Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Cecelia McAuliffe makes this connection in Cairo, Egypt. This current event was reported in by Deutsche Welle (DW) online news on June 17th 2016, under the title “Sewage effluent fights desertification in Egypt” by Oliver Ristau. This is likely real news, based on inhabitat, an online news source, providing an independent report on this current event in August 2016, at here.

Throughout Africa, desertification is a major issue, but through planting forests, the spread of desert into fertile land can be stopped. However, where desertification commonly occurs, those areas often do not have readily available clean water to nurture the trees. With Egypt’s research program, The Serapium forest, this complication is avoided with the use of sewage effluent. The sewage effluent is held in a drainage basin outside Cairo, and is distributed to the plantations along the banks of the basin. The effluent water is treated in a two-stage process, where first, garbage and course dirt are removed, and second, oxygen and microbes are added to break down organic materials. At the end of the two-stage process, what is produced is a phosphate and nitrogen rich fluid. The article fails to go into detail on the treatment processes used and the quality of the effluent produced. The objectives of the two-stage process are common objectives held in wastewater treatment plants, however a third stage is often added to remove the phosphates and nitrates. A crew of 18 forestry workers and their manager, Ahmed Ragaie, monitor and maintain the network of irrigation pipes and the forest conditions.  Ragaie tells DW that each tree is given 5 liters of water twice a day and no fertilizer is added due to the nutrient rich effluent water. Regular soil tests show that the effluent has not contaminated the soil. This research opens an alternative use for sewage effluent that would benefit economic, environmental and societal issues.

Figure 1. Drainage basin for sewage effluent

Figure 2. Outside the plantation lies the desert

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are three key factors that are impacted by desertification and water usage. Nurturing plantations with treated effluent water could stimulate the economies of arid regions, like Egypt, creating more jobs and lowering the rate emigration. The Serapium plantation grows trees at a rate four times faster than plantations in Germany, therefore the wood can be harvested and sold as an export. The plantations are helping Egypt inhibit desertification, and produce natural resources.  Europe has also used sewage effluent to improve the productivity of forests and increase the fertility of soils. In Britain, the use of sewage sludge reclaimed ex-mineral and brownfield land for woodland establishment without deleterious environmental consequences (Taylor and Moffat, 1991). Hopefully, Egypt will expand its plantations to an estimated 650000 hectares of the desert if the country were to use 80% of its effluent. The success of the Serapium plantation has attracted investors for the forestation project, thus, Egypt can receive the funding it needs to expand the project.

References

Taylor C, Moffat A. The potential for utilizing sewage sludge in forestry in Great Britain. Alternative Uses for Sewage Sludge. 1991

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