Bisri Dam False Promises: No Water to Convey to Beirut

2020-04-14    |   

Bisri Dam False Promises: No Water to Convey to Beirut

Per the plan of the project to convey water to Greater Beirut, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and the World Bank – the project’s main financer – state that water will be supplied to Beirut from the following sources: 60 to 100 million cubic meters from Bisri Dam (i.e. the water of the Bisri-Awali river), 50 million cubic meters from Lake Qaraoun, 14 to 41 million cubic meters from the Ain al-Zarqa spring, and 5 to 17 million cubic meters from the Jezzine springs.[1] However, opponents of the project believe that these figures do not concord with the reality of these four sources.


Bisri River 

The hydrological report that the companies Dar al-Handasah and NOVEC prepared for the CDR in 2013 relied on measurements of the Bisri River’s flow over 59 years between 1952 and 2012. It concluded that the river’s average annual discharge in this period was 129.5 million cubic meters. The report noted that the average discharge in the preceding 20 years (i.e. from 1992 to 2012) was 5% lower than the average discharge in the preceding 59 years, which indicates that the volume of water available in the river is declining over time.

Besides the warning by the CDR’s own consultants that the volume of water stored could fall short of expectations, many experts, including quality control specialist Raja Noujaim, describe the CDR’s estimations as “unscientific and even misleading”.

Noujaim says that, “According to measurements calculated based on the Litani River Authority’s (LRA) reports on the annual volume of the Bisri River’s water, and given radical changes in past years to the paths of the Barouk River in particular, which is one of the Bisri River’s tributaries, and to the Bisri River itself and its tributaries’ water, the Bisri River’s annual water intake during the previous five years (2014-2018) has ranged from 26 to 87 million cubic meters, with an average of no more than 48 million cubic meters. These volumes have disastrous consequences when compared to what the dam’s consultants were expecting”.


Noujaim adds that specialists have discerned that most of the annual volumes adopted in the same official reports, especially for most of the years during and following the Lebanese Civil War (1974 to 1981 and 1984 to 2001), are “approximate or erroneous and sometimes contrary to fact as in these periods, the real measurements were not recorded or were not properly stored by the Litani water establishment. Moreover, an erroneous means was used to calculate the yearly average for the entire preceding period”. He explains that “the flow of any volume exceeding the capacity of the dam’s reservoir (125 million cubic meters) isn’t useful for calculating the water available for following years as storing more than this volume is impossible”.


Noujaim deems that the LRA’s measurements and estimations of the Bisri River’s discharge over the past 26 years (1994-2019) show that the CDR’s estimates are totally incorrect. According to these measurements, the total yearly average from 1994 to 2003 was 75 million cubic meters, while in the following decade (2004 to 2013), it fell to approximately 70 million cubic meters. The minimum during this period (1994-2013) was 60 million cubic meters, and the volume reached 125 million cubic meters for just three years.


Hence, Noujaim says that, “In light of climate change, which will almost certainly continue for a long time with global warming and early drought, it’s impossible to secure the supposed 125 million cubic meters during the coming years”. Making matters worse, according to Noujaim, is the presence of other drains on the water that reduce future storability – namely local water usage in Bisri and the vicinity, leakage, and evaporation – which can be broken down as follows:


  • The volume of Bisri Dam’s water earmarked for the Iqlim al-Kharoub region. This volume is at least 4.5 million cubic meters annually as the four current wells will be removed because they are situated in the dam facility’s area.

  • The expected natural leakage from the dam’s reservoir. This volume – approximately 9.5 million cubic meters – is likely to increase given the very karstic nature of the stratum.

  • 10 million cubic meters as natural evaporation in 2018.

  • Approximately 15 million cubic meters that must be left in the Awali River to maintain a minimum flow and meet the irrigation needs of the areas along its course.

  • Approximately 11 million cubic meters to retain water coverage of the floor of the reservoir, which spans 2.2 to 2.5 million square meters (with a height of approximately 4 to 5 meters), in order to protect the basin and side supports and stop the floor from deteriorating.


Hence, as a projection until 2040, the total of all these volumes that must be subtracted from the water stored in Bisri Dam is approximately 50 million cubic meters annually. Hence, the CDR’s predictions are merely wishful thinking devoid of any scientific basis.


