2 May 2014
Environmental Management URSP 332
Environmental Effects of the Aswan Dam
The article by Gilbert White addressed concerns and effects of the Aswan Dam in Egypt. Written in 1988, it covers the second High Dam built in the 1960s. The dam was built using funding from the Soviet Union, in spite of warnings from Egyptian scientists and engineers of serious issues that could arise. The rapidly growing population demanded more resources and more energy, and pressure was on the Egyptian government to provide. The construction of the dam was meant to realize three goals: to control the natural flooding of the Nile by detention of water in the reservoir; to store water from the flood season to be doled out throughout the year; and to provide hydroelectric power. Implementation of the dam would create a reservoir area, and would flood areas around the Nile. The area flooded by the dam displaced shore-inhabiting Nubians, both in Egypt and in the Sudan. The reservoir itself would create fishing grounds, sailing channels, power sources, and irrigation sources. With the supply of power increasing with the addition of hydroelectric power, the price for electricity would decrease, as well as enabling access to more Egyptians. Controlling water dispersion and extending water access outside of the wet season would enable increased agriculture production, and possible changes in crop patterns and types.
The dam sparked concerns about negative effects from Egyptian engineers and international scientists. Many of the environmental concerns surrounding the Aswan Dam are consistent with the problems that were discussed in Environmental Management lecture and in the book “The Global Casino.” There were worries about erosion, sediment deposition, and heavy flooding if the rivers flooded when the reservoir was already full. In order to mitigate the flooding problem, an emergency canal was installed, called the Tusha safety valve. This waterway would release water and let it run off into surrounding land if there was a chance of the reservoir becoming too full. The worth of this water valve are debated by some; tons of water would be lost in order to preserve the dam, and water is too precious a resource to simply funnel into groundwater. Water is also lost from the Nile through seepage and evaporation. 11% of the aquifer reserves is lost to evaporation alone. Although seepage doesn't contribute as much to water loss from the reservoir as originally thought, there are still seepage occurrences. Eventually, the aquifers that absorb water that seeps out from the dam will be full, and the errant groundwater will have nowhere to go. Seasonal saturation of the river banks, a natural process on the Nile, decreased with the new control of water flow. This led to caving, cracking, and sliding along the seepage planes surrounding the river. Channel degradation was an issue after the first decade of the dam implementation, and measures had to be taken to...