Controversial Dam Project Threatens Pristine Lebanese Area

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Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon
Febraury 9, 2015

The construction of a dam in the area of Janna, Lebanon, is causing wide controversy among local residents, ecologists and even certain politicians.
Janna, whose name means ‘paradise’ in Arabic, is a picturesque valley near Ibrahim River in north Lebanon, which hosts a rare ecosystem according to ecologists. Concerned Lebanese fear that this project will ruin the natural site without succeeding in retaining water. Geologist Samir Zaatiti warns that the surface on which the dam is being built covers large pits that absorb water.
There are also fears that the project might threaten the water source that feeds the Jeita Grotto, a submerged cave known as a tourist destination.
Preparations for the construction have started and many trees in the areas have been cleared.
Despite its rich water resources, Lebanon has struggled with a water distribution crisis due to the lack of adequate infrastructure.


SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Dr. Samir Zaatiti, Hydrologist:
04:57 – 14:04

“While conducting a geological probe, huge amounts of unground water were discovered, almost 300 meters deep. Water rose from the depth of 300 meters to 170 meters. It is compressed and has a good quality. It f lies directly below the dam. Instead of building a dam, you can dig wells. The nearby villages have many wells and they exploit underground water. Janna dam and the other small dams are located in high mountain areas. Rocks in those areas are made of carbonates; they form what we call karst, or karst containers. It is a type of fractured rocks that melt in the rain and cause caves. Karsts, as a geological structure, do not allow building dams in those areas. This is in addition to the fact that these areas are small and elevated. Nature is convenient for building dams in the Beqaa, on the Assi and Litani rivers, and on the Wazzani River in the south because the ground is impermeable and does not allow vertical leakage into the ground. An example of vertical leakage is in Brisa dam [in North Lebanon]. It is built on a karst and underneath there are pits under the surface, which is normal when the surface is made of limestone. In Brisa, water leaked into the ground and the concrete that was added concrete also collapsed. Now the dam is completely dry, even in this winter with all the rain that has fallen. The dam took 12 years to be built and it did not hold a single drop of water. We have a live example and Janna dam will be the same.
My professor Michel Bakrovich, the president of the French Hydrologist Association, AHF, believes that this dam will be a sieve. He said that it will be dangerous. We are raising our voice, saying this dam will not fulfil its purpose.
The amount of water we have in Lebanon was surveyed, and the result was that we have about 10 billion [cubic meters] that comes from rainfall and snow. We only have 1.3 billion [cubic meters] of surface water, including all the springs and all the surface water that we see.
The volume of underground water, which leaks through karsts to form a renewable water reserve, is estimated at about 3 billion [cubic meters]. If we do not use this water, it will go to the sea, to our neighbours in the north and our neighbours in the south.

