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Reuse of Treated Wastewater in Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities

  • Tamer A. Elbana
  • Noura Bakr
  • Maha Elbana
Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC, volume 75)

Abstract

Limited water resources in Egypt is the main factor driving the exploration of unconventional sources that can fulfill the water demands of the increasing population. Applying treated wastewater (TWW) to agriculture is a reliable, effective method of reducing the gap between current water demand and supply. Besides saving freshwater resources, long-term reuse of TWW can enhance the physiochemical properties of light-textured soil.

Pathogens and toxic chemical bioaccumulation are the main drawbacks of wastewater reuse in agriculture. Irrigation of non-edible crops with TWW is recommended under controlled management that complies with appropriate water quality standards. Monitoring the impact of reusing TWW will reduce health risks and environmental hazards. While Egypt’s total water supply for 2015 was 76.4 × 109 m3, the total refined (drinking/health use) water was 8.9 × 109 m3, which generated wastewater of around 5 × 109 m3. The primary, secondary, and tertiary treatments provided total TWW of 3.7 × 109 m3, with respective percentages of 16.8, 81.4, and 1.8%.

Several organizations in Egypt are tasked with wastewater management and reuse. In addition to the Egyptian laws, legislation, and regulations enacted to protect the environment and water resources from pollution, the Egyptian Code for reusing TWW classifies wastewater into four grades (A, B, C, and D) depending on the level of treatment. There are four key challenges to reusing TWW: social (public acceptance of wastewater reuse), management (crop selection, irrigation, and soil-based practices), human health risk, and environmental threats. There are significant opportunities to maximize the benefits of TWW reuse in Egypt as less than 75% of collected wastewater is currently being treated. Finally, reusing TWW in agriculture could be the most reliable solution to overcome water scarcity and help to sustain water resources in Egypt.

Keywords

Agricultural irrigation Egypt Laws Regulation Treated wastewater 

1 Introduction

Egypt’s land area is approximately one million square kilometers. Roughly 95% of the population lives in around 5% of the country’s land along the banks of the Nile valley and Nile delta. The Nile River is the major water source in Egypt; it provides 55.5 × 109 m3 annually. The unfavorable balance between Egypt’s water demand and supply necessitates the use of unconventional water sources, such as groundwater and recycled water, to combat water scarcity. In particular, recycling agricultural drainage water is nearing the maximum; future increases would be difficult to obtain [1].

One of the main goals of Egypt’s water policies is to increase the reuse of TWW to 2.0 × 109 m3 by the end of 2017 [2]. In 2014, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation confirmed that recycling wastewater and drainage water in Egypt is necessary to reduce the gap between current water demand and supply [3]. Likewise, improving irrigation water use efficiency can conserve water resources to satisfy intended national land reclamation projects.

Numerous benefits can be gained with the safe use of TWW in agriculture. Reusing TWW can conserve freshwater resources. Reuse also recycles the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium required for plant growth [4, 5, 6, 7]. Additionally, using TWW to irrigate sandy soils elevates the soil’s organic matter content and enhances its cation exchange capacity [8]. Figure 1 shows the enrichment of the surface soil layer with organic matter due to long-term wastewater irrigation of sandy soil. The photo displays the change in the topsoil color from yellow to dark brown; this alteration would affect the water holding capacity, nutrients availability, and other soil properties. For example, long-term use of TWW improves the physical characteristics of light-textured soils, such as aggregate stability and infiltration rate [9].
Fig. 1

Enrichment of the surface soil layer with organic matter due to long-term irrigation with TWW (taken by: Tamer Elbana)

Pathogens and bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals are the main risks of wastewater reuse in agriculture. For example, there are potential biological constituents (e.g., enteric bacteria, helminths, protozoa, and viruses) that can threaten farmers’ health in cases of direct contact with raw wastewater [10]. Additionally, the accumulation of heavy metals, pesticides, and pharmaceutical chemicals in cultivated plants irrigated with wastewater is a threat to consumers [11, 12, 13]. Thus, cultivation of non-edible crops such as biofuel crops (e.g., jatropha and ricinus) and timber trees (e.g., Mediterranean cypress and Casuarina) with TWW is recommended. In addition, farmers should avoid direct contact with TWW by wearing suitable protective gear. Implementing appropriate water quality standards and guidelines for TWW use will also reduce health risks.

Environmentally, improper use of low-quality wastewater could lead to soil pollution as well as contamination of surface water and groundwater with chemicals and microorganisms. Long-term irrigation with TWW could lead to increased soil salinity and sodicity [5, 14]. Monitoring the impact of TWW reuse on soil properties is vital, even for short-term use [15]. Therefore, monitoring programs for soil irrigated with TWW and surrounding water reservoirs are necessary to prevent environmental deterioration. Adopting national and international guidelines for safe TWW use is also vital to conserve Egypt’s environmental resources.

This chapter focuses on the opportunities and challenges of using TWW in agriculture as an alternative water resource in the arid region of Egypt. It explains how TWW can be considered a reliable source of irrigation that can increase the availability of water resources at the national level. Egypt’s current water supply situation and uses are discussed, with detailed data about the quantities of TWW generated and treated. Finally, the applicability of TWW for agricultural irrigation and related laws and regulations will be reviewed.

