Renewable Groundwater Resources in Sinai


    Demand for freshwater supplies in arid and semi-arid countries worldwide is on the rise because of increasing populations and limited water supplies. This problem is exemplified in countries of Saharan Africa (North Africa) and the Middle East, where scarcity of water resources is contributing to political instability, disputes, conflicts, and terrorism. Faced with overpopulation problems and demand for development of new agricultural lands to support its increasing population, Egypt adopted aggressive policies to develop new agricultural communities outside the overpopulated Nile Delta and Nile Valley. Almost all of these projects rely on the exploitation of the River Nile waters, despite the fact that Egypt is using nearly its full share of the Nile River waters (55.5 billion cubic meters per year). Examples of these projects include El Salam Canal, which will convey mixed agricultural drainage water and Nile River water to the Sinai Peninsula, and the Tushka Canal, which will divert Nile River water from Lake Nasser to the nearby area in the Western Desert. There is an urgent need for Egypt to develop alternative water resources if it were to pursue its ambitions for continued agricultural development and prosperity. That is the main topic that will be addressed in this proposal, the assessment of alternative water resources in Egypt, using Sinai as our site area.

    The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the study area, has two major sources of water: (1) the renewable flash flood water and (2) the non-renewable groundwater of the Nubian Aquifer. The latter is an extensive aquifer in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Chad. In Egypt, that aquifer covers large domains of the Eastern Desert, the Western Desert, and Sinai. The Nubian Aquifer groundwater is hosted in the Nubian Sandstone. Currently, Egypt is using almost its full allocation of the Nile River water (i.e., 55 billion m3/yr) (Gheith and Sultan, 2002). With the growing population (~2 million/year), Egypt has to explore alternative renewable water resources. In this exercise, we adopt methodologies to identify renewable water resources other than the River Nile. Although the Nubian Aquifer is a non-renewable resource, we provide ways to identify previously undetected areas of natural discharge that could be used in a sustainable manner.

El Arish Watershed in the Sinai Peninsula

Project Description

    This program builds on our ongoing UNDP (United Nations Development Program) / GEF funded project aimed at developing reliable techniques for evaluating the extent of renewable ground water resources in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, and to evaluate the source(s) of the groundwater, and its extent. Specifically, we are attempting to locate and assess the renewable groundwater resources in Sinai. We will investigate two main potential water resources in Sinai. The first source is sporadic precipitation that occurs over mountainous areas (e.g., basement rocks in southern Sinai) and is channeled throughout extensive watersheds as surface runoff and subsurface groundwater flow. Within these watersheds, networks of minor valleys join into main valleys that ultimately drain into other water bodies (e.g., Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east and west, respectively). Because some of the watersheds collect precipitation over large areas and channel it through a few main valleys, substantial amounts of freshwater could potentially recharge the alluvial aquifers flooring these main valleys during sporadic storms. As water is channeled through complex wadi systems, some of this precipitation ends up getting stored in the fractured basement underlying the alluvial-filled channels. The second source is ground water of the Nubian aquifer that is being channeled from depth through the extensional fault complex of the Gulf of Suez. It has been demonstrated that groundwater from the artesian wells along the Gulf of Suez in El Ein El Sokhna, Hammam Musa, and Hamman Faroun are Nubian fossil ground waters (Sturchio et al., 1996). Locally, these faults control the distribution as well as the thickness of the alluvial aquifers along the coastal plane of the Gulf of Suez (Said, 1990). Generally, the thickness of the aquifers decreases with distance from the Gulf coast line. The model we are assessing predicts that locally, the rising Nubian aquifer waters could potentially flow into the shallow alluvial aquifers flooring the coastal plain of the Gulf of Suez before it discharges into the Gulf. Although the Nubian aquifer groundwater is fossil water, by definition, the ground water being described here qualifies as being renewable. This is because we are advocating the extraction of ground water from of a naturally flowing system at rates that are comparable to the discharge rates; the ground water flow within the alluvial sediments will be intercepted before it discharges into the Gulf. Next we describe the methodologies to locate and to assess the ground water potentiality of these two renewable water resources.

We are investigating two main potential water resources in Sinai:

  1. sporadic precipitation that occurs over mountainous areas that ultimately reside within highly fractured basement reservoirs or as surface runoff and as subsurface groundwater flow and which ultimately reside in the alluvial aquifers flooring the main valleys
  2. Nubian aquifer groundwater channeled through deep-seated sub-vertical faults and ultimately residing in near-surface alluvial aquifers.

We are applying integrated methodologies involving the use of isotopic techniques (O,H), remote sensing, field, meteorologic, and surface runoff studies to locate reservoirs in question and to assess their ground water potentiality.

    To cope with increasing demand for freshwater supplies due to increasing populations and limited water supplies, Egypt is adopting aggressive policies to exploit River Nile water and fossil groundwater aquifers. The increasing demand on conventional freshwater supplies in Egypt could contribute to extreme stresses on the freshwater ecosystem (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater). In addition to the obvious benefits in locating additional water resources in the arid lands of Egypt, the proposed exercise could lead to preventing further degradation of the River Nile fresh water ecosystems. In short, the assessment of alternative water resources in Egypt will allow Egypt to meet its national goals while alleviating pressure on their surface waters and freshwater ecosystems.

    The project is jointly conducted by scientists from the Department of Geosciences, Western Michigan University and the Irrigation and Hydraulics Department, Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.

    The data generated using funding from this project were integrated with other available data sets for Egypt and hosted on a web-based GIS. The web-based GIS is intended to facilitate the research activities conducted in Egypt by national and international scientists by bringing together the most comprehensive digital database for Egypt and by introducing customized online tools for the visualization and analysis of these data sets. This database should serve as a replicable model for similar applications in other developing countries.

The efforts in compiling the data, construction of the integrated web-based GIS site, and analysis of the data were funded by three main projects:

Sultan, M., Principal Investigator – Assessment and Development of Alternative Water Resources in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt (NATO Science for Peace and Security)(2007-2010)

Sultan, M., Principal Investigator: Developing Renewable Ground Water Resources in Arid Lands: A Pilot Case – The Eastern Desert of Egypt (Global Environmental Facility; United Nations Development Program [UNDP]) (2003-2007)

Sultan, M., Principal Investigator: A Web-Based GIS for Egypt’s Geological Datasets (NSF) (2003-2007)


Dr. Ahmed Wagdy, Cairo University

Funded By:

NSF International Program
This project is a supported through the NSF International Programs, under the U.S – Egypt Cooperative Research Program (grant # INT-0514307), with support from the U.S. Department of State.

Additional contributions made by the following:


Dr. Farouk Soliman, Suez Canal University, Ismailia, Egypt

Funded by:

NATO (Environmental Security Program)


Gheith, H., and Sultan, M., 2002, Construction of a hydrology model for estimating wadi runoff
and groundwater recharge in the Eastern Desert, Egypt, Journal of Hydrology, v. 263, p 36-55.
Said, R., 1990, The Geology of Egypt: Rotterdam, Netherlands, A. A. Balkema, 734 p.
Sturchio, N.C., Arehart, G.B., Sultan, M., Sano, Y., AboKamar, Y., and Sayed, M., 1996, Composition and origin of thermal waters in the Gulf of Suez area, Egypt: Applied Geochemistry, v. 11, p. 471-479.