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2.4The development of Water Policy

Agricultural Development
The process started with Vertical Expansion represented by irrigation improvement projects, improvement of seeds, fertilizers, application of agro-chemicals, sub-surface and open drainage, land leveling, night irrigation improvement of agriculture processes, soil amelioration (i.e. addition of gypsum),… etc. The purpose of vertical expansion is to increase production and yield per unit area of land through the improvement of water, soil and crop management. Improved cropping patterns, relay cropping and increased cropping intensity is part of vertical expansion techniques and was followed by horizontal expansion which meant to increase cultivated land to spread inhabitance while increasing crop production.

The policies given earlier show that before the year 1952 almost 500,000 feddans were reclaimed, another 500,000 feddans were reclaimed in the year 1953 and 1.5 million feddans were reclaimed up to the year 2000. If these 2.5 million feddans are added to the 5.5 million feddans cultivated at the beginning of the 20th century the total irrigated area in the whole country would have been around 8.0 million feddans.

The successive water policies over the years revealed the following concerns:-

  • Horizontal expansion in Egypt followed vertical expansion which started with the conversion of basin irrigation areas (one crop per year) into perennial irrigation (two crops per year). Basin irrigation was practiced on the flood water which used to arrive during the month's of September and October and receeds before a winter crop is sown. Perennial irrigation was accomplished by the provision of the appropriate irrigation system which enabled the cultivation of a summer crop as well as a winter crop.

  • Other vertical expansion measures were practiced according to the progress of research and building of capacities.

  • Horizontal expansion started in the location where reclamation is easier and less expensive. Most of the low laying lands in the strip running parallel to the Mediterranean were reclaimed first.

  • Desert lands on the fringes of Nile Valley and Delta were given priorities according to the lifting head, the lower the lifting head is obviously the better.

  • Water quality was also an important factor. Fresh water was the only source up to the years 1920-1930. When a deficit was experienced (most probably because of a series of low natural flow years), drainage water was used to fill the gap. It has to be noted that Upper Serw Pumping Station was constructed in the year 1928 to lift water from Upper Serw Drain to Damietta Branch for reuse downstream.

  • Following the introduction of drainage water as part of the water budget, shallow groundwater came as part of the budget as early as the 1950's.

  • Exploitation of both drainage and shallow groundwater became a fixed policy until pollution problems appeared. Shallow groundwater was under the threat of sea water intrusion caused by over pumping especially from the northern aquifers. Drainage water reuse was hampered when some mixing locations were closed due to the heavy pollution caused by domestic sewage and industrial effluent. Some of the water downstream of these mixing locations was used for domestic purposes.

  • With the restriction imposed on drainage water and shallow groundwater, deep groundwater was put under focus for the irrigation of 500,000 feddans in the 1997-2017 plan. This area requires a minimum of 2.5 billion m3/year for its irrigation.

  • Upper Nile Projects were always part of the plans and policies. The first phase of Jongeli Canal Project was 80% completed before it was stopped in 1982. In this first phase 4.0 billion m3 of water would have been saved and divided equally between Egypt and Sudan. Similar quantity would be saved if the second phase is completed. It is high time that the fruits of Nile Basin Initiative which started in 1999 can be made available to all the Nile Basin Countries. Rainfall in the Nile Basin is estimated at 1600 billion m3/year out of which only 84 billion m3/year reach Egypt and Sudan. Huge amount of water is lost in the swamps and marshlands of Bahr El Ghazal, Mashar and other areas. Again, the return of peace to the southern part of Sudan could also revive water projects and agricultural development in this important part of the Nile Basin

  • The 1997-2017 policy is stretching the Egyptian requirements to the real end of possible regular supply without any water left for emergencies which is not a "comfortable" situation until and unless extra supply is made available.

  • Summer and winter resorts on the North East and West Coast and on the Red Sea produce their own water depending on small desalination plants. Conveyance of Nile water to these places proved to be extremely expensive.

  • Desalination is considered as a favorable alternative if it uses brackish water rather than Sea water of high salt concentration. If renewable energy is used (solar, wind, waves,… etc) the cost of desalination would be comparable to opportunity cost of Nile water conveyance especially if the conveyance distance is long.

  • Brackish water could always be used in the cultivation of Mangroves and Halophytes of economic value compared with any other salt tolerant crops in making desert lands green and productive.

Water Allocation
Due to the switch in interests from a merely agricultural role to a more industrialized country under conditions of growing population and deteriorating environmental ecosystem, it became necessary to adopt new policies that depend more on water allocation among uses and users. Until the transition of water allocation among sectors comes to the state of equilibrium which might take decades, allocation within the agricultural sector which consumes the largest portion of the country's water budget should take place despite the existing difficulties:

  • Local, regional and worldwide political and economic environment.

  • The need for the agricultural sector to continue to expand in order to provide job opportunities for the growing population during the transition towards a more industrialized society.

  • The necessity for sustainable development and stopped or even reversed environmental and ecological degradation currently taking place.

A number of considerations that affect how water is allocated and its effect on quality can be stated as follows:-

  • Cropping patterns: high water consuming crops reduce the irrigated area which can otherwise expand if less water consuming crops are raised.

  • Location of cultivated land: crop water requirement is a function of climatic conditions and therefore crops grown in the Delta consumes less water than in Upper Egypt.

  • The value of unit volume of water in crop production could be multiple if supplementary irrigation is practiced along the coastal winter rainy strip.

  • Seasonal water delivery: water required to produce a unit area of cool season crop is less than that of warm season crops (e.g. water consumption of winter crops in Egypt is approximately one half of summer crops)

  • Irrigation frequency: most valuable crops require continuous access to irrigation water or "on demand" water supplies.

  • Horizontal versus vertical Expansion: horizontal expansion requires water to irrigate new lands. Irrigation improvement of old land requires additional water through continuous flow and improved practices. Both options raise agricultural production at two different orders of magnitude per unit area of land and per unit volume of water.

  • Separating return flows of low quality water from fresh water and demand for municipal and industrial users to treat effluent before discharging into the drainage system is a must.

  • Improving efficiency of irrigation in areas overlying or adjacent to salt sinks results in more water being available for irrigation elsewhere.

  • Promoting the use of non-conventional salt tolerant crops and fish farming.

  • Limiting the opportunities of non-beneficial evaporation water loss from open water surface and vegetation.

  • Local reuse of water in the upstream stretches will result in less accumulation of salt and pollutant concentration at the downstream ends.

  • It may be more economic to cultivate traditional farm crops in other countries having sufficient intensity of rainfall, more fertile land and cheap labor; leaving the Egyptian lands for more productive and cost rewarding crops such as fruit, vegetables, flowers … etc. However this is a political issue that need to be negotiated.

  • Egypt imports more than 50% of the country's consumption of wheat, 90% of maize and 80% of oil. This gap has to be narrowed through local production. If self sufficiency is not possible, food security based upon accurate estimates of production and consumption should be investigated.

  • International trade should be dealt with as part of the production function. Local, regional and worldwide marketing systems are important part of this function.

  • Land fragmentation is one of the reasons of low efficiency and effectiveness of water, soil and crop management systems. Land consolidation should be given high priority if market economy is to be pursued.

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