No Water from Qaraoun and Ain al-Zarqa Either

In addition to the impracticability of cleaning Qaraoun’s water (which we explained in our article on water quality), it is impossible to take the volume promised for Bisri for two reasons. The first, according to Noujaim, is that Decree no. 14522 of 1970 on conveying Qaraoun’s water to Beirut requires that the lake’s annual water intake (i.e. over the entire rainwater year, not the amount stored in the reservoir) be at least 510 million cubic meters. This volume was specified as a condition for water to be conveyed to Greater Beirut on the basis of a study conducted in 1968, when Qaraoun’s total water intake was 545 million cubic meters. This volume is no longer available (the volume even fell to approximately 300 million cubic meters in 1970). According to the latest calculations, this figure has not reached 510 million cubic meters for the last 26 years, with the exception of only the 2002-2003 year and the 2011-2012 year. Yet the total volume of water needed from Qaraoun in the plans for Beqaa and the western slopes will be approximately 460 million cubic meters annually.


Noujaim believes that the Council of Ministers Decision no. 41/91 (issued on 20 March 1991), which confirmed the content of the 1970 decree, “has no amending effect on this decree even though it should have launched the process of abolishing it, especially as when this decision was issued, Lake Qaraoun’s yearly water intake was fluctuating between just 71 and 135 million cubic meters”. He deems that “the confirmation of the decree to convey 50 million cubic meters per year from Qaraoun to Greater Beirut at that time was a scandalous error as sparing even one cubic meter of water is impossible”.


Here, we must also mention the Canal 800 project. This project, whose first phase has finished, requires conveying Qaraoun’s water to South Lebanon. It is one of the main projects whose implementation will pose an additional obstacle to conveying water to Greater Beirut, even though the president of the LRA’s administration council, Dr. Sami Alawieh, told The Legal Agenda that “the LRA will comply with Beirut’s share of the lake’s water if it is available”.


Alawieh himself also told The Legal Agenda that “Ain al-Zarqa has no water for Beirut as this spring is entirely consumed via the supplying of 35 towns in the West Bekaa and Rachaiya districts, the diversion of some of its water to supply the Qasmiyeh irrigation project, and the diversion of the remainder, along with the Litani’s water, to the Jezzine tunnels to generate hydroelectric power”. He adds, “Hence, there’s no water left from Ain al-Zarqa, and it mixes with Qaraoun’s water when it becomes Anan Lake”.


No Water from the Jezzine Springs

Engineer, activist, and Jezzine resident Karim Kanaan scoffs at the earmarking of 5 to 17 million cubic meters from Jezzine’s springs for Beirut: “Jezzine and its villages consume the water of the springs available on our lands – unless they want to deprive the people of their springs and spring water by force”. He says that the rest of Jezzine’s water comes via the Aray-Bhannine river, which, when it is not cut off for irrigation use, meets with the Jezzine waterfall and then heads towards Marj Bisri, where it meets with the Barouk River, forming the Bisri River. Hence, the volume of water in the river is counted in the annual flow of the Bisri River.


Noujaim adds that generally, the water of Jezzine’s springs is almost fully used by the residents throughout the region, either directly via the South Lebanon Water Establishment and its springs (such as Ain al-Qbais) and wells (as in the Aadous plain, where the Ain Majdalain spring drains), or via the LRA’s water tunnels (as in the case of the springs of Aazibeh al-Fawqa, the area that was entirely vacated because the tunnels pass through its soil). He says that these waters drain into Lake Anan, at which point a portion is conveyed to Eastern Sidon. In other words, Jezzine residents have no hope of obtaining support or compensation from outside the region in the dry season, for example, or even when precipitation is low.


Given the above, the officially planned annual volumes of water can probably only be secured approximately twice a decade. This further proves that this project is a failure and infeasible with regard to all its components. It will be a massive waste of public funds and totally destroy the natural environment in these regions and their vicinity, displacing the inhabitants and consolidating the dangers to public health and safety.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


Keywords: Lebanon, Beirut, Water, River, Bisri Dam


[1] World Bank, “Water Quality from New Sources for the Greater Beirut Mount Lebanon Region”, October 2018.

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