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Bassam Alkantar 

Increasing water storage capacity is a very practical way to increase water security in Lebanon. A revised set of priorities, including further evaluation of risks and financing, might expedite the construction of the storage dams. More consideration of smaller scale interventions is also recommended, as they could increase storage with lower costs, and they might be easier to implement.

Increasing water storage capacity will increase water security. The National Water Sector Strategy includes a plan for the further construction of dams. Though donor assistance appears to have decreased, the country is able to secure large loans from international financial institutions (IFIs) for its infrastructure, as illustrated by the recent 474$ million World Bank loan for the Bisri Dam project. Although IFIs have just approved the large Bisri Dam project to improve the water supply for the Beirut area, overall progress in the implementation of larger dam schemes is limited.

Environmentalists question the utility of dams

It is not only the problem of financing that is hampering implementation of these plans. The use of dams and reservoirs as a safe and environmentally sound solution for increasing overall water resources storage capacities is controversial in some places. Based on the recent experiences of dam projects that have been executed in Lebanon, the government can determine the suitability of such water projects for local needs, and this can be compared with other options, especially in terms of cost, duration, and environmental impact. Environmentalists think that surface storage is a dinosaur.

The fact is, it’s an inferior way to store water. The construction of dams and reservoirs has slowed dramatically in many countries over the past 40 years because of stronger environmental regulations, the lack of remaining suitable sites, and growing momentum for more cost-effective methods of storing water.

The pros and cons of dams

However, in the face of a year of drought and growing water shortages for agriculture, Lebanese lawmakers say that there’s no better time than now to build additional above ground storage, to ensure that future droughts won’t be so severe. Supporters of dam projects say that without more reservoirs, Lebanon will lose out on capturing billions of cubic meters of water that fall, during wet years, on sections of rivers without dams and then flow into the Mediterranean Sea.

Opponents say that the argument against big, new dams boils down to economics. Water generated from big new storage projects costs substantially more than water resulting from water use efficiency, the capturing of stormwater, and groundwater cleanup projects. Building dams is not only expensive; it results in relatively low available supply for cities and farms.

Hill lakes are another possible solution 

Less controversial than dams is the program for developing hill lakes. These are small lakes that communities themselves can construct. Sand dams, check dams, and other small-scale interventions could probably contribute to increasing storage capacity, including groundwater recharge.