotlight 3-Rte 66 Expedition, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that also siphons water for Colorado Aquaduct to Los Angeles for Metropolitan Water District), signage
USA: Southern California, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that siphons water for Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles via the Metropolitan Water District)

Californians – and all those never thought of Las Vegas as being an environmental trendsetter – would do well to take heed of what’s happening in Las Vegas. The Economist Magazine (August 8, 2015, p 23-24) neatly summarized the ways southern Nevada has preemptively and quite successfully addressed water availability issues.

Las Vegas has banned front lawns. Now xeri-scaping with cactus, yucca plants and interesting desert rocks has become fashionable.

USA California, Santa Barbara, Firescape Garden by firestation on Stanwood

Examples of xeri-scaping.

 

Las Vegas golf courses are now watered sparingly by “brown water.”  New dramatic views of desert scenery offer intriguing contrasts beyond the greens.

Example of a golf course with only greens irrigated.
A golf course after 4 years of drought with only its greens irrigated.

Facing the reality of desert resources, Las Vegas now treats and recycles water used in homes, pools and fountains back to Lake Mead. Furthermore, if homeowners use more than their allotted amounts of water (per a tiered scale), they are charged at higher rates. Yet California’s arcane regulations discourage and in some places dis-allows scaled water-pricing incentives so as to reduce water consumption.

Perhaps Las Vegas is ahead of California because the Colorado River Basin is entering its 16th year of drought and California is only in its 5th year of record-breaking drought. Things aren’t always what we think. Solutions can come from surprising sources.

El Nino, despite its attendant floods and mudslides, may replenish California’s surface water resources; but geology teaches us it will be many years or decades before its groundwater resources will be restored. Additionally, history teaches us that El Nino is often followed by that drought-maker, La Nina. So – as fairy tales teach us – the frog may become a prince and the casino’s scullery maid may become  stewardship’s “Belle of the Ball.” California, look towards Las Vegas!

USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River
USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River

For another comparison of  states’ differing management of groundwater and Colorado River water, read this blog post by Meg Wilcox (of Ceres) for National Geographic (Sept 25, 2015) on Arizona’s tight water management of large-scale vegetable farms versus that of California. Wilcox quotes one Arizona farmer as saying: “We track water like we do financial statements.”

Blog Post by Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life.

Drought and Flooding increases CA Levees risk of failure

USA: California, Sherman Island, on north shore of Sacramento Delta, levee
California, Sherman Island, on north shore of Sacramento Delta, levee

Almost 5 years of drought, now combined with recent rainfall-induced flooding, has weakened California’s levees. Culprits are soil cracking that allows water seepage, soil-strength reduction, land subsidence and erosion, all of which NWNL observed on its California Spotlight expeditions in 2014 and 2015. Fifty-five percent of California’s levee systems are now in danger of failing in the event of a flood or an earthquake. If the levees fail, water quality could be compromised for over 23 million people.

Levees are sand and clay earthen embankments which regulate water levels and protect dry land from floods. More research, risk science, community education and stakeholder collaboration are crucial to improving levee resilience.

Related article in Science Magazine: https://grgusyd.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/vahedifard-et-al-2015_ca-drought-levees_science.pdf

USA: California, Arbuckle, irrigation drainage ditch, levee
California, Arbuckle, irrigation drainage ditch, levee

WATER is SHARED by ALL

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director