Mixing Waters: The Reuse of Agricultural Drainage Water in Egypt

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Non-conventional sources of water are becoming increasingly important around the world as pressures mount on limited freshwater supplies. In Egypt, the reuse of agricultural drainage water provides an integral supplement to the water supply. Government pumping stations and farmers’ small diesel pumps lift water up from drainage ditches and direct it back into the irrigation canals for reuse in agriculture, increasing the country’s available water resources by 20%. Given the saline and often polluted nature of drainage water, however, the recycling of this water impacts the quality of water flowing through Egypt’s irrigation network. This paper uses the hydrosocial cycle as a framework to explore how drainage water reuse shapes the quality and quantity of Egypt’s water in space and time, with profound consequences for farmers who rely on that water for their livelihoods. Through close analysis of the case of drainage water reuse, the paper expands on theorizations of the hydrosocial cycle by articulating the relations of power embedded within the cycle. It draws attention, first, to the significance of everyday practice in shaping where the water goes and what it becomes. Second, it highlights the multiple factors that influence people’s control over water. Thus, the paper concludes, we have to look to a variety of human and non-human agencies and relationships to understand how authority is refracted in and through the hydrosocial cycle.


Barnes, J. (2014). Mixing waters: The reuse of agricultural drainage water in Egypt. Geoforum. 57, 181-191.


© Geoforum, 2014, Elsevier