2 Egyptian Water Resources and Uses

Egypt’s arid climate, water scarcity, and population growth are key drivers for implementing the safe use of TWW for irrigation. It is well known that the fixed water share (55.5 × 109 m3) from the Nile River does not fulfill the Egypt’s water demands. The total water resources of the country including non-conventional water were 76.4 × 109 m3 in 2015 [16]. Figure 2 shows the quantities of different water resources and uses in Egypt during 2014–2015 [16]. The data illustrate that during 2014–2015 the shallow groundwater in the Nile delta and valley provided 6.9 × 109 m3, while wastewater recycling provided 1.3 × 109 m3. Egypt’s agricultural sector is the largest water consumer, using more than 80% of the total. The agricultural sector exhausted 62.4 × 109 m3, while the drinking and healthy uses1 consumed 10.4 × 109 m3.
Fig. 2

Egyptian water resources and uses during 2014–2015

Total water resources in Egypt increased from 69.56 × 109 m3 in 2005–2006 to 76.4 × 109 m3 in 2014–2015 as a result of increasing agricultural drainage water recycling from 5.4 × 109 m3 in 2005–2006 to 11.7 × 109 m3 in 2014–2015 [16, 17]. The increase in the Egyptian population between 2005 and 2015 is the main reason for the rise in the consumption of water for drinking and healthy uses. According to published population data from the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics [16], Fig. 3 shows that the Egyptian population growth was from 72 million in midyear 2005–2006 to 89 million in midyear 2014–2015 and this corresponded with an increase in drinking and healthy water use of 4.25 × 109 m3. The annual rate of water consumption is increased from 84.7 m3/per capita in 2005 to 116.3 m3/per capita in 2015. This rate elevation can be explained by an increase in the piped water supply coverage as well as changes in lifestyle during the last decade.
Fig. 3

The quantity of domestic water use (bar) and the population (line) during 2005–2006 to 2014–2015

3 Wastewater Availability and Current Use

In arid and semi-arid regions, activities such as landscaping, groundwater recharge, greenbelts, cooling systems, and agricultural production are driving the implementation of reusing treated or untreated wastewater. The competition for limited water resources is a key driver for reusing TWW, especially with an increasing population that provides a continuous substantial supply of TWW [18]. Farmers irrigate with wastewater in developing countries because of the limited availability of freshwater, availability of nutrients, and affordable cost compared to pumping deep groundwater and being adjacent to urban market areas [19]. TWW provides a promising, unconventional water source for irrigation in Egypt [20]. A significant volume of drain water is often pumped and used for irrigating crops, especially during the summer season when water in the irrigation canals is scarce (Fig. 4). The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics reported that the total production of refined water (fresh piped water) by Egyptian producers in 2014–2015 was 8.9 × 109 m3 from 2,706 water refining stations [21]. Although 80% of the delta-rural population is served with a piped water supply, only 4% is connected to a sanitation system [22].
Fig. 4

Unofficial TWW pumps for field irrigation during a water shortage in the summer season (taken by: Tamer Elbana)

Accurate data on wastewater generation, treatment, and use is required for improving the treatment, management, and distribution of wastewater [19]. Table 1 shows the quantities of collected and treated wastewaters for different Egyptian governorates according to a detailed study on drinking water and sanitation statistics for 2014–2015 that was carried out by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics [21]. According to this official governmental source, primary treatment refers to the separation of solid wastes from the wastewater; secondary treatment refers to implementing biological treatment to oxidize and remove organic contaminants; and tertiary treatment is disinfection of the effluent of the secondary treatment to remove hazardous constituents. Data in Table 1 reveal that the total collected wastewater in 2014–2015 was 5,048 × 106 m3, and the total TWW represented 74.4% of the collected wastewater. The primary, secondary, and tertiary-treated wastewater represented 16.8%, 81.4%, and 1.8% of the total treated wastewater, respectively. Additionally, the collected quantities from the Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza governorates accounted for more than 60% of the total wastewater generated during 2014–2015 [21].
Table 1

Capacity of sanitation stations for wastewater treatments in Egyptian governorates during 2014–2015 (After: [21])

Governorate

Collected wastewater

Total TWW

Treatment

Primary

Secondary

Tertiary

(106 m3)

