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Lebanon News

Ministry approves dam despite Jeita warning

The water flow to Jeita springs could be affected by building a dam in Janna. The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The Energy and Water Ministry is going ahead with plans to build a dam in Janna despite several reports warning that the barrier will be ineffective and potentially damaging to Jeita Grotto, one of the country’s most loved natural sites.

Amin Margane, head of the German-Lebanese Technical Cooperation Project studying the Jeita springs, spoke about the report’s findings at Beirut Water Week last month, warning that the proposed dam was in an “infiltration area” feeding the springs and would leak water so quickly as to undermine its intended purpose.

“If a dam is built in this area it would continuously leak large quantities of water in the underlying karst network. Therefore the intended purpose of the Janna dam, storage, could not be met,” the report, published in June of last year, said.

“This infiltration water is believed to flow toward Jeita spring, constituting a large share of discharge at Jeita spring. Any interference at the infiltration zone would directly affect Jeita spring.”

The report prepared by the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) concludes that the dam location alters the flow of water that feeds the springs under the Jeita Grotto limestone caves.

“In view of the current findings, it is strongly recommended not to go ahead with the construction of the planned Janna dam,” the report said.

Despite the report’s findings, Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil announced Friday the Janna dam project would soon move into the first stage of construction, part of a plan to build dams around the country to cut down on water and electrical shortages.

The report’s warning against constructing the dam came after three years of studies carried out by the German-Lebanese Technical Cooperation Project for the protection of the Jeita spring. The organization was created with support by the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the Energy and Water Ministry.

The findings are being discussed by environmental specialists, many of whom have backed Margane’s call for additional studies to be carried out on the dam’s location.

But the ministry fiercely rejected the project’s conclusions, findings and overall methodology.

“Mr. Margane has no proof on what he is proposing,” said the Energy and Water Ministry’s top dam official Ziad Zakhour. “All the tests we are doing right now show the water is not going to Jeita.”

The argument revolves around the location of the groundwater catchment for Jeita springs, located on the Nahr al-Kalb river. The Janna dam is to be built on the Nahr Ibrahim river about 50 kilometers northeast of the springs.

Using a variety of water measurement tests the German-Lebanese cooperation project concluded the overall area of aquifers and groundwater that flows through the Jeita grotto is much larger than previously thought and large quantities of water, up to 30 cubic meters per second is filtering south toward Jeita from the Nahr Ibrahim valley and surrounding areas.

Another implication from the findings is that the dam location would be unable to store water because it would leak into the groundwater going south, rendering the dam almost useless for water storage. If the government tried to shore up the dam to prevent the leakage, it would deprive the Jeita springs of their water source, the report said.

Tests are ongoing at the Energy and Water Ministry but Zakhour said the report findings were based on data so outsized that they defied credibility.

Margane’s insistence on publishing them and drawing attention to them could endanger Lebanon’s relationship with the German natural resource organization, Zakhour said.

“The implication at the end of the day is if he is totally wrong in his theory, since he didn’t wait to see the result of the test, if we find that he is wrong, and everything is wrong [then] we can say thanks and goodbye and BGR can go out.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2013, on page 4.

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