Management of water and salinity in the Nile Delta: A cross-scale integrated analysis of efficiency and equity issues
George, Biju Alummoottil
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The overall aim of the project is to identify physical and institutional interventions to improve water management using an integrated approach across scales (from farm to main canal levels) and encompassing water quantity–quality interactions. The project’s geographical focus is the Nile Delta in Egypt. The project was originally planned for four years. Due to a policy change announced by the Australian Government in reducing the aid investment in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, the duration of the project was reduced to three years. The project is operating on four different levels: farm, mesqa (tertiary), meso, and macro levels. At the farm level, three different field experiments were carried out for four growing seasons. Field experiments were carried out during four cropping seasons (summer 2013, winter 2013/14, summer 2014 and winter 2014/15) to evaluate sustainable interventions to combat degradation associated with salt accumulation. Field trials were conducted with various treatments including application of gypsum, organic matter, bio-fertilizers, ammonia injection, and installation of mole drains. The required datasets (soil, water, and plant) were collected and analyses were completed and concluded that application of soil amendments had a significant effect on crop yields and the physical properties of salt- affected soils. To understand the linkages between water management practices and salt movements, field experiments were carried out with controlled drainage at different levels. A drainage network was installed at different soil depths to control the water table at the required level to evaluate the contribution of the water table to irrigation and to assess salinity build-up. Significant water savings were achieved by practicing controlled drainage at shallow depths. Controlled drainage at shallow depths is not recommended for use with deep- rooted crops such as cotton. Parallel to research station work, evaluation trials were conducted in summer 2013, winter 2013/14, summer 2014 and winter 2013/14 at the village of Shabab El-Khergeen to monitor the effect of subsurface drainage combined with mole drains on the productivity of different crops. All field trials were implemented in farmers’ plots and compared to their traditional practices. From these experiments it was concluded that introducing the mole drain to heavy clay salt-affected soils improve the efficiency of the wider spacing drainage system. Introducing mole drains resulted in the maximum values of total revenue, net return, and economic efficiency. Activities at the mesqa level included the following: (1) the detailed monitoring of five collective pump stations (W10 and Abu Mustafa areas), which shed light on water management practices at the local and community level, with a focus on collective action modalities; and (2) a survey of 50 pump stations from the Irrigation Improvement Project (completed by a rapid assessment of 640 stations to check whether they were functioning and still existing), which resulted in an in-depth analysis of the degree of acceptance and efficiency of the IIP project in general and Water User Associations (WUAs) in particular. Many problems were identified such as, mechanical problems and the difficulty to find technical assistance and spare parts; design or construction defects inherited from the implementation of the project; theft of motors; non-implementation of continuous flow in branch canals, which did away with the possibility to see water savings, etc. WUAs were hardly identifiable, at least when looking for formal associations which would perform according to project guidelines and expectations. Yet, with very varied patterns, people organized themselves to operate and maintain the collective pump station, not least because they are often forced to do so by the fact that the mesqa canal has been filled in. The various 'trajectories' of the pump stations were made explicit, revealing how specific and locational characteristics, both physical and social, accounted for a large range of situations, from stations that had never been used, or been abandoned, to cases where some farmers had opted out of the group and reverted to their individual pumps, all the way through stations where pumps had been replaced or electrified. The difficulty to comprehend the diversity of environmental and social conditions pleads for an on-demand project rather than one that is frequently imposed on farmers. Sufficient buy-in from particular groups of farmers has been identified to anticipate the continuation of the Irrigation Improvement Projects in such conditions. In order to understand gender issues on irrigated agriculture two case studies were carried out in two contrasting areas in the old and the new lands of Lower Egypt, which have strikingly different characteristics in terms of landownership, gender roles, labour supply and demand, irrigation technology, and social control. Activities at the meso level (~200 ha) have focused on detailed monitoring of an area comprising 12 collective pump stations located between Mares el Gamal canal and its Bashair branch. These pumps were recently installed (IIIMP project) and the way water management practices have changed was documented. The water level and salinity in the canal and 20 pumps were monitored with data loggers to assess the patterns of use of these stations; water quality has also been monitored in the subsurface drainage system, in the soil itself, and at the outlet of the drain which collects return flows from the area. Results illustrate and emphasize the high spatial and temporal variability of sub-surface and superficial drainage water. A further ongoing activity has focused on the management of branch canals (secondary canals), and in particular the actual and possible roles of branch canal water user associations (BCWUAs). This also links with an (summary) analysis, at a higher level, of the Integrated Water Management Districts recently established in the Meet Yazid command area. Most of the associations were found to be inactive since the initial impulse by the government has not been followed by an empowerment of these associations. Their possible role in water management (e.g. enforcing the rotation) and in constituting an interface between individual farmers and district officers has not been forthcoming. Where this has been the case, to a limited extent, this happened to be linked to the positive attitude of specific ministry officers, but such dynamics are difficult to sustain in a context where staff are rotated. At the macro level, research activities included: (1) a general survey of salinity in the drainage system, including 300 measurement points, revealing the spatial distribution of salt, the linkages with soil type, the gradient along each canal, and the levels of salinity in the drains from which farmers abstract water. Results clearly show that the accumulation of salts in the northern end of the Delta is due to continued mobilization of salts in the soil profile in that area and to the interception of salty groundwater (upward seepage), much more than to concentration by successive reuses; (2) a general survey on individual pumping from main and secondary drains, concluded that 2000–3000 pumping points were operational, mostly in the area north of Kafr el Sheikh, and (3) a survey on wells revealed that the use of groundwater is much more widespread than previously anticipated (reaching densities of one well per 1.5 ha), that a majority of wells were collective, and that investment was motivated by water shortages, poor water quality, or conflicts. Conjunctive use has implications on crop choice possibilities at the farm level, but may incur changes in water management rules at the system level, and have impact on the overall water balance of the delta and seawater intrusion in the delta aquifer. Three activities examined aquaculture: the first focusing on the economics of the observed shift between crop cultivation on the one hand and aquaculture on the other, in order to understand the respective dynamics of crop and fish production; the second analyzing in detail the economics of fish production in the aquaculture area; and the third monitoring fish and water management practices and at a higher level, calculating in particular their salt and water balances. ￼The aquaculture sector as a whole is under ￼increasing pressure. The critical factors impacting the sector are high price and low quality of fish feed, poor quality fish fry, poor water quality, lack of access to capital, high fuel costs, and declining fish prices among many others. The variability in economic returns of the various aquaculture systems is also assessed. Activities related to the understanding of the water and salt balance of the delta, although largely curtailed because of the changes in project duration and funding, have identified the need to better monitor the salt load (electric conductivity) of water samples and the water levels upstream and downstream of the main drainage pump stations (so that volumes pumped out to the sea can be better assessed), and to account for the reuse of drainage water downstream of those pump stations. Another very important component of the water balance is that of the delta aquifer. Based on the available data on the changes of groundwater salinity, it is not possible to ascertain whether there is a de-stocking of the aquifer (i.e. intrusion of saline groundwater) or not. Because of the boom in groundwater use identified it is recommended to improve the monitoring network of both the static water table level and groundwater salinity in the Delta.