Cairo

1,436.1

1,263.1

1,248.5

14.6

Alexandria

576

445.4

140.7

304.7

Port-Said

152.7

73.8

73.8

Suez

133.7

76.1

76.1

Darmietta

98.7

94.5

94.5

Dakahlia

326.5

184

184

Sharqeia

118.9

95

95

Kalyobiya

71

55.1

55.1

Kafr El Sheikh

79.7

72.8

72.8

Al Gharbia

188.8

156.1

156.1

Monufia

123.6

87.2

14.2

73

El-Beheira

99.6

81.7

81.7

Ismailia

128.7

89.8

89.8

Giza

1,070.4

660.3

438

174.8

47.5

Bani Souwaif

40.5

40.5

40.5

Faiyum

73.9

40.9

40.9

Menia

47.9

44.5

0.5

44

Assiut

42.9

36

30.5

5.5

Sohag

42.3

33.9

33.9

Qena

42.8

20.3

8.8

11.5

Aswan

58.3

27.7

18.7

9

Luxor

22.6

21.8

21.8

The Red Sea

7.3

5

5

El Wadi El Gidid

32

19.7

1.3

18.4

North Sinai

16.4

16.4

0.2

16.2

South Sinai

14.1

9.3

3

6.3

Matrouh

3.3

3.3

3.3

Total

5,048.7

3,754.2

630.4

3,056.2

67.6

Wood production via forest plantation is one of the main uses of TWW in Egypt. National programs of using 2.4 × 109 m3 of TWW for afforestation and greenbelts have been conducted by the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, and the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities. Recently, 155,500 feddan2 (planted or under construction) of wood forests and bio-oil crops have been irrigated with TWW in the desert areas adjacent to wastewater treatment plants [23]. The Serapium Forest (located in the Ismailia governorate) is a story of successful TWW use in Egypt. Various species of woody trees were well-adapted to the arid environment and provided a high wood yield in Serapium [24]. These species can decrease their resorption efficiency and proficiency of the toxic trace metal concentration as a protective strategy [25].

Another example of TWW use is when the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development, evaluated the safe reuse of TWW to irrigate different crops (e.g., jatropha, jojoba, sorghum, flax, flowers) in the Luxor governorate. This evaluation endorsed using drip irrigation techniques and implementing natural resource monitoring in the project area as well as conducting risk reduction measures for protecting the workers involved [26]. Jatropha is a bio-oil crop cultivated in Egypt since the late 1990s using TWW. Recently, its cultivated area has spread to over 2,000 feddan; it is planted mainly in Upper Egypt governorates and has promising economic potential [27].

4 Treated Wastewater for Agriculture Use

Wastewater reuse for irrigation has been practiced historically in Egypt. Untreated and partially treated wastewater has been used for irrigation at the Elgabal Elasfar farm, in the Eastern Desert 25 km northeast of Cairo, since 1911. This farm was initially established for forest production, and it has been converted to citrus and field crop production (see Fig. 5). Although the quality of the irrigation water currently applied meets acceptable levels, sustainable management strategies recommend monitoring the levels of heavy metals in the soil and performing appropriate remediation programs due to the historical use of untreated wastewater at this farm [8]. Moreover, the absence of sanitation systems in the rural Nile delta drives farmers to discharge wastewater into agricultural drains; this is a common, unofficial practice [28]. Therefore, wastewater treatment is required in the Nile delta area. Decentralized wastewater treatment in densely populated rural region areas such as the Nile delta, with appropriate cluster size, is recommended because it would provide conditions favorable for reusing TWW [22, 29].
Fig. 5

Elgabal Elasfar farm showing timber trees, intercropping maize (for animal feed), and citrus trees (taken by: Tamer Elbana)

The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation [30] has stated that TWW would be mainly used for greenbelt and non-food agricultural production based on several factors such as the balance of supply and demand, treatment type and level, availability of cultivation area, irrigation method, cropping pattern, environmental impact, and costs. Moreover, the reuse of agricultural drainage water is a common practice in Egypt due to water scarcity. Some of these agricultural drains turn into major carriers of untreated wastewater which are subsequently utilized for irrigation [31].

Two scenarios for reusing TWW in agriculture exist: (1) TWW supplementation and (2) TWW replacement. These were examined [32] by applying a model for sanitation planners. The authors recommended designing wastewater treatment plants for reusing TWW in irrigation as an opportunity to increase agricultural production, conserve water through replacement scenarios, decrease fertilizer demand, and economically reduce the costs of treatment through supplementation scenarios. For instance, reusing tertiary-treated municipal wastewater through surface and subsurface drip irrigation maintained the allowable microbiological quality for tomato and eggplant in an alkaline clay soil, and TWW was recommended as an alternative irrigation source to increase crop productivity [33]. The negative consequences on heavy-textured soils, however, should be addressed. Long-term irrigation (15 years) with secondary TWW has adversely affected soil structure and soil hydraulic conductivity due to increases in soil sodicity and surface microbial contamination and reductions in soil salinity [34]. However, in sandy loam soil, TWW was recommended as an alternative irrigation source for tomato fruits, where insignificant contamination was detected [35]. Generally, utilizing TWW for irrigation can be recommended because of improving wastewater treatment and continuous monitoring to prevent the accumulation of toxic elements and maintain microbiological loads within permissible levels in soil and plants [36]. When considering TWW as alternative agricultural irrigation source to mitigate water scarcity stress and conserve freshwater, it is important to have consistent tertiary treatment and monitor TWW quality [37].

