A historical review of BISRI Dam

1940-1950 Engineer Ibrahim AbdEl AL: He worked, according to a sophisticated scientific methodology based on the priorities imposed by science, to prepare everything necessary to document data on climate and rain and the amount of water belonging to springs and rivers over all the areas of ​​Lebanese territory, since the 1940s and the beginning of the fifties of the last century, without which no one can do any scientific study in the field of water. It also formed an idea about the Lebanese needs for water in all fields and gave an integrated and timely picture of the water structures to be implemented to develop the Lebanese economy. However, he singled out the Litani River with special care and worked hard to publish in 1948 his book: Le Litani, Etude Hydrologique

In the 1950’s, experts from the Bureau of Reclamation (Point IV) in the State of Colorado, under the supervision of late Engineer Ibrahim AbdEl Al, who was the water expert in charge, prepared the detailed studies for the Litani River Project. Upon AbdEl Al’s request, the foreign experts submitted preliminary studies for all Lebanese Rivers.

Bisri dam : The publication of Ibrahim Abdel-Al’s book on the Litani river coincided with the emergence of the Palestinian issue with all the concerns that resulted from it in terms of the Israelis ’aspirations for the Litani’s water. He believed that the preparation of this river in line with its natural course enables to secure an investment of 81.6% of the value of its full slope, while if the Litani waters turned towards the Bisri river, it could reