Owner: Engineering Authority for Egyptian Armed Forces
Lead Design Firm, Civil, Structural and MEP Engineer: Khatib & Alami
General Contractor: JV Metito Overseas Limited—Hassan Allam Holding

The Egyptian government has long planned to settle more people and develop farmland in the sparsely populated and arid Sinai Peninsula. As part of that plan, and to address the growing threat of water scarcity, the government and its Engineering Authority for the Egyptian Armed Forces built one of the world’s largest water-reclamation plants on the eastern edge of the Suez Canal—and completed it in just one year.

With military precision, a team with designer, engineer and project manager Khatib & Alami, along with the joint venture construction team of Metito Overseas Limited and Hassan Allam Holding, completed the job on time, with 2.5 million injury-free work hours and no time lost.

“Al Mahsama plant will significantly contribute to combating water scarcity in the country and will have a resounding impact on Egypt’s water-security agenda, transforming the scope of wastewater treatment across Africa,” said Hassan Allam, chairman of Hassam Allam Construction, in a statement when the plant was inaugurated April 22.

Maher Kahil, Khatib & Alami’s project manager for the job, said the project was a challenge from day one, when his firm learned it had only two months to design a $100-million treatment and distribution plant.

Additionally, materials and supplies had to cross the Suez Canal to the site, and the team had to make accommodations for more than 3,000 people working in the middle of a desert.

“Having all of these challenges, we had to have and handpick the best resources in order of come up with innovative ideas,” says Kahil, who grew up in Lebanon learning about the impressive engineering of the Suez Canal. “When they told me that I was going to manage this project, we visited the site and I saw the canal. I was excited and thrilled for this opportunity.”

The  group tapped experts from many countries, including Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE.

The plant has the capacity to treat up to 1 million cu m of water a day and was built on 42,000 sq m of land. But the space, says Kahil, still wasn’t enough for the size of the plant needed. So K&A and the JV designed vertically, reducing the space needed by 70%.

The team conducted computational fluid dynamic modeling to make sure the vertical hydraulics would work. In the end, the vertical plant offers easier operation and maintenance and is more affordable on a life-cycle basis, Kahil says. The remote location of the plant also led the team to adopt an operational system that could be completely controlled from off site, he says.

The plant consists of three main adjacent blocks, each 2,000 sq m, that host the main treatment units, two external blocks for flocculation and sedimentation and one multistory central block for filtration and disinfection.

The treated water will irrigate up to 100,000 acres of land in central Sinai. The untreated water was being released into Al Temsah Lake, west of the Suez Canal. It is now pumped under the Suez Canal to reach the treatment plant.

“In this project, we make use of the latest technologies for the treatment of agricultural drainage to produce suitable water for irrigation and land reclamation following the highest quality standard and specs set by the Egyptian government,” Karim Madwar, managing director of Metito Africa, said in April. The joint venture was responsible for construction and commissioning and will operate and maintain the plant for five years.

Because the Suez Canal had to remain open during the plant’s construction, materials—including 7,860 tons of steel—were moved across the canal on temporary floating pontoon bridges, which were constructed and taken apart by the Egyptian military when needed. The government also wanted the project to be architecturally appealing to ships passing on the canal, Kahil says.

The team worked to make sure long lead time items from Europe and elsewhere arrived on schedule when the bridges would be operational.

Another challenge was handling the sheer volume of laborers who worked in three shifts around the clock. Kahil says the team turned to crowd-management experts who had worked on managing the thousands of people making pilgrimages into Mecca and Medina. Containers were erected in multiple places at the construction site for workers to rest and receive instructions.

To keep the jobsite safe, the site manager met daily with workers, providing instructions about what safety measures were necessary, depending on the equipment being used.

Egypt has since tapped Khatib & Alami to help develop a reclamation plant five times as large on 620,000 sq m of land, also on the peninsula and east of the Suez Canal.

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