Risk assessment, geographic variability of wastewater utilization, and regular wastewater use monitoring programs by public agencies are essential to protect public health and improve water management [38]. Selecting crops suitable to be cultivated with TWW is a key for achieving the successful use of TWW. Oil crops such as canola and sunflower are suitable for TWW irrigation [18]. Additionally, cultivating jatropha with TWW is recommended because of the availability of marginal desert soil and the socio-economic benefits associated with biofuel production [27]. Socio-economic considerations also represent a strategic challenge for reusing TWW in agriculture; farmer-based involvement and education about hygiene and healthy practices is essential to realize successful implementation of TWW irrigation in the early stages of reuse projects [39].

5 Impact of TWW Reuse on Fish Production

Egypt’s inland freshwater fisheries include the following: Lake Nasser, the Nile River channel, irrigation channels, water bodies in the Western Desert, two Nile branches (Rosetta and Damietta), and the northern Egyptian lakes [40]. Egypt’s Mediterranean offshore fisheries along the Nile delta have been exponentially expanding in recent decades, in contrast to the decline in many of the world’s fisheries [41, 42, 43, 44]. These fisheries (both natural and aquaculture) are the largest producers of freshwater fish in all Nile basin countries [40]. The annual fish yield from Egypt’s freshwater fisheries of the Nile basin has increased from 158 to 225 thousand metric tons from 1990 to 2000 [40].

Egypt’s fish production significantly increased after the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Three different periods can be defined [45]: (1) Pre-High Dam construction, (2) Between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, after the completion of the dam and, (3) From the late 1980s to the present.

Pre Dam construction areas of the Nile valley and delta were exposed to annual fall flooding, which carried all the irrigation water runoff loaded with fertilizers from agriculture land to the Mediterranean Sea. This flood water supported a productive fishery in the northern Nile delta. Between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, after the completion of the dam, the fall flood decreased by about 90%, causing a severe decline in Egyptian fish production. From the late 1980s to the present, coastal fisheries have exhibited a remarkable recovery; production is now threefold compared to the period before the High Dam was constructed [45]. This turnaround may be due to improvements in fishing technology and the excessive use of fertilizers in agricultural land, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, these anthropogenic activities potentially affected the load of nutrients in northern Nile delta lakes, as the sewer systems in most cities and towns on the Nile delta – other than Cairo’s municipal and industrial wastes (nutrient-enrichment water) – are directly connected to the 13,000 km of drainage canals in this region [46].

Five main lakes are situated along the northern Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The four northern delta lakes from west to east are Mariut, Edku, Burullus, and Manzala; in contrast, Bardawil Lake is located in northern Sinai. The four northern delta lakes occupy an area of about 1,100 km2. The area of the four lakes has declined by 50% between the 1950s and the present [40]. The lost areas have been used for highways and residential construction and some areas have been reclaimed for agriculture. The lakes are commonly shallow (average depth 1.1 m), and their salinity ranges from non-saline to brackish in the seaward direction. According to 2001 records, the four northern lakes harvest a total fish production of about 140 thousand tons/year, which represents about 60% of all freshwater fish caught and about 30% of Egypt’s total annual yield [40]. Those lakes are the most polluted lakes in Egypt as they receive all kinds of wastes (agricultural, industrial, and municipal) from drains that discharge directly into them [47].

Based on Khalil’s [46] research, Lake Mariut at the north-western edge of the Nile delta (west of the Rosetta branch, near Alexandria) has been identified as the most polluted aquatic ecosystem in Egypt. It receives Alexandria’s primary-treated municipal and industrial wastes of approximately 2.4 billion m3 year−1, with an average salinity of 5,600 ppm [48]. The lake’s pollution caused a marked deterioration in fish production.

On the other side of the Nile delta, Lake Manzala is the largest of the four northern delta lakes and is located in the north-east between the Damietta branch and the Suez Canal. Recently, Mehanna et al. [49] studied Lake Manzala’s characteristics, pollution, and fish production. They reported that several drains discharge drainage water into Lake Manzala; the most important is the Bahr El-Baqar drain. Three main landing sites for fish production exist in this lake: El-Matareya in the Dakahlia Governorate, Gheet El-Nasara in the Darmietta Governorate, and El-Qabouti in the Port-Said Governorate. The average annual fish production from the whole lake was about 49,430 tons during 2005–2012, which represents 30% of the total annual production of Egyptian lakes. Due to increased industrial and agricultural drainage discharged into the lake, fish production was significantly affected. Additionally, Mehanna et al. [49] found levels of heavy metals (Fe, Cu, Zn, Mn, Cd, Pb, and Hg) that exceeded permissible limits, especially near the mouths of Bahr El-Baqar, Ramsis, and Hadous drains; these results were consistent with previous research conducted by Siegel [50].

Ensuring water quality criteria for fisheries is vital for guaranteeing food safety. The causes and effects of pollution on fisheries have been presented in numerous publications. The main factors adversely affecting fish productions are water temperature, water pH, dissolved oxygen, supersaturation with dissolved gasses, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates [51]. The importance of gradual change to achieve full recovery and a return to healthy, productive conditions was emphasized.