Almost one quarter of [Lebanon’s water reserves] is above the surface and three quarters of it is underground. What is happening is that projects are targeting one quarter of the water reserves, under the claim that it will protect the remaining three quarters from pollution and salinization. In an area in Byblos, when a well was dug, water became a bit salty because it was close to the sea.
It was decided that all of Lebanon’s water is underground water, without knowing which reservoirs or areas are being discussed.
They realized that Ibrahim River, where Janna dam is located, and the Roweisat spring and Afqa spring feed the Jeita grotto which, along with Ashoosh spring, provides about 80 to 90 % of Beirut’s water supplies. Those studies are documented, but they were not mentioned. The problem of the BGR [the association that conducted the study] is that in Lebanon the financial officer is also the technical officer; there is a lot of pressure in Lebanon [to appoint certain officials]. They wrote about this matter, but only in a presentation in Morocco where they were under the supervision of the International Hydrologists Association. A Lebanese center for studies claims that what the AIH were saying is not true, this center does not even have a single geologist or hydrologist. They should not insult the intelligence of Lebanese people. At the end of the day, it is science what solves our problems, not empty claims. Those people worked since 2012 and gave us their data.
There is a risk of earthquakes under the dam, and because of the Karst and the nature of the surface in the area; there are many caves which causes water leakage. An experiment was conducted on the Roweisat and Afqa springs, which together form Ibrahim river. Water was measured when it entered the Jurassic Karst; its volume was one cubic meter, they measured it after it exited the Jurassic karst area and it was 0.7 cubic meter, so 0.3 cubic meter of water went into the ground. They made maps and took photos of what happened.
If they build the dam, it will not hold water. You have to work with nature to be able to get what you need. Even if they placed a layer of clay on the leaking area, as was done in Brisa, the clay layer will bend down where there is vacancy, and the pressure on water on the twisted area will cause a leakage. There is a probability that this might happen in Janna, and treating karst is very difficult and costs a lot of money. So why insist on building the dam in this area? It will not succeed. If we have a river flowing over a crack in the surface, the probability of leakage is 30%. However, if you raise the level of water running over the crack, it will raise the level of water leakage. BGR have estimated the rate of leakage to be 52%; almost half of the water in the dam will go to waste. And also, they talk about a dam that holds 39 million cubic meters. We want to know, are these 39 million cubic meters before the evaporation takes place or after? The level of evaporation in that area is 50% or 48% to be exact. All of those studies are mentioned in the United Nations report, which they claim is old because it dates from 1970, but the geological nature of an area does not change quickly. It takes millions of years to change. There is a large amount of neglected data, and many claims that are not based on scientific facts. The biggest scandal is Brisa dam; it took 12 years of work, cost millions of dollars, yet farmers are still waiting for water. At the end, not a single drop of water was held by the dam.
If the Janna dam is built, the artificial lake it will not fill entirely. If it does contain some water, it will barely be enough for the surrounding areas. Damour dam and the other existing dams are working in a way that is completely the opposite of what was mentioned in the United Nations report in 1970, they said that we can store water on the surface but only in specific areas, in Assi, Litani and Wazzani. These dams can hold a maximum of 500 million cubic meters."

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, man), Jean Abi Akar, Local Resident
14:05 – 14:41

"We have lived in this area since 1820. Our grandparents’ bones are here, as well as their sweat and blood. Nobody was able to preserve this land. The monks were not able to preserve this and did not allow us to preserve it either. We were displaced gradually and promised to be given a substitute a land as a replacement, but nobody cares about us. We still have a small piece of land left. However, all of our relatives and our cousins left. My brothers and I are the only ones who remained here. They took half of our land, but in general, they forced everyone to leave."

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Raja Noujaim, Archaeologist and member of the Association to Protect Lebanon’s Heritage
14:41 – 20:45

