BEIRUT: Lebanon could extract tens of thousands of cubic meters of fresh water from springs under the sea in the Chekka Bay to help alleviate water shortages in the country, according to a new proposal by a citizen lobbying group.
The proposal, a copy of which was provided to The Daily Star, claims that installing pumps on four springs in Chekka in north Lebanon, which the group said could be done with the assistance of the Lebanese Army, would produce roughly 60,000 cubic meters of fresh water for industrial and domestic use per day, which could help make up part of the water shortfall in Lebanon.
The proposal was made by the Civic Influence Hub, a lobbying group of leading businessmen supported by water experts who late last year announced a five-year plan to manage Lebanon’s water resources and convert its water deficit into a surplus.
Lebanon has reeled under the effects of a water crisis this year, with lower than average rainfall and high temperatures depleting the country’s water reserves.
The Chekka springs produce about 138,000 cubic meters per day in a normal year. In 2014, that figure declined to about 60,000 cubic meters per day due to the extended dry season.
The springs are between 20 meters and 2 kilometers from the shore.
Underwater sea springs are freshwater springs whose source is inland but which run under the sea bed and empty directly into the sea. Water experts have long urged the government to exploit the springs to provide freshwater instead of letting it go to waste.
Nadim Farajalla, an environmental hydrologist at the American University of Beirut, said the sea springs are a good source of water, but he said it would be cheaper for the government to focus on stopping water waste, for instance by fixing leaks in the water pipes that distribute water to much of the city and preventing the washing of sidewalks, which wastes water.
“It’s a good idea but it should be part of a strategy,” he said.
Under the Blue Gold proposal, a detailed survey would be conducted in cooperation with the Lebanese Navy to assess the springs and the ability to extract the water from them. Water capture devices would then be built and installed on the sea floor along with a pumping station that would deliver the water inland.
The water would then be transferred to the Dbayyeh pumping station to be distributed further to the rest of the country.
The lobby estimated the cost of all the required material and labor to build the pumping station and install them underwater to be about $472,000, and said the process would take just 42 days to complete.
The process includes cleaning the sea floor, pumping soil out of the area and leveling the sea bed, as well as drilling and installation work.
The proposal argued that pumping additional ground water to make up for the water scarcity could deplete the country’s groundwater, particularly if water scarcity issues continue into next year.
Exploiting the underwater springs could also help Lebanon avoid having to import water from its neighbors. A proposal to import fresh water from Turkey was floated earlier this summer.
It would also avoid expensive solutions like desalinating seawater, a process that could also destroy marine habitats and uses up valuable seafront real estate.
The proposal was initially sent to the Lebanese Army in late May. It has since been handed over to the prime minister, defense minister and the energy and water minister.
Out of 2.7 billion cubic meters of available water through eight aquifers and 17 perennial rivers fed by more than 2,000 springs, Lebanon makes use of only 1.4 billion cubic meters, with agriculture taking up the king’s share of water resources.
The rest of the water is lost in storage, due to Lebanon’s soil which drains water from dams; in distribution, due to depleted pipes or a lack of connection to storage facilities; and misuse, due to archaic irrigation methods and lack of water consumption discipline.
Blue Gold experts submitted their proposal after meeting experts at various ministries and taking part in the meetings of the public works, energy and water committees in Parliament.
After meetings with Army officials, the lobby was told that the military was ready to help with the project pending Cabinet approval, which has yet to occur.