Compliance with local and international guidelines of reusing TWW is crucial to sustain fish productivity and human health. The World Health Organization published comprehensive guidelines for safe use of wastewater in aquaculture that obey the Stockholm Framework requirements of evaluating health risk assessments [52]. Wastewater-fed aquaculture is uncommonly implemented in Egypt. However, a few studies on wastewater-fed aquaculture have been conducted on a small [53] or large-scale [54, 55]. These studies used chemical and biological analyses to conclude that TWW was safe to use for the production of certain fish species, such as tilapia and grey mullet.

6 Reuse of Wastewater: Relevant Laws, Legislation, and Regulations

There are several organizations in Egypt that deal with wastewater management and its reuse. These organizations include the following: Ministry of Land Reclamation and Agriculture, Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Ministry of the Environment, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Ministry of Housing Utilities and Urban Communities, and Ministry of Health and Population. There are numerous laws, legislation, and regulations enacted by the Egyptian government to protect the environment and water resources from pollution [56], including the following:
  1. 1.

    Law No. 93 of 1962: concerning the disposal of sewage waste.

     
  2. 2.

    Law No. 27 of 1978: regulates public water resources for drinking and domestic use.

     
  3. 3.

    Law No. 57 of 1978: concerning the disposal of ponds and marshes.

     
  4. 4.

    Law No. 48 of 1982: concerning the protection of the Nile River and waterways from pollution

     

Laws 48/1982 and 93/1962 are the most relevant to wastewater and its reuse in agriculture.

First, Law No. 48 of 1982 regulates the discharge of different wastes to all Egyptian waterways, including the Nile River, its two branches, and the marine environment. The Executive Regulation of this Law was amended by the Minister of Irrigation Decree 92/2013. Based on this Decree, Section 6 set the regulation, standards, and certain specifications for discharging TWW to waterways. Article 49 defines the criteria of freshwater quality to which discharging treated industrial wastewater is allowed (Table 2). Article 50 explains the criteria for discharging treated industrial wastewater into the Nile River and its branches (Table 3). Furthermore, Articles 51 and 52 define the water quality criteria that must be met before it can be discharged to agricultural irrigation water and non-fresh surface water, respectively (Tables 4 and 5).
Table 2

The levels of freshwater quality to be met before the discharge of treated industrial wastewater is allowed

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Total solid

<500

Iron

<0.5

Molybdenum

<0.07

Dissolved oxygen

>6

Manganese

<0.2

Nickel

<0.02

pH

6.5–8.5

Copper

<0.01

Aldrin and dieldrin

<0.00003

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

<6

Zinc

<0.01

Alachlor

<0.02

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

<10

Fluorides

<0.5

Aldicarb

<0.01

Organic-N

<1

Phenol

<0.002

Atrazine

<0.002

Total-N

<3.5

Arsenic

<0.01

Bentazone

<0.03

Total-P

<2

Cadmium

<0.001

Carbofuran

<0.007

NH3

<0.5

Chromium

<0.05

Chlordane

<0.0002

NO3

<2

Cyanide

<0.005

2,4 Dichloroprop

<0.03

Fat/oil

<0.1

Lead

<0.01

Fenoprop

<0.009

SO4

<200

Selenium

<0.01

Mecoprop

<0.01

Mercury

<0.001

Boron

<0.5

2,4,5-T

<0.009

Source: Decree 92/2013, Article 49 of the Executive Regulation of Law 48/1982

Table 3

Criteria for discharging treated industrial wastewater into the Nile River and its branches

Constituent

The maximum limit standard for the discharge of treated industrial wastewater to:

Nile River to Delta

Nile branches (Rosetta and Damietta)

Units

Temperature

<3° over the recipient waterway

°C

pH

6–9

6–9

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

30

20

mg/L

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

40

30

Total dissolved solids

1,200

800

Suspended solids

30

30

H2S

1

1

Fat/oil

5

5

Total-P

1

1

NH3

1

1

Total-N

5

5

Phenol

0.002

0.001

Fluorides

0.5

0.5

Chlorine-residue

1

1

Mercury

0.001

0.001

Lead

0.1

0.1

Cadmium

0.03

0.03

Arsenic

0.1

0.1

Chromium

0.5

0.5

Copper

1

1

Nickel

0.2

0.2

Iron

1

1

Manganese

0.5

0.5

Zinc

1

1

Silver

0.05

0.05

Total coli group in 100 cm3

1,000

1,000

Count

Pesticides

Should not be detected

Source: Decree 92/2013, Article 50 of the Executive Regulation of Law 48/1982

Table 4

The standards for drain water before it can be discharged into agricultural irrigation water

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Constituent

Standard (mg/L)

Total solid

<1,000

Copper

<1

Aldrin and dieldrin

<0.003

Dissolved oxygen

>5

Zinc

<2

Alachlor

<0.02

pH

6.5–8.5

Phenol

<0.05

Aldicarb

<0.1

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

<30

Arsenic

<0.01

Atrazine

<0.02

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

<50

Cadmium

<0.03

Bentazone

<0.3

Total-N

15

Chromium

<0.05

Carbofuran

<0.07

Total-P

3

Cyanide

<0.01

Chlordane

<0.002

Fat/oil

<3

Lead

<0.1

2,4-Dichloroprop

<0.3

Mercury

<0.001

Nickel

0.1

Fenoprop

<0.09

Iron

<3

Selenium

0.01

Mecoprop

<0.1

Manganese

<2

Total coli group in 100 cm3

5,000

2,4,5-T

<0.09

Temperature

<3°C over irrigation water

Source: Decree 92/2013, Article 51 of the Executive Regulation of Law 48/1982

Table 5

The standards for treated domestic wastewater and industrial wastewater before they can be discharged into non-fresh surface water