"This project has been a violation since the start. The Ministry of Energy started the work based on incomplete studies, which are still incomplete until this day. We are working today, or, in fact, they are working today based on conditional studies. Today, the Ministry of Energy is working while the studies have not been finished. There are studies that should be done, aside from the studying the environmental impact of the project. They should have been done before signing the decree. Now they have a problem that they are trying to hide. The Ministry of Environment started to seriously demand them [the Ministry of Energy] to stop the work and provide the required documents. Then it suddenly started supporting them. The Minister of Environment went on television and said that he is cooperating with them, while on the other hand he writes reports saying that there are about 10 or 15 missing studies, especially hydrological studies, which is impossible for them to provide. So, simply, the work is illegal, but when there is nobody from the government concerned enough to implement the laws, what is illegal becomes legal. This is our situation and our objection does not only come from the fact that we are environmentalists, but also Lebanese citizens. What we are saying is that nobody should start a project without finishing the required studies; you cannot do your experiments on the ground, especially in an important location such as this. But apparently nobody cares. Land acquisition should not start either, because owning the land is the beginning of executing the project. It should not start until the studies are finished and the assessment of the environmental impact is finished and approved. What they are saying now, they hired people to do the environmental impact assessment, but that is not the issue, this should be agreed on, and they will never get the agreement. This project is very clear, we have done our own studies in this time and our studies are very clear, the dam will not retain water, because simply, the surface on which the dam will be built cannot hold water. The need for water can be fulfilled with a minimal cost and in a more efficient way. Khatib and Alami company have dug many wells, they call them ‘study wells.’ There is a well in Qartaba and another in Lassa, and one more in Serayta. These wells alone can fulfil the need for water for all of Byblos. They can provide 4 to 5 million cubic meters; this is the alternative solution. However, they are not interested in doing small projects like these. They want to do big projects, and of course, here we can see the corruption.
We are going to continue what we are doing; we have the legal path, which we are taking. If they want to continue to disrespect the law, there is going to be a problem. The Ministry of Agriculture has forced them to stop cutting trees until the environmental assessment is over and approved. However, we have another problem which you have witnessed on al-Mashnaqa road. While I am coming to this area through al-Mashnaqa road, I counted over 10,000 cut trees, they will cut over 40,000-50,000 trees from al-Mashnaqa road without permission. They are expanding the road in order to transport building equipment, which will be used when they start the construction. They act as if they do not care about permissions, I do not know where this problem can take us.
Work is still ongoing. Cutting trees has stopped here, but it is continuing over on al-Mashnaqa road. It was said that al-Mashnaqa road is an old project. It does not matter if it is old or new; they need the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture, and we are going to do all we can to guarantee they will not get that approval. This is enough. If one assesses the environmental impact of all this deforestation...
Until now, they received an approval to cut down 51,000 trees. If I look at these mountains and valley, I will see that these 51,000 trees have already been cut. They cannot keep going.
But the truth is there are over 300,000 trees and shrubs which will be cut in this area. I dare any expert to come and say that this operation does not have a negative influence. I dare any expert to say that this dam is being built to serve agriculture. The climate is going to change, let alone the ecosystem that is going to be influenced. We cannot speak only of the number of trees; we have to deal with this area as an entire system.
We are dealing with corrupt, ignorant people who claim to be scientists.
They also have hidden reports. They did not disclose all the reports, and I am certain that the ministry of energy does not have access to all the reports.

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Joelle Barakat, Activist at the Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa

20:46 – 23:24
The inhabitants of the area do not know exactly the heritage and environmental value attached to this valley. What is certain is that they all appreciate it and are proud to have it, they all swim in the water of this valley, drink it and use it for irrigation.
Many inhabitants of the area are farmers, so this river is vital for them. This dam is being constructed without taking into consideration that villages situated after the dam need the water they are receiving from Ibrahim River. There will be leakage due to the nature of the surface on which the dam is being built. To avoid the leakage, they will have to build a concrete surface, which will cause springs in the area and [Ibrahim] to dry. The river will lose its aesthetic value.
They already started to ruin the scene, as you can see behind us. This valley used to be a touristic destination for Lebanese people who used to go out on picnics. However, since they started blasting rocks and cutting trees down, tourists will no longer come here.
The water coming from the springs is drinking water, and some of it is used for irrigation. If they build the dam, the water that will be stored will not be destined to be used by the local inhabitants. It is not drinking water. It will be transferred to Beirut, after it passes through Dbayeh to be purified, and after the purifying process, it will not return to the local users. We have the impression that there is a cycle; water will be stored where it should not be, it will be taken to Dbayeh where it will cost money [to be purified]. In this whole operation, the local inhabitants are the only people who are suffering.
They are suffering because their natural environment will be ruined, they will no longer benefit from the valley it is a touristic site. Their oxygen will be depleted, the water they use is going to dry up. All of that is being done so that water which is not clean can reach Beirut; water that needs to be purified. On the other hand, there are many alternatives to this dam. These alternatives can provide water without harming the nature and the local inhabitants so much.
As members of the association to protect Jabal Moussa, we know that the value of this site comes from the valley. We are going to do all we can to stop the building of this dam. If they build this dam we are going to lose the valley, Jabal Moussa and the value of this entire area.

