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International Programs News & Views Volume 10

Oct. 1998

Drainage Water Irrigation Projection in Egypt

“Egypt is the gift of the Nile” as expressed by Herodorus several centuries ago.  His expression indicates the nature of the life that has dominated the Nile Valley since the dawn of Egyptian history. 

While the Nile can truly be called the river of life, a project that concerns the reuse of its water for irrigation has taken on new social and economic concerns and has given a new meaning to international cooperation.  The Drainage Water Irrigation Project (DWIP) of the Nile Delta in Egypt proved to be the vehicle for carrying out a truly cooperative international project with both private consultants and government agencies that will enhance the available water for irrigation of “the river of life”.

The DWIP was a project of the Drainage Research Institute (DRI), National Water Research Center, Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources, in Cairo, Egypt.  The project was funded in 1994 by a grant of approximately $2.6 million from the African Development Bank through an agreement with the Arab Republic of Egypt, and with the assistance of the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage.  The objectives of the DWIP were to enhance and ensure acceptable crop yields under varying irrigation conditions while using both fresh water and marginal-quality water for irrigation.  The DRI has major responsibilities and concerns for limited irrigation water of the Nile River.

The project was executed by DRI with technical assistance provided by the consulting firm of Louis Berger International, Inc. (USA engineering firm) in partnership with PACER Consultants (Egyptian engineering firm) and the technical participation of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service/International Cooperation and Development (FAS/ICD), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).  The purpose of the project was to investigate the effects of different irrigation water management strategies involving reuse of drainage water and their impact on soil, ground water, crops, and the environment.  The long-term goal of Egypt is to assure continued good crop yields under the varying conditions found in the Nile Delta and along the Nile River while protecting and enhancing the natural resources, environment, and health of its people.

The DWIP was a comprehensive 3-year project completed at the end of 1997 that had four major components-Monitoring; Experimental; Modeling; and Baseline Data.

The “Monitoring” component gathered and analyzed current soil, water and crop data from a large number of 1-feddan (3 acres) sized cropped fields to define crop yield relationships to irrigation water quantities and qualities.  Included were studies of socio-economic and environmental conditions associated with the farmed area.

The “Experimental” component was conducted on two sites, one in the Eastern Delta and one in the Western Delta.  The purpose of the component was to determine the effects of different water management strategies on crops and soil quality in an experimental setting and to provide calibration data for the “Modeling” component.

The “Modeling” component provided for the use of computer models, principally DRAINMOD-S, for guiding water management strategies.  Refinement of models using project data provided guidance on formulating irrigation water plans for other sites.  A major outgrowth of model use will be the longer term use of models in establishing water management strategies for marginal-quality water irrigation usage throughout Egypt.

The “Baseline” component provided physical and socio-economic information for reclamation areas (new land from the desert that can be brought into production as a result of a supply of irrigation water) that can be compared with similar information gathered from areas that have been cultivated for many years.  These data will provide guidance for managing the new lands and will be used in the future as a reference for monitoring performance of the lands irrigated with mixed fresh and drainage waters.

A final report was completed in November 1997 and guidelines were developed for the use of low quality irrigation water ( primarily saline) for crop production in the Nile Delta.  The guidelines will help decision makers minimize long-term degradation of crops and soils and are applicable to both the old lands in the Delta and new lands brought into production both in the East and West Deltas and in the North Sinai as the demand increases with an increasing population.

The DWIP represents a major breakthrough for USDA because it was the first collaboration between a U.S. government agency and a private, for-profit U.S. consulting firm in international development.  Throughout the partnership, various NRCS technical specialists provided short-term technical services to the DWIP in Egypt.  Richard Van Klaveren, Director, Conservation Engineering Division, Washington, D.C., served as technical advisor, traveling to Egypt three times during the duration of the project.  Other contributions were made by Dennis Moore, Agronomist, Napa, California (agronomic); Frederick Kaisaki, Soil Scientist, Lincoln, Nebraska (soil chemistry); and Terry Sobecki, Soil Scientist, Reno, Nevada (also soil chemistry).  These specialists also served as document reviewers in the U.S. as needed.  In addition, four Egyptian engineers from the DWIP received on-the-job training with NRCS in California during the summer of 1995. 

Author:  E.B. Dyer, Jr., Retired NRCS/Earth Team Volunteer

Editor:  Gail C. Roane (retired), International Programs Division