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The Nile River in Egypt

Nilr river
Photo 1: River Nile, Cairo, Egypt ( Source: Voyageur du Monde, Flicker)


Author: Ahmed Mahmoud is a PhD student at the Department of Environmental engineering and water technology of IHE-UNESCO institute for water education, Netherlands. He is as well a senior chemist at the laboratory and research department of Aswan water and wastewater company.
Reviewer: Prof.Dr. Kamal Ghodeif is professor at the Geology Department, Suez Canal University, Egypt. He is short term consultant (STC) to international (World Bank, GIZ, USAID) and national organizations (HCWW).  He knows most dimensions for water projects; the academic and the industrial demands. His research activities are covering the hydrogeological environment, natural water quality and pollution, natural water treatment (MAR, SAT, RBF) and water protection.

Throughout history, the Nile River has been Egypt’s main artery of transport and communication as well as the source of its fertility and wealth. At one time, the river provided sufficient clean water for a variety of purposes, including domestic use, agricultural irrigation, industry, fisheries, navigation and recreation. Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire.

Egypt is unique among the other countries in the Nile basin for its dependence on surface water that mainly comes from outside its territory [1]. The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement with Sudan allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres (BCM) per year to Egypt [2]. The Aswan High Dam is the major storage and regulatory facility on the Nile. It began operation in 1968, ensuring Egypt’s control over annual flood waters and guiding their utilization.

The construction of the dam formed Lake Nasser. At 150km long, an average of 12km wide and 180m deep, it is considered the largest artificial lake in the world. It has high importance for the fishing industry, producing 15,000-25,000 tons annually.[3] However, the lake suffers from high evaporation, losing 10-11 billion cubic metres (BCM) of its water a year.

Downstream from the dam, the Nile is diverted from the main stem into an extensive network of canals through several types of control structures, providing water for agricultural and other uses.[4], [5], [6]. The river has two main branches: the Rosetta and Damietta. The Rosetta is the western branch of about 239km long, between 450-1,000m wide .[7] The water level in the Rosetta is controlled by two barrages: the Delta Barrage in the south and the Idfina Barrage about 197km to the north. The Damietta is about 230km long, 300-500m wide.[8] The average depths of both the Rosetta and the Damietta branches and range from 3 to 7 meters.

River Nile water in Egypt
Map 1 : River Nile, Egypt.

Three shallow, brackish lakes – Manzala, Burullus and Edku – at the northern end of the Nile Delta on the Mediterranean coast, have high economic, industrial and historical value. Covering an area of 1,360km2, Lake Manzala is the largest coastal lake in Egypt, extending from the Damietta to the Suez Canal in the east. It contributes 4.2% of annual fish production. The 420km2 Lake Burullus is connected to the Rosetta by the small Brimbal canal. In 1988, the international Ramsar Convention designated the lake as a nature reserve due to its importance as a wetland, fishery and resting area for migrating birds to and from Europe. The 62.78km2 Lake Edku in the western part of the Nile Delta is the main source of fish and irrigation in the delta. As a results of discharging a high amount of irrigation and wastewater with high concentration of nutrient to the lakes, these lakes have experienced rapid eutrophication in recent years, which is threatening the aquatic life and reducing the lakes’ economic value.[9], [10]

[1] Fanack Water, 2018. Country profile: Egypt.
[2] Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, 2010. Water Challenges in Egypt.
[3] Ebaid H and Ismail S, 2010. Lake Nasser evaporation reduction study. Journal of Advanced Research 1(4):315-322.
[4] Abdel-Gawad S, 2004. Water quality challenges facing Egypt. Comparative Risk Assessment and Environmental Decision Making 38(4):335-347.
[5] Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, 2008. Study on Water Quality of the Nile River.
[6] Negm A, Bek M and Abdel-Fattah S (eds.), 2018. Egyptian Coastal Lakes and Wetlands: Part II.
[7] Abbassy M, 2018. Distribution pattern of persistent organic pollutants in aquatic ecosystem at the Rosetta Nile branch estuary into the Mediterranean Sea, North of Delta, Egypt. Marine Pollution Bulletin 131:115-121.
[8] Abdo M, 2010. Environmental and water quality evaluation of Damietta branch, River Nile, Egypt. African Journal of Biological Sciences 6(2):143-158.
[9] Shokr M, el-Tahan M, Ibrahim A, Steiner A and Gad N, 2017. Long-term, high-resolution survey of atmospheric aerosols over Egypt with NASA’s MODIS data. Remote Sensing 9(10), 1027.
[10] Ahmed, M. H., Donia, N., & Fahmy, M. A. (2006). Eutrophication assessment of Lake Manzala, Egypt using geographical information systems (GIS) techniques. Journal of Hydroinformatics, 8(2), 101-109