Developments in the mountains may be endangering the vital water cycle

Lebanon, the mountainous terrain with the highest peaks in the Middle East region, is characterized by remarkable topographic features due to the intensive geological setting as well as the development of remarkable geomorphologic features in many parts of its terrain. Karst is one of these features, which is very well developed in the carbonate rocks.

Words Bassam Alkantar

Thus, there is an obvious concern about the karstic landforms in Lebanon, which are often merely considered from the landscape point of view.
However, they have another role with respect to water resources, notably for groundwater flow and storage. Karstification is well pronounced among the limestone and dolomite rocks in the Lebanese territory, and it is developed in the subsurface media as much as on the ground surface.
The Cenomanin rocks are composed largely of highly fractured and karstified limestone, dolomite, and dolomitic limestone, with some intervening marly limestone.
These rocks are almost always exposed, and soil occurs only in the depressions and among the existing sinkholes. In addition, the exposures of these rocks show intensive fragmented rocks almost of gravel size.
From a geomorphic point of view, the area of concern comprises a piedmont land feature, at a considerable altitude, where it is covered by snow for about ten months per year, and the snow patches remain in some valleys and depressions as well as sinkholes to the middle summer season as the last snow patches on the Lebanese terrain.
A scientific study conducted by Shaban and Darwich in 2011 aims at characterizing the existing sinkhole systems in the Lebanese high mountains and identifying their orientation and dimensions, and thus recognizing their influence in transporting water from the melting snow into the Cenomanian aquifer.
This highlights their importance from an environmental point of view, in order to conserve these geomorphic features, which are believed to be the major channel system in feeding the groundwater reservoir in the region.
In the past decade, there has been an unprecedented rush to build mountain resorts, primarily in the hills overlooking Beirut, but also in some high mountains areas that should be totally protected against any haphazard urbanization.
In July 2014 the Lebanese government ratified a proposal by the Ministry of the Environment to prepare a master plan for the protection of the high mountains and natural areas and organize coastal investment and green spaces and agricultural lands in Lebanon.
The environmental implications of mountain resorts have yet to be thoroughly assessed by urban planning departments as well as by the relevant host municipality.
Mountain resorts engender potentially significant and irreversible impacts not only on the natural environment but also on the rural fabric of mountain villages and towns.
This may be exacerbated with time if environmental controls are not anticipated and implemented.
Field reconnaissance shows local pollution aspects.
There is a fear that this could be a prelude to further contamination processes.