Constituent

The maximum limit for discharging to:

Treated industrial wastewater

Treated domestic wastewater

Temperature

<3°C over the recipient waterway

pH

6–9

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

60 mg/L

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

80 mg/L

Dissolved oxygen

>4 mg/L

Fat/oil

10 mg/L

Total dissolved solids (mg/L)

<2,000

<2,000 (<5,000 for coastal regions)

Suspended solids

50 mg/L

H2S

1 mg/L

Cyanide

0.1 mg/L

Total-P

NH3

Total-N

Phenol

0.05 mg/L

Mercury

0.01 mg/L

Lead

0.1 mg/L

Cadmium

0.003 mg/L

Arsenic

0.05 mg/L

Selenium

0.1 mg/L

Chromium

0.1 mg/L

Copper

0.5 mg/L

Nickel

0.5 mg/L

Zinc

2 mg/L

Iron

1 mg/L

3.5 mg/L

Total coli group in 100 cm3

1,000

5,000

Ascaris eggs

Aldrin and dieldrin

<0.015 mg/L

Alachlor

<0.1 mg/L

Aldicarb

<0.5 mg/L

Atrazine

<0.1 mg/L

Bentazone

<0.15 mg/L

Carbofuran

<0.35 mg/L

Chlordane

<0.01 mg/L

2,4-Dichloroprop

<0.5 mg/L

Fenoprop

<0.45 mg/L

Mecoprop

<0.5 mg/L

2,4,5-T

<0.45 mg/L

Source: Decree 92/2013, Article 52 of the Executive Regulation of Law 48/1982

Second, Law No. 93 of 1962 concerns the safe disposal of liquid effluents. During 2000, the Executive Regulation of this Law was amended by the Minister of Housing Utilities and Urban Communities via Decree No. 44 of 2000. Table 6 shows the criteria for discharging sewage waste (from industrial or commercial facilities) into the public sewer system based on Article 14 of Decree 44/2000. Law 93/1962 categorized three groups of treated wastewater: primary-, secondary-, and advanced-TWW for agricultural reuse. Table 7 lists the biological and chemical characteristics of each treated group. Additionally, Decree 44/2000 specifies the plant type, soil type, and irrigation methods for each group. For instance, it is permissible to reuse primary-TWW only for woody trees in desert areas located at least 5 km from urban areas with regular environmental monitoring and assessment. In contrast, secondary-TWW is allowed for the cultivation of palm trees, fodder, dry cereals, cotton, flax, or jute crops under furrow or drip irrigation system in light- and medium-textured soils [56].
Table 6

The required standards and specifications of liquid effluents before discharge into the public sewer system

Constituent

Standards (ppm)

Heavy metals

Standards (mg/L)

Temperature

43°C

Chromium

0.5

pH

7–9.5

Cadmium

0.2

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

600

Lead

1

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

1,100

Mercury

0.2

Suspended solids

800

Silver

0.5

Fat/oil

100

Copper

1.5

Dissolved-Sulfur

10

Nickel

1

Total-N

100

Tin

2

Total-P

25

Arsenic

2

Cyanide

0.2

Boron

1

Phenol

0.05

Total heavy metals

<5

Solids after 10 min

8 cm3/L

Solids after 30 min

15 cm3/L

Source: Decree 44/2000, Article 14 of the Executive Regulation of Law 93/1962

Table 7

Maximum permissible limit for treated wastewater based on treatment category

Constituent

Unit

Wastewater treatment

Primary

Secondary

Advanced

Biological oxygen demand (BOD)

ppm

300

40

20

Chemical oxygen demand (COD)