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Jean Gebran, Ministry of Energy and Water Consultant
23:25 – 28:45
This is one of them most important dams in Lebanon and the region. This dam, which will be located in the Ibrahim River valley, will store 38 million cubic meters of water. Throughout the year, 250 million cubic meters of water pass through the valley. This dam will not have an environmental impact on the valley. Out of the 38 million cubic meters, 10 million cubic meters will be reserved for the area around Byblos. The remaining 28 million cubic meters will be reserved for the area of Metn and Greater Beirut. It will have a capacity to produce hydroelectric power that ranges from 100 to 140 megawatts. In Byblos, by the year 2050, they will need a maximum of 30 megawatts. The remaining amount of electric energy will cover the needs of the entire area.
The preliminary studies effectively started in 2009 but it was listed in the ten-year plan for dam building in 2000. In 2000, only the Shabrouh dam was executed. In 2009, the [Janna] dam was considered for study again. Studies about the environmental impact and other studies were conducted by a foreign firm, Segoria, in association with Khatib and Alami firm.
In 2012, a [new] code for environmental impact was issued, but the studies about the dam had already been conducted. There was study on how to improve the environmental impact according to the new code, which includes 17 new articles.
A committee from the Ministry of Environment was formed, as well as a committee from the Ministry of Energy and Water and the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Company. We examined all of these points and reached conclusions about 14 of them. The remaining articles require time to be studied. A new firm has been contracted to assess them. There will be concrete details about this in the next four or six months.
We know that water is very important in Lebanon and is the source of life. If this dam is built, it will improve the environment. As a worldwide concept, water improves the environment. It allows trees to grow and attract birds. Water causes the necessary humidity for… there is no [negative] environmental impact. I would like to clarify the fact that about a quarter of the Ibrahim River valley will be used. It is a very large valley. We will lose 290 million cubic meters is there was not a dam there. We will hold 38 million cubic meters as a constant reserve. This is why the environmental impact that is being talked about is exaggerated.
Regarding water leakage, to be honest with people, studies were concluded in 2012. There is no leakage. A German firm, BGR, says that there is leakage in Jeita. We commissioned a third party, a new firm, which conducted another study and confirmed that there are no leakages.

Interviewer: I would like to interrupt you. I never knew that another firm concluded that there is no leakage.

Jean Gebran: I can give you the reports, which come with some remarks. To make it simpler for the people, wells were dug above the river. Colored substances were poured into the wells. There should be leakage where the coulored substance reappears. After a month, it did not reappear in Jeita; it appeared in the river. This is the simplest explanation we can give to people. Major studies have shown that there is no leakage. In case there was a leakage, it could be remedied, which is mentioned in the study.
A member of the parliament once said that 100,000 trees were cleared to build the Beirut Airport. They were removed to build the airport. There are certain things in life that have a [high] price but in return for which you will get something. What [is the worth of] 53,000 trees? To clear some technical aspects, the number of trees that will be removed is not 53,000 trees. They estimate the number of trees according to the surface of the area that is being acquired, which is surveyed using Google [Earth]. They estimated the number of trees to be 53,000.
We are acquiring land that is 50 meters above the level of the dam. In a 50-meter perimeter around the dam trees will not be cleared. The number of trees that will be cleared is less than 53,000. It is around 35,000 or 40,000 trees. These trees are only shrubs. They are not are large trees. They are not pine trees, or other trees that we need.
The dam will make the valley more beautiful. It will attract birds and allow new types of trees to exist in the valley. The relation between man, nature and water will be organized. This is what life is all about. If you look at the negative aspect of the project, it will look negative. If look at its positive aspect, it will look positive.
Those who speak about the environment only concentrate on the environment. It is an illusion for people. We will certainly pay a price by removing trees and that the valley will be closed at certain locations, but water will be flowing and it will continue to feed Ibrahim River. The river will not be affected."