During the inauguration of the national project “Toshka Al-Khair” on Sunday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the government not to irrigate ornamental plants with freshwater.
“We should utilise each water drop and piece of land,” he stressed, as Egypt suffers severe impacts of climate change and water scarcity.
According to Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty, Egypt’s water needs amount to about 114 billion cubic metres annually with a deficit of about 54 billion cubic metres annually, and that gap is filled by reusing water and importing agricultural crops.
Egypt has drawn up the National Water Resources Plan 2037, at a cost of $50bn, and it is expected to increase to $100bn.
The plan includes the establishment of triple water treatment plants with a capacity of 15 million cubic metres per day, such as the Bahr Al-Baqar project – the largest treatment plant in the world with a capacity of 5.6 million cubic metres per day – and the Hammam plant with a capacity of 7.5 million cubic metres per day.
The plan also included the treatment of sewage water to irrigate trees and plants that have proven resilience to this type of treated water, such as jojoba trees and ornamental palms. Additionally, the use of the resulting sludge for power generation and relieving pressure on the national electricity networks.
Daily News Egypt visited three of Egypt’s success stories in the field of sewage treatment and reuse of this treated water in planting jojoba trees and ornamental palms.
The sludge is also used to fertilize some weak and desert lands by “compost”, as in the Al-Berkah sewage treatment plant in Cairo Governorate, which has a design operating capacity of 600k cubic metres/day, and an actual operating capacity of 450k to 500k cubic metres of waste water a day. The cost of the station is EGP 360m.
The first stage of the station began operating in 1990, followed by the second stage in 1998, and then the spiral station in 1993. The station is being constructed on an area of 400k square metres (95 feddan), in addition to about 625k square meters (150 feddan) outside the station for drying basins for solid waste.
General Manager of Treatment and Farms at the Greater Cairo Sanitary Drainage Company, Mohamed Helmy Abdel Aal, said the station serves the areas: Heliopolis, Nasr City, Ain Shams, El Mataria, Zaytoun, Salam, and Al-Nahda, as well as providing a partial service for downtown areas. The number of served population reached about two million beneficiaries.
Al-Berkah treatment plant project aims to treat sewage water with a complete biological treatment, protect the environment, improve public health and conserve water sources, in addition to making use of the purified treated water to irrigate wooden trees, treating sludge and converting it into safe organic fertilizer.
The water generated from the station is discharged to Al-Jabal Al-Asfar station, and from there to the Belbeis drain, and from there to the Bahr Al-Baqar drain.
“The station was established before all buildings and the nearby dwellings, and the Ministries of Environment and Health conduct periodic inspections to monitor the environmental and health effects of the station on the nearby residents,” Abdel-Aal explained. “Among the measures taken to protect the residents is the suction of smells and gases resulting from the station’s operation. No environmental problems were detected because of the station’s operations.”
He pointed out that the station is a success story for many reasons, one of which is that it collects sludge from two sources: the sludge from the Berkah and the sludge from the Shubra El-Kheima area. This sludge is collected in basins (96 basins of 8000 square meters each) to dehydrate the sludge and convert about 40% of this sludge into compost to be sold to farm owners.
“Farm owners see the analyzes of the sludge, and each trader determines the type of sludge that is appropriate for his land according to the type of crops. The price of an unpacked ton of sludge is EGP 260, and the price of a packed ton is EGP 360 ,” Abdel Aal added.
He also stressed that despite the high cost of compost production, the station does not aim to gain a financial return, but the main objective is to protect the environment.
Regarding the involvement of the private sector, the General Manager of Treatment and Farms at the Greater Cairo Sanitary Drainage Company says that there is cooperation with the private sector in the fields of compost and biogas. The station also cooperates with the colleges of agriculture and the National Water Research Center to conduct analyzes of soil, water and types of suitable crops.
After chopping the agricultural waste, it is combined with the sludge to produce compost with a ratio of 50% sludge to 50% agricultural waste. The plant is currently working on a biofuel project to provide the power needed to operate the plant, and the project is under study.
According to Abdel-Aal, “270 people work at the station, including a large percentage of women. The station observes environmental safety standards, and the station obtained the TSM sustainable environmental management certificate 4 times from the Holding Company, whose requirements include ensuring the safety of workers at the station, including vaccinating workers periodically.
The General Manager of the Reuse Department at the HCWW, Yasser Youssef Abo ElKheir, explained that Al-Berkah sewage treatment plant is considered a success story, given the large volume of water it treats, which reaches 600,000 cubic meters per day, as the plant is a central station for sludge collection. The station converts sludge into a safe fertilizer approved by the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, to be used in fertilizing agricultural lands.