600

80

40

Total suspended solids

350

40

20

Fat/oil

Not defined

10

5

Egg of intestinal nematodes

count/L

5

1

1

Cell of fecal coliform

count/100 mL

Not defined

1,000

100

Sodium adsorption ratio

%

25

20

20

Total dissolved solid

ppm

<2,500

<2,000

<2,000

Chlorine

<350

300

300

Boron

<5

<3

<3

Cadmium

0.05

0.01

0.01

Lead

10

5

5

Copper

Not defined

0.2

0.2

Nickel

0.5

0.2

0.2

Zinc

Not defined

2

2

Arsenic

Not defined

Not defined

0.1

Chromium

Not defined

Not defined

0.1

Molybdenum

Not defined

0.01

0.01

Manganese

0.2

0.2

0.2

Iron

Not defined

5

5

Cobalt

Not defined

0.05

0.05

Source: Decree 44/2000, Article 15 of the Executive Regulation of Law 93/1962

Moreover, the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities published two versions of the Egyptian Code for reusing TWW [57, 58]. The 2005 version [57] classified TWW into three categories (A, B, and C), while ECP 501/2015 [58] classifies TWW into four grades (A, B, C, and D) depending on the level of treatment (Table 8). The Egyptian Code prohibits the reuse of TWW for any raw vegetables, such as cucumber or tomatoes. Additionally, the Code specifies the allowable crops for each TWW category [58]. For example, category A TWW is allowed to irrigate fruits that are eaten without peeling such as apples, as well as to irrigate landscapes in urban areas. However, category B TWW can be utilized to irrigate dry cereal crops (e.g., wheat, corn, and beans) and fruit trees (e.g., olive and citrus) as well as medicinal plants (e.g., cumin and marjoram). Category C TWW can be used for the same crops as category B, with the condition of not using sprinkler irrigation. Category D TWW can be applied to irrigate crops of bio-diesel fuel, energy oils, cellulose production, glucose production, and bio-charcoal as well as timber trees.
Table 8

Criteria for different levels of wastewater treatment

Criteria

Treatment level

A

B

C

D

Total suspended solids (TSS, mg/L)

<15

<30

<50

<300

Turbidity (NTU)

<5

Not defined

Not defined

Not defined

Biological oxygen demand (BOD, mg/L)

<15

<30

<80

<350

Fecal coliform or E. coli per 100 mL

<20

<100

<1,000

Not defined

Intestinal nematodes (eggs/L or cells/L)

<1

Not defined

Not defined

Not defined

Source: ECP 501 [58]

The Egyptian Code [58] also defined the threshold levels of chemical elements in TWW based on [59] for the long-term utilization of the TWW, as shown in Table 9. In addition, the Code specified the recommended maximum concentrations for short-term use as slightly higher than the values shown in Table 9. The Egyptian Code also emphasized the importance of considering suitable agricultural and hygiene practices to safeguard stakeholders’ health [58].
Table 9

Chemical criteria of TWW for long-term use in agricultural irrigation

Chemical

Recommended max. concentration (mg/L)

Chemical

Recommended max. concentration (mg/L)

Al

5.00

Hg

0.002

As

0.10

V

0.10

Be

0.10

Co

0.05

Cu

0.20

B

1.0

F

1.50

Mo

0.01

Fe

5.00

Phenol

0.002

Li

2.50

Total (PO4)

30

Mn

0.20

SO4

500

Ni

0.20

HCO3

400

Pb

5.00

SAR

(6–9)

Se

0.02

Na

230

Cd

0.01

Mg

100

Zn

5.00

Ca

230

Cr

0.10

Total dissolved solids

2,000

Source: Adopted from ECP 501 [58]

7 Key Challenges and Opportunities

In practice, the key challenge of reusing TWW is to preserve suitable water quality for the irrigation of certain crops. Ensuring appropriate quality is the responsibility of the provider. With the anticipated population increase in Egypt, there is a need to increase the capacity of the infrastructure for wastewater treatment to attain the required level of treatment for safe reuse. In addition, farmers must comply with the specific regulations for TWW reuse, especially those related to irrigation methods and cultivation only of permissible crops. Due to water scarcity, Egypt’s farmers endure using TWW as a source for irrigation water. A significant portion of the diluted, partially treated or treated wastewater is pumped and used for irrigating crops, particularly when water in the irrigation canals is scarce; this was confirmed during our field visits. This practice of using drain water mixed with untreated or partially treated sewage to irrigate crops has the potential to severely harm human health and the environment. Public awareness of health and safety practices for safe and productive use of this resource is a prerequisite for large-scale implementation of TWW reuse, specifically:
  • Awareness of the pros and cons of using TWW

  • Protection of workers from direct contact with TWW by promoting the use of long boots and gloves in such areas.

There is also a need to educate consumers about the quality of agricultural crops produced from TWW reuse because the water is clean. Public acceptance for water reuse depends on the type of reused water and treatment levels [60]. Public acceptance is expected to be less for food-related applications of TWW than for irrigation of fiber crops and wood trees. Developing positive perceptions about TWW reuse is a key for public acceptance [61]. Thus, informing consumers about the level of treatment would expand public acceptance. The additional social challenge of public acceptance should be addressed carefully for TWW-reuse projects.

Farm-level management includes three major categories: (1) crop selection and diversification, (2) irrigation management, and (3) soil-based practices such as tillage and fertilization [38]. The management challenge of reusing TWW in a developing country can be attributed to unplanned activities and undefined responsibilities [62]. In Egypt, the existed TWW-reuse laws and codes will minimize this challenge. However, there is a need to have applicable executive programs for implementing the TWW-reuse policies.

Addressing health and environmental risks is important to be able to successfully implement TWW reuse in agriculture [63]. Continuous monitoring of the environmental impacts of reusing TWW on soils and groundwater is vital. Performing regular health assessments of farm workers is equally important. Public awareness of health risks and environmental pollution are also required if successful TWW reuse in agriculture is to be achieved.

