Unraveling the Impact of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s Water Provision: An Analysis Focused on the Potential for Equitable Nile Water Distribution
Research examines the potential implications of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Egypt’s water supply, incorporating the contribution from the White Nile and the flow from Atbara and Sobat rivers. The study evaluates potential changes in the Blue Nile’s discharge, with a focus on a scenario where 20.5 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water is withheld. Despite potential reductions in the Blue Nile flow, Egypt’s water supply is largely unaffected due to its diversified water sources, efficient water management, and substantial reserves in Lake Nasser.
The completion of the GERD is set to establish it as Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant. This study analyzes the possible Blue Nile flow reductions due to GERD, investigating its potential effect on Egypt’s water availability and demand. Assuming continued floods, the paper examines how the Blue Nile flow, even if reduced to 35 billion cubic meters due to GERD filling, can still provide adequate water to Egypt, factoring in the contributions from the Atbara and Sobat rivers, White Nile, and internal resources.
Analysis of Blue Nile Flow Scenarios:
The study investigates scenarios of the Nile’s discharge (Blue Nile and White Nile), including a 20 BCM reduction in Blue Nile’s flow, which factors in various internal water resources, Sudan’s water consumption, evaporation losses, and flow from Atbara and Sobat rivers. A comparative review of the annual inflow and Egypt’s water demand provides an understanding of net water storage under these scenarios.
The impact of GERD on both Sudan and Egypt will realistically result in a deduction of 7 billion from Sudan’s share and 13 billion from Egypt’s share, given the equal share in the Nile water according to the 1956 agreement, which Ethiopia doesn’t recognize.
Considering a scenario where the Blue Nile’s flow is reduced to 76.5 BCM (after Sudan has withdrawn its share of 11.5 BCM), the research examines the ripple effect on Egypt’s water availability. Furthermore, it considers the storage capacity of Lake Nasser and the role it plays in compensating for potential water deficits.
Impact of Blue Nile Flow Reduction:
In a scenario where the Blue Nile flow is reduced by 20.5 BCM due to the GERD’s operation, Egypt’s water resources would be impacted as follows:
1. Nile River Water: 72 BCM (35 from Blue Nile + 15 from White Nile + 22 from Atbara and Sobat rivers)
2. Total Renewable Water Resources: 94.5 BCM (2020 est.)
The total water withdrawal in Egypt in 2020 was (according to CIA World Factbook) approximately 77.5 BCM, split between municipal (10.75 BCM), industrial (5.4 BCM), and agricultural (61.35 BCM) uses.
Summary of Egypt’s Water Resources:
A detailed examination of Egypt’s internal water resources provides insights into each resource’s annual contribution and its share of the total inflow.
Table 3: Egypt’s Internal Water Resources and Contributions
Nile River: (87-20.5)=66.6 BCM
Groundwater and Deep Aquifers: 2.1 BCM
(Groundwater exploitation is estimated at 1.65 BCM/year)
Non-renewable Groundwater (Western Desert Oases): 0.5 BCM
Groundwater (Delta, Sinai, New Valley): 5.1 BCM
Rainfall and Floods: 1.3 BCM
Desalinated Water: 0.51 BCM (assuming 1.4 million cubic meters/day)
Wastewater Reuse: 12.7 BCM (Includes municipal wastewater discharge and industrial effluent discharge)
Total: 88.31 BCM
Blue Nile Flow Reduction Scenario (20.5BCM Reduction):
1. Current Desalination Plants: There are currently 82 desalination plants in Egypt.
2. Current Capacity: The total current capacity of these desalination plants is 917,000 cubic meters per day.
3. Projected Capacity with New Plants: It is projected that with the addition of new plants, the capacity will increase to 1,400,000 cubic meters per day.
Let’s consider a scenario where the flow of the Blue Nile has reduced to 29.5 billion cubic meters, and Ethiopia decides to fill an additional 20.5 billion cubic meters of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
To supplement this reduced flow from the Blue Nile, Egypt would still receive 22 billion cubic meters from the Atbara and Sobat rivers. Additionally, approximately 15 billion cubic meters would come from the White Nile. Overall, in this scenario, Egypt’s total water supply would amount to 52 billion cubic meters, significantly lower than the usual 84 billion cubic meters.
Table 3: Water Flow to Egypt in Scenario (in billion cubic meters)
Water Source Regular After Flow in Scenario
Blue Nile: 50 29.5
Atbara and Sobat: 22 22
White Nile: 15 15
Evaporation: 10 10
Total: 97 76.5
Total Water Supply in Scenario
The total water supply in this scenario would be:
29.5 (from Blue Nile after reduction) + 22 (from Atbara and Sobat rivers) + 15 (from White Nile) = 66.5 BCM
This total is significantly lower than the regular total of 97 BCM.
Impact on High Dam Lake:
Assuming the High Dam Lake is at its maximum capacity of 162 billion cubic meters, a deduction of 20 billion cubic meters from Egypt’s share would reduce the reservoir’s level to 142 billion cubic meters.
However, in a more realistic scenario, the deficit would be shared between Sudan and Egypt. Sudan would bear 7 billion cubic meters, while Egypt would handle 13 billion cubic meters. This would result in a reduction of the lake level by only 13 billion cubic meters.