The experience of planting woodlands with the water generated from the treatment plant in the industrial area of Bayad Al Arab, in Beni Suef Governorate, is one of the successful Egyptian attempts in dealing with sewage crises. The total capacity of the plant is 21,000 cubic meters per day, and the current actual capacity is about 17k cubic metres per day.
Chairperson of the Board of the Drinking Water and Sanitation Company in Beni Suef, Dina Omar Suleiman, said that what is distinguished in the project is the use of new technologies and the provision of cadres capable of operating them.
She added that the project contributed to the safe disposal of treated water by reusing it in irrigating woodlands with a return on investment. The plan takes into account the ground levels as much as possible to reduce drilling and backfilling costs, and prevent water leaks to the areas adjacent to the treatment plant.
The woodland strategy is based on two plans. The first is an urgent plan to solve the problem. It aims to get rid of 4k cubic metres/day at a total cost of EGP 45m. This solution includes the establishment of a comprehensive farm containing 110k seedlings with plants such as Jojoba, ornamental palms, conocarpus trees, and bougainvillea trees.
As for the second plan, it seeks to provide a permanent solution to get rid of the sewage in Bayad Al-Arab. The permanent solution is divided into two phases according to the amount of water entering the treatment plant, which aims to eliminate the entire design disposal of the treatment plant (21k cubic metres per day). The first phase targets to dispose of 8k cubic metres/day, and the second phase aims to dispose of 9k cubic metres/day.
The woodland in Beni Suef produces 150 kilograms of jojoba seeds per feddan, and the company aspires to increase production to 700 kilograms per feddan. Jojoba is characterized as a plant grown in desert marginal lands and irrigated with unconventional water such as treated wastewater, industrial and agricultural, and highly saline water, so it does not compete with strategic crops in irrigation water or good soil.
Director of the Water Reuse Department in the Research and Development Sector at the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW), Ashraf Nabih Abdel Rahman, says that the Egyptian experience in sewage treatment is a successful one by all standards.
He explains that the quantities of sludge resulting from major stations such as Al-Berkah station and Al-Jabal Al-Asfar station are very large quantities and if left will pollute the environment, so it must be treated either by converting it into compost and then using it as fertilizer for the soil after mixing it with plant residues as in Al-Berkah station or by exploiting it in biofuel production and electricity generation, as in the Jabal Al-Asfar plant.
Abdel Rahman adds that the industrial and sewage treatment plant in Beni Suef includes oxidation ponds to receive industrial wastewater that contains heavy metals that are harmful to the environment.
The station is extremely significant because it protected the region from the harmful industrial and sanitary sewage pollutants that threatened the underground reserves. Woodlands also contribute to limiting the effects of climate change in addition to the economic return, especially jojoba.
Jojoba trees produce after 3 years and are perennial plants that live for long years. The jojoba land consists of 10% of male trees, and 90% of female trees. The single feddan produces about 800 kilograms after the eighth year, and the price of one kilogram ranges from EGP 80 to EGP 120,” according to Abdel Rahman.
The cultivation of jojoba also contributes to confronting climate changes, as well as being one of the agricultural projects with an industrial aspect, and therefore it is a labour-intensive project. Jojoba oil is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and medical products, in addition to the production of lubricants, anti-rust oils, biofuels, and heavy engine oils.
Moreover, another success story of Egypt benefiting from wastewater is the Jabal Al-Asfar sewage treatment plant in Qalyubia Governorate. The plant is one of the largest sewage treatment plants in the Middle East, and treats about 2.5 million cubic metres of sewage per day, according to Ahmed Salah, the director of operations at Al-Jabal Al-Asfar sewage treatment plant.
Salah explained that the station was designed to collect sewage from the areas of; Ain Al-Sira, Maadi, Dar Al-Salam, Al-Amiriya, Hadayek Al-Qubba, Al-Marg, all the way to some areas in Qalyubia Governorate.
The (dual-purification) plant benefits from the sludge resulting from the treatment processes in generating electric power to operate the generators, which provides about 60% of the electricity needed by the plant, which amounts to 4,500 megawatts per month, as the monthly electricity consumption bill reaches EGP 13m.
Salah added that the station contributes to confronting water scarcity, as the station owns an experimental farm on an area of 300 feddan, to use treated water to irrigate that area and conduct research on the suitability of this water for irrigation on trees such as Lemon, Olive, Citrus, Pecan, and Jatropha.