Egypt’s Natural Heritage El Fayoum & Wadi El-Rayan (Vol.1)
- Written by Red Sea Bulletin
- Category: Environment
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Egypt’s only waterfalls
The valley of Wadi El-Rayan, 65 km southwest of Fayoum city, is home to two large artificial lakes created to divert excess agricultural drainage water from Fayoum oasis. It is also home to the country’s only waterfalls. Interesting is that they are man-made!
El-Fayoum is a natural depression in the Western Desert of Egypt, covering 12000 km2. It is a unique depression and the only one linked to the Nile Valley via the Bahr Yousef canal. A huge saline lake, known as Lake Qarun, is located in the deepest part of the depression, 43m below sea level. The magnificent cliffs of Gabal Qatrani (350m) appear close to the lake’s northwestern edge.
The Fayoum oasis originally drained into Lake Qarun (Lake Moeris) in the north. Though, the lake can take only a certain volume of drainage water. Anything over this capacity and the lake level would rise and flood the surrounding land, often doing irreparable damage because of the waters high salt content. This means that the amount of water that can be used in the Fayoum is limited by the region’s maximum drainage capacity. Consequently, until recently water-intensive crops such as rice and reeds could be grown only in very small quantities. Furthermore, no new land could be reclaimed without causing swamping of existing farmland near Lake Qarun. There was a pressing need to find an alternative drainage basin, and the large depression of Wadi El Rayan was found to be suitable.
In 1974, a 9-kilometers open channel and an 8-kilometers tunnel were cut through the desert from the western side of the Fayoum depression to the large, dry depression of Wadi El Rayan. Drainage water now flows into Wadi El Rayan forming two large lakes. Water first reaches the northern lake and when it’s overwhelmed, a stream flows towards a deeper part of the depression, where another lake is formed. As the course of the stream was eroded, natural rocks were exposed and waterfalls formed over them.
There are several cascades on the stream, none of them higher than 2 to 4 meters. Yet, they have attracted considerable attention among the local Egyptians, as many have never seen waterfalls before. The falls, however, will not last forever as the level of the lower lake is continually rising and the falls will exist only until the expanding surface area allows a rate of evaporation equal to the amount of water flowing into it.
The shorelines of the lakes are densely vegetated making them perfect wintering habitats for migrating birds and breeding spot for many fishes. The area is now a nature reserve and is home to the world’s sole population of slender-horned gazelles, as well as 8 other mammal species and 13 species of bird.