Impact on Egypt’s Sectors:
Despite this reduction, the agriculture, industry, and domestic sectors in Egypt might not experience a significant impact. The country could compensate for the deficit by drawing from the High Dam Lake reservoir until the Blue Nile flows return to normal after the storage completion.
Table 4: High Dam Lake Level in Scenario
Condition Lake Level
Before filling: 162
After filling: 142
The operation of the GERD doesn’t significantly impact Egypt’s water supply, showcasing the potential for equitable sharing of the Nile’s waters among Nile basin countries. Even under conditions of reduced Blue Nile flow, Egypt has substantial storage reserves in Lake Nasser to cover any deficits. The study underscores that Egypt’s water supply remains robust due to its diverse water sources, effective water management tactics, and Lake Nasser’s considerable storage capacity.
Lake Nasser Storage and the Blue Nile Flow Reduction Scenarios:
This study aims to determine how potential shortages can be managed using Lake Nasser’s storage reserves. Even with GERD’s construction, Lake Nasser’s reserves could serve as a safeguard for Egypt during challenging times, especially when the Blue Nile’s discharge sees significant reductions. Currently, the Lake Nasser level stands at 180m above sea level, indicating ample emergency storage availability.
Table 5: Potential Impact on Egypt’s Sectors:
1. Sector: Agriculture
Impact: Minimal (compensated by High Dam Lake)
2. Sector: Industry
Impact: Minimal (compensated by High Dam Lake)
3. Sector: Domestic
Impact: Minimal (compensated by High Dam Lake)
The impact on each sector is evaluated based on the assumption that the deficit will be compensated by drawing from the High Dam Lake reservoir.
Lake Nasser Reserves Utilization:
To mitigate this deficit, Egypt has substantial reserves in Lake Nasser that it can leverage:
Emergency Storage: 121 BCM
Additional Reserves for the Toshka project: 162 BCM
The total reserves amount to 283 BCM.
The analysis so far suggests that despite a potentially reduced flow of the Blue Nile due to the filling and operation of the GERD, Egypt’s water supply is likely to remain robust, considering the contributions from other water sources and reserves in Lake Nasser.
Now, let’s further examine and calculate the possibilities for Egypt to compensate for the reduced water flow due to GERD:
1. Water Conservation and Efficiency Improvement:
The agricultural sector in Egypt accounts for about 85% of the country’s total water consumption. Improving water efficiency in this sector could lead to substantial water savings. Let’s consider a scenario where water efficiency is improved by 10%.
If the current agricultural consumption is 61.35 BCM (as noted earlier), a 10% efficiency improvement would lead to a saving of 0.1 * 61.35 = 6.135 BCM per year.
2. Increasing the use of Treated Wastewater:
As of the 2020 estimate, wastewater reuse in Egypt contributes 12.7 BCM. An expansion in the treatment and reuse of wastewater for irrigation and other non-potable uses could increase this contribution.
Let’s assume a 25% increase in the use of treated wastewater. This would result in an additional 0.25 * 12.7 = 3.175 BCM of water annually.
3. Desalination Expansion:
Egypt has a total of 82 desalination plants with a combined capacity of 917,000 cubic meters per day. With the addition of new plants, the capacity is projected to increase to 1,400,000 cubic meters per day.
If the plants operate at full capacity for 365 days, the annual water production will increase to 1,400,000 * 365 = 511 million cubic meters or 0.511 BCM. This is a net increase of 0.511 – 0.41 (current desalination contribution) = 0.101 BCM.
Therefore, Egypt’s total water supply, even in the face of a 20.5 BCM reduction from the Blue Nile, could be increased by:
66.5 (current water supply in BCM) + 6.135 (savings from water efficiency improvement) + 3.175 (additional water from increased wastewater use) + 0.101 (additional water from desalination) = 75.911 BCM.
Through a combination of improved water efficiency, increased use of treated wastewater, and expansion of desalination, Egypt could largely mitigate the potential reduction in the Blue Nile’s flow due to the operation of the GERD. The continued storage capacity of Lake Nasser provides a further buffer against potential water shortages.
However, these findings should be treated with caution. They are based on a range of assumptions, including the capacity to improve water efficiency, expand wastewater treatment, and desalinate water at the projected levels. Additionally, they assume that the rate of GERD filling and the associated reduction in the Blue Nile’s flow aligns with the scenario presented. Variations in any of these factors could lead to different outcomes. Therefore, continuous monitoring, efficient management of resources, and successful transboundary negotiations remain crucial.
Future efforts should focus on further optimizing water management strategies and strengthening cooperation among the Nile basin countries.
Suggested strategies and potential contributions:
To ensure sustainable water management, Egypt can consider the following strategies:
Water Conservation and Efficiency Improvement: Immediate measures can be taken to improve water conservation and efficiency, especially in the agricultural sector. This could potentially contribute 5-10 BCM annually to closing the water deficit.
Increasing the use of Treated Wastewater: Egypt can expand its reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation and other non-potable uses in the medium term. This could provide an additional 3-5 BCM of water annually. Desalination Expansion: In the long term, Egypt can expand its desalination capacity along its Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. This could add another 2-5 BCM to its annual water supply.
Transboundary Water Negotiations: Ongoing negotiations and cooperation with other Nile Basin countries are critical for ensuring equitable access to the Nile’s waters. Egypt should continue to seek mutually beneficial agreements regarding the management of the Nile, including the operation of the GERD.
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