Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Infrastructure in Egypt

Suez Canal, Egypt - Water Infrastructure in Egypt
Photo 1: Suez Canal, Egypt. (Source: Ugborough, Flickr)

The main water infrastructure in Egypt is on the Nile River, notably the Aswan High Dam, the Aswan Old Dam and a number of downstream barrages.

Dams and Barrages

The first barrage was the Delta Barrage at el-Kanater, built as early as 1861. The Aswan Old Dam, constructed between 1899 and 1902, has a storage volume of 5 BCM/yr. The Aswan High Dam was built upstream of the Aswan Old Dam. It was completed in 1970, with a reservoir (Lake Nasser) of 162 BCM, consisting of a dead storage of 31 BCM, active storage of 90 BCM and emergency storage of 41 BCM for flood protection[1]. Downstream of Aswan, the water level and water distribution are controlled by a number of barrages fitted with locks to allow the passage of boats.

Aswan Dam - egypt
Photo 2: Aswan Dam, Egypt. (Source: Elias Rovielo, Flickr)

Canal system

Water in the Nile River is diverted to agricultural lands through a hierarchy of public canals that comprise carriers or principal canals, main canals, secondary (or branch) canals and tertiary (or sub‐branch) canals. The branch canals deliver water into private canals that are called mesqas. Water distribution and farm‐level delivery are in accordance with a complex system of rotations.[2] The canal system is very extensive, in particular in the Nile Delta. The government is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the public system. This system delivers water to mesqas, each serving an area from approximately 20 to 80 hectares. Mesqas feed merwas, the farm ditches that serve up to 8 hectares.

canals along the Nile River

Figure 1. System of barrages and main canals along the Nile River.[3]

Nile Delta - water infrastructure in Egypt

Map 1. Irrigation canals in the Nile Delta.[4]

Drainage system

An intensive open drainage system was constructed along the Nile downstream of the Aswan High Dam to transfer excess irrigation water to the Mediterranean Sea and terminal lakes.

Construction of the open drainage system started at the end of the 19th century when the soil was affected dramatically by the high water table and increased salinity. At present, the system covers all the cultivated land in the Nile Valley and Delta. It is about 16,686 km in length, of which 67% is in the Delta region and the rest is in Upper and Middle Egypt.

Graiage canals egypt- Water Infrastructure in Egypt

Map 2. Main drainage canals in the Nile Delta.[5]


Hydropower is generated at the Aswan High Dam, the Aswan Old Dam and the Esna and Nag Hammadi barrages. Hydropower makes up about 3% of Egypt’s energy production. In 2012, the country produced approximately 13.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity from hydropower.[6]

Hydropower StationCapacity ( MW )
High Aswan Dam2.100
Old Aswan Dam615
Esna Barrage90
Nag Hamady5

Table 1. Main hydropower stations in Egypt.[7]

[1] Nile Basin Initiative, 2016. ‘Nile Basin Water Resources Atlas, Chapter 7 – Water Demand, Use and Hydraulic Infrastructure’. Available at, accessed [10-11-2018].

[2] ICARDA, 2011. ‘Water and Agriculture in Egypt.’

[3] Water resource management in Modern Egypt, Martin Hvidt in : The middle eastern environment, December 1995

[4] MWRI, 2005. ‘National Water Resources Plan for Egypt 2017.’ Available at, accessed [10-11-2018].

[5] MWRI, 2005. ‘National Water Resources Plan for Egypt 2017.’ Available at, accessed [10-11-2018].

[6] US Energy Information Administration, 2018. ‘Country Analysis Brief: Egypt.’ Available at, accessed [10-11-2018].

[7] MWRI, 2005. ‘National Water Resources Plan for Egypt 2017.’ Available at, accessed [10-11-2018].