Unraveling impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s Water Provision

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Analysis Based on Updated Data from the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry – Dr. Hani Sewilam’s Speech to Parliament on January 27, 2023

Abstract: This updated research reassesses the potential implications of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Egypt’s water supply using the latest data provided by the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry. The study reevaluates the changes in the Blue Nile’s discharge with a focus on a scenario where 20.5 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water is withheld. Despite potential reductions in the Blue Nile flow, Egypt’s water supply is largely unaffected due to its diversified water sources, efficient water management, and substantial reserves in Lake Nasser.

Filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) along the Blue Nile River is well underway near the Ethiopia-Sudan border.Photo taken by NASA in November 2020. The dam has since been filled on two more occasion in 2021 and 2022. A fourth round of filing is scheduled for 2023.

The completion of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is anticipated to make it the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa. This updated study reanalyzes the possible reductions in the Blue Nile’s flow as a result of the GERD, investigating its potential impact on Egypt’s water availability and demand. Given the continuity of floods, the analysis examines how the Blue Nile’s flow, even if reduced to 35 billion cubic meters due to the filling of the GERD, can still provide adequate water to Egypt. This evaluation takes into account the contributions from the Atbara and Sobat rivers, the White Nile, and Egypt’s internal resources. The recent data provided by the Egyptian Irrigation Ministry allows for a more believable evaluation of Egypt’s water resources and their capacity to mitigate any potential water deficits.

Analysis of Blue Nile Flow Scenarios: The study reexamines scenarios of the Nile’s discharge (Blue Nile and White Nile), including a 20 BCM reduction in the Blue Nile’s flow. The updated data enables more precise calculations of various internal water resources, Sudan’s water consumption, evaporation losses, and flow from the Atbara and Sobat rivers. A comparative review of the annual inflow and Egypt’s water demand provides an understanding of net water storage under these scenarios.

Impact of Blue Nile Flow Reduction: In a scenario where the Blue Nile flow is reduced by 20.5 BCM due to the GERD’s operation, Egypt’s water resources would be impacted as follows:

1. Nile River Water: 55.5 BCM

2. Total Renewable Water Resources: 59.25 BCM

3. Reused and Recycled Water: 21.0 BCM

4. Major Water Treatment Projects: 5.1465 BCM

5. Total Water Resources and Recycling: 80.25 BCM

6. Total Resources with Treatment: 85.3965 BCM

Summary of Egypt’s Water Resources: A detailed examination of Egypt’s internal water resources provides insights into each resource’s annual contribution and its share of the total inflow.

Blue Nile Flow Reduction Scenario (20.5BCM Reduction):

1. Current Desalination Plants: There are currently 82 desalination plants in Egypt.

2. Current Capacity: The total current capacity of these desalination plants is 917,000 cubic meters per day.

3. Projected Capacity with New Plants: It is projected that with the addition of new plants, the capacity will increase to 1,400,000 cubic meters per day.

Scenario Analysis: Let’s consider a scenario where the flow of the Blue Nile has reduced to 29.5 billion cubic meters, and Ethiopia decides to fill an additional 20.5 billion cubic meters of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. To supplement this reduced flow from the Blue Nile, Egypt would still receive 22 billion cubic meters from the Atbara and Sobat rivers. Additionally, approximately 15 billion cubic meters would come from the White Nile. Overall, in this scenario, Egypt’s total water supply would amount to 66.5 billion cubic meters, significantly lower than the usual 97 billion cubic meters.

Calculation 3: Total Water Supply in Scenario, the total water supply, in this scenario, would be: 29.5 (from Blue Nile after reduction) + 22 (from Atbara and Sobat rivers) + 15 (from White Nile) = 66.5 BCM This total is significantly lower than the regular total of 97 BCM.

Impact on High Dam Lake: Assuming the High Dam Lake is at its maximum capacity of 162 billion cubic meters, a deduction of 20 billion cubic meters from Egypt’s share would reduce the reservoir’s level to 142 billion cubic meters. However, in a more realistic scenario, the deficit would be shared between Sudan and Egypt. Sudan would bear 7 billion cubic meters, while Egypt would handle 13 billion cubic meters. This would result in a reduction of the lake level by only 13 billion cubic meters.

Impact on Egypt’s Sectors: Despite this reduction, the agriculture, industry, and domestic sectors in Egypt might not experience a significant impact. The country could compensate for the deficit by drawing from the High Dam Lake reservoir until the Blue Nile flows return to normal after the storage completion.

Findings: The operation of the GERD doesn’t significantly impact Egypt’s water supply, showcasing the potential for equitable sharing of the Nile’s waters among Nile basin countries. Even under conditions of reduced Blue Nile flow, Egypt has substantial storage reserves in Lake Nasser to cover any deficits. The study underscores that Egypt’s water supply remains robust due to its diverse water sources, effective water management tactics, and Lake Nasser’s considerable storage capacity.

Lake Nasser Storage and the Blue Nile Flow Reduction Scenarios: This study aims to determine how potential shortages can be managed using Lake Nasser’s storage reserves. Even with GERD’s construction, Lake Nasser’s reserves could serve as a safeguard for Egypt during challenging times, especially when the Blue Nile’s discharge sees significant reductions. Currently, the Lake Nasser level stands at 180m above sea level, indicating ample emergency storage availability.

Conclusion: Through a combination of improved water efficiency, increased use of treated wastewater, and expansion of desalination, Egypt could largely mitigate the potential reduction in the Blue Nile’s flow due to the operation of the GERD. The continued storage capacity of Lake Nasser provides a further buffer against potential water shortages.

Suggested strategies and potential contributions: To ensure sustainable water management, Egypt can consider the following strategies:

Water Conservation and Efficiency Improvement: Immediate measures can be taken to improve water conservation and efficiency, especially in the agricultural sector. This could potentially contribute 5-10 BCM annually to closing the water deficit.

Increasing the use of Treated Wastewater: Egypt can expand its reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation and other non-potable uses in the medium term. This could provide an additional 3-5 BCM of water annually.

Desalination Expansion: In the long term, Egypt can expand its desalination capacity along its Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. This could add another 2-5 BCM to its annual water supply.

Transboundary Water Negotiations: Ongoing negotiations and cooperation with other Nile Basin countries are critical for ensuring equitable access to the Nile’s waters. Egypt should continue to seek mutually beneficial agreements regarding the management of the Nile, including the operation of the GERD

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