A Stantec-led consortium has begun planning and design efforts to upgrade and add to the existing wastewater infrastructure in the Fayoum governorate in central Egypt—an initiative that will affect approximately 940,000 Egyptian residents. By providing sanitation to some areas for the first time, the seven-year Fayoum Wastewater Expansion program is expected to improve public health and safety and reduce a significant source of environmental pollution.
Located about 90 km southwest of Cairo, the Fayoum governorate is a largely agricultural region that is home to a growing population. In rural areas, more than half the communities have no connection to a centralized system for collecting and treating wastewater, leaving two-thirds of residents without access to sanitation. Besides its negative effects on human health, the lack of access contributes to environmental harm, as most of the raw sewage enters two main agricultural drains that flow to Lake Qarun, Egypt’s third-largest lake and a source of drinking water for the region. Long a tourist destination, Lake Qarun has endured a decline in water quality, including high nutrient concentrations that lead to eutrophication and depleted levels of dissolved oxygen.
In late May, Stantec announced that it and three partners had been selected to oversee the Fayoum Wastewater Expansion program by the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, which regulates water in Egypt and governs local water utility companies. Stantec’s partners on the project are the engineering consultancy company EGEC, SUEZ Consulting, and the Engineering Research Center of Fayoum. Funding for the €456.5-million (U.S.$540.5-million) program was provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank, the European Union’s Neighborhood Investment Facility, and the Egyptian government.
The Fayoum Wastewater Expansion program has two main objectives, says Murat Sarioglu, Ph.D., a managing director for Stantec who is based in the company’s Istanbul office. The first objective involves raising the percentage of the population in rural areas served by wastewater infrastructure from 32.6, first to 70 percent and ultimately to 86 percent. The second, related objective entails reducing the flow of contamination into Lake Qarun. “By increasing the percentage of the population served by sanitation, the ultimate goal is to reverse this pollution,” Sarioglu says.
The program consists of two phases, the first of which will involve about 119 villages and benefit 700,000 people.
The program consists of two phases, the first of which will involve about 119 villages and benefit 700,000 people. A feasibility study conducted by the EBRD in 2017 recommended constructing 4 new wastewater treatment plants, expanding 7, rehabilitating 10, and decommissioning 6. The study also called for constructing more than 250 km of new pressurized sewer mains, 2,330 km of sewer lines, and 100 new pump stations.
Because three years have passed since the EBRD study, Stantec and its partners are “currently conducting a reassessment study,” Sarioglu says, with particular focus on local population patterns. “Egypt is a fast-growing country,” he notes. “The population has changed. Flows have changed. New villages have been added.” Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has already improved some of the facilities in the region. In the face of these changes, Sarioglu says, “we are updating the feasibility study and conducting an asset survey of the existing infrastructure.”
Existing treatment facilities in the region range from “simple oxidation ponds to extended aerated, activated-sludge systems,” Sarioglu says. “We are looking into a wide variety of options” for future treatment technologies, he says. Key factors to be considered as part of the assessment include capital and life-cycle costs, ease of operation, and personnel and land requirements.
Nutrient removal is an option for some locations as is water reuse, which offers a key source of additional water for irrigation in the arid region. “There’s hardly any rain. Climate change is affecting this even more severely,” Sarioglu says. “Therefore, maximizing the reuse of treated wastewater is also being looked into.”
The possibility of recovering energy from the treatment process likewise will be evaluated.
At the two largest treatment facilities, which treat on the order of 40 to 60 ML/day, the possibility of recovering energy from the treatment process likewise will be evaluated.
For planning purposes, the villages have been divided into two groups: those having more than 1,400 residents and those having fewer. The plan is to locate the sewer system and pumping stations in as central a manner as possible to optimize their performance in the larger villages. For the smaller ones, the team is considering multiple options for ensuring proper sanitation, including the use of small, on-site treatment systems and septic tanks as well as trucks to haul their contents to treatment facilities. “We’re evaluating these from many angles,” Sarioglu says.
The second phase of the expansion program will address the needs of another 240,000 people in more than 40 villages. Upon completion of the program in late 2026 or early 2027, all the new or rehabilitated assets will be operated by the Fayoum Company for Water and Wastewater.
For Sarioglu, the program holds the promise of extending multiple humanitarian benefits, not the least of which is addressing the health and safety risks that arise in the absence of sanitation. “At the end of the day, untreated sewage means health and safety issues, especially waterborne diseases that children can easily contract. [This untreated sewage is] also a big threat to natural water resources,” he says. “These for me are the most important parts of this project.”
This article first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Civil Engineering.