Wadi el Rayan is one of the depressions in Egypt’s Western Desert and has the advantages of being near the Nile Valley, being uninhabited (unlike its twin depression of Fayoum) and having a considerable depth (60 meters below sea level at its lowest point) and volume (a storage capacity of 21 cubic kilometers of water at 50 metres above sea level).


wadi el rayan

In the late 19th century there was a debate as to whether to use Wadi el Rayan as a reservoir for the Nile’s flood waters or to build a dam across the river in its upper reaches.

A dam at Aswan was seen as the best solution, and by 1902 the Aswan reservoir had been built, later (1912 and 1955) being raised to increase its storage capacity.

The question of Wadi el Rayan was thus shelved.
Interest in Wadi el Rayan was revived in about 1950 in connection with the concept of “century storage”, in which it was seen as a likely reservoir basin to be used as an escape valve for flood control. and storage.

A scheme was designed, encompassing an inlet canal from the Nile to the depression and an outlet canal to lead the stored water back to the Nile.

Work started in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, however, the Aswan High Dam scheme replaced all century storage schemes, and the Rayan flood-water storage project was abandoned.
In the late 1960s agricultural drainage of the Fayoum farmland into Lake Qarun (bottom at 45 meters below sea level) increased, overflowing the lake and threatening adjacent farmland. As a lower-lying basin (up to 60 meters below sea level), the Rayan depression seemed suitable to take part of the Fayoum drainage water, and a scheme was designed to convey water from the southern
Fayoum farmland to Wadi el Rayan along a channel that is partly open (7 kilometers) and partly in a tunnel (7.7 kilometers).

This drainage water created the upper lake during the 1970s and then in the early 1980s spilled over – in a waterfall that is a special attraction of the area – and formed the lower lake.
These two man-made brackish lakes added a significant feature to the Rayan landscape and provided a wetland habitat for a variety of resident and transient wildlife.

They also allowed various new land uses (farming, fisheries and recreation), while an abandoned monastery was renovated and reoccupied.
These changes brought inhabitants to the area and made it hard to managenature conservation.
The Wadi el Rayan Protected Area (WRPA) covering a total area of 1,759 km!was instituted by Prime Ministerial Decree 945 in 1989, in accordance with Law102 of 1985. The protected area became the focus of an active project within the framework of the Egyptian Italian Environmental Programme. The present volume gives a general survey of the area (geology, geomorphology and
Wildlife) and outlines future prospects. Thus, Parts I and II describe fossils, land forms habitat types and plant and animal species, and Parts III and IV discuss the conservation issues involved and plans for management of the area.
The volume is intended to provide visitors and stakeholders with basic information on the ecology and biodiversity of the area and the scientific bases for proposed management actions aimed at conserving its uniqueenvironmental and natural features, which include some remarkable fossil sites.
lt is hoped that it will ensure the positive participation of visitors and stakeholders in effective management of the area, as well as soliciting the support of policy-makers at regional and national levels.
The authors of the following chapters have been involved in studies of the area and are concerned over its future. They thus combine scientific and technical expertise with the conviction that the area deserves special conservation attention. Wadi el Rayan is a part of Egypt’s natural heritage: it is our privilege to enjoy it and our duty to conserve it for the benefit of future generations.
Dawn: low clouds over the desert in Wadi el Rayan.
Previous double page. Wadi el Hitan – the valley of whales – in the Wadi el Rayan Protected Area.
Forty million years ago there used to be a great ocean – now ancient cliffs eroded by wind and
water overlook breathtaking views of unique geological formations and represent a gateway tO the
Western Desert, a part of the Great Sahara ecosystem stretching across North Africa from the Red
Sea coast of Egypt to the Atlantic coast of Mauritania.

just below the sands lie the secrets of the
distant past » huge fossils of whales and other marine creatures are scattered on the ancient sea
floor. Wadi el Hitan is now considered as a palaeontological site of international importance, Which is renowned among scientists and desert travelers the world over.

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