There are significant opportunities for maximizing the benefits of the TWW reuse in Egypt. The increasing population and decreasing water resources will create growing demand for TWW to reduce the gap between supply and demand. It may be possible to expand the current reuse of the recycled TWW (1.3 × 109 m3) threefold. The total annual collected wastewater in Egypt exceeds 5 × 109 m3, while current national programs target only 2.4 × 109 m3 for using TWW in afforestation and greenbelts. There is also an opportunity to improve the infrastructure of the treatment plants that are now treating less than 75% of the collected wastewater. This improvement is supported by recent developments in wastewater treatment technology. TWW is a reliable unconventional water source and should be considered as a resource when cities plan new expansions, especially new urban developments near desert areas in Egypt. In Egypt, interdisciplinary research by combining biophysical aspects with social, economic, and policy aspects is very much essential in order to reduce health risks associated with wastewater reuse.

8 Conclusions

Treating wastewater is necessary to protect environmental resources such as soil, groundwater, and water reservoirs. TWW is a reliable water source that can fulfill the gap between water demand and supply. In Egypt, TWW can contribute up to 5 × 109 m3 to water resources. Current TWW use of 1.3 × 109 m3 can be expanded to include around 3 × 109 m3 that is secondarily treated by Egyptian wastewater plants. Addressing the social and management challenges as well as the environmental and heath aspects of recycling TWW are essential before implementing large-scale TWW projects. Management of TWW reuse should be site-specific and account for providers and consumers and the specific use of the water source. Compliance with high standards and Egyptian regulations can safely protect the health of laborers and deal with anticipated challenges. Applicable executive national programs for effectively implementing the policies for recycling reclaimed water, however, are urgently needed. Improving the infrastructure of wastewater treatment plants and implementing decentralized treatment systems in rural areas will also maximize the benefits of TWW reuse in Egypt.

9 Recommendations

Our recommendations for the safe use of TWW in Egypt involve four interconnected aspects that related to research and development, management of the reuse of TWW, public awareness of the benefits and threats, and the implementation of executive programs of the recycling of the reclaimed water.

First, scientific research is necessary to develop affordable and effective technologies for wastewater treatment to improve the quality of the produced TWW. Additionally, exploring the applicability of small-scale treatment units or systems on field-scale is needed. The following research tracks are highly recommended;
  • Analyze the current and future availability of TWW for long-term use in agricultural irrigation with respect to the amount of generated and treated wastewater from each Egyptian governorate.

  • Assess the impacts of the long-term use of TWW on both the environment and human health.

  • Assess the impact of applying TWW on the Egyptian new land (existing or proposed new reclaimed areas) and marginal lands as well as evaluate the land suitability for the permissible cultivated crops based on the Egypt’s standards and regulations.

  • Perform socio-economic studies to analyze public acceptance of the TWW reuse in agriculture. Additionally, analyzing the gender sensitivity and women’s issues in such activities.

  • Apply new technologies such as geographic information systems, remote sensing, and modeling in the research of the TWW reuse. Those technologies provide interactive maps and user interfaces that can help stakeholders and policy makers to choose the best implementation of the TWW.

Secondly, the management of TWW reuse should abide by the related laws and regulations. This would include establishing a formal inspection committee from governmental and nongovernmental organizations to ensure (1) quality of TWW for irrigation, (2) cultivation of the permissible crops, and (3) and that farmers comply with regulations and guidelines of safe TWW reuse. For decision makers, an accurate database of the generated and treated wastewater is essential for implementing a successful reuse of reclaimed water. Thus, there is a need to apply advanced technologies (interactive maps, mobile apps, and decision support systems) to provide accurate information to both stakeholders and decision makers before operating the TWW on large-scale. The location of the treatment stations should be wisely chosen to be close to both the source of wastewater and the projected irrigated lands. Improving the infrastructure of the current wastewater treatment facilities as well as expanding sanitation services to rural and suburban areas will reduce the contamination of waterways with the unofficial discharging or overpassing of untreated wastewater.

The third aspect of our recommendations is related to public awareness; there is a need to set up continuous awareness campaigns for the safe use of TWW for both environment, when the correct regulations and standards are followed, and human, when the exact healthy practices are applied. These campaigns can be achieved by educating the public who apply TWW for irrigation through extension services, media, and in cooperation with water use stakeholders as well as governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Finally, there is an urgent need to have well-defined governmental programs for implementing the TWW-reuse policies especially in the desert expansion of the existing cities or in the planning for new cities. Those programs should consider upgrading the TWW quality to meet the Egyptian regulations and standards for agricultural use and reduce the health risk by following up the TWW applications at the farm level. These programs for the safe use of TWW should consider the current and the expected future population growth.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    The term “water for drinking and healthy uses” is used as it is written in the publications of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics that refers to the household water uses.

  2. 2.

    1 feddan = 0.42 = hectare = 4,200 m2.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and the CGIAR Fund Donors for supporting this research. Also, the authors would like to thank Dr. Biju George (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Cairo, Egypt) for his editorial support and encouragement.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Soils and Water Use DepartmentNational Research Centre (NRC)CairoEgypt
  2. 2.Soil and Water Science Department, Faculty of AgricultureBeni Suef UniversityBeni SuefEgypt

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