Simulation-Based Solutions Reducing Soil and Groundwater Contamination from Fertilizers in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions: Case Study the Eastern Nile Delta, Egypt

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 15;17(24):9373. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17249373.


Intensive agriculture requires increasing application of fertilizers in order to sustain food production. Improper use of these substances in combination with increasing seawater intrusion results in long-term and nonpoint soil and groundwater contamination. In this work, a 3-D groundwater and solute transport numerical model was created to simulate the effect of excessive fertilizers application along the Bahr El Baqar drain system, in the eastern Nile Delta, Egypt. The geotechnical properties of the soils, hydrologic parameters, and unconfined compressive strength were determined at different sites and used as input parameters for the model. Model results showed that silty clay soils are able to contain the contaminations and preserve the groundwater quality. Nevertheless, sandy soils primarily located at the beginning of the Bahr El Baqar drain allow leakage of fertilizers to the groundwater. Thus, fertilizer application should be properly managed in the top sandy layers to protect the groundwater and soil, as increasing aquifer by excess irrigation water increased the groundwater contamination in confined layers due to the high value of cumulative salt for the current situation while the unconfined zone decreased groundwater and soil contamination. A mass transport 3-D multi-species (MT3D) model was set to identify the optimal measure to tackle soil and groundwater contamination along the Bahr El-Baqar drain system. A potential increase of the abstraction rates in the study area has a positive impact in reducing the transfer of fertilizer contamination to groundwater while it has a negative impact for soil contamination. The scenario analysis further indicated that the installation of a drainage network decreases the groundwater and soil contamination. Both solutions are potentially effective for protection against nonpoint contamination along the Bahr El Baqar drain system. However, a more sustainable management approach of fertilizer application is needed to adequately protect the receptors located further downstream in the Nile Delta.

Keywords: MT3D; Nile Delta; ammonium sulfate application; groundwater contamination; numerical modeling; soil contamination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Egypt
  • Fertilizers* / analysis
  • Groundwater*
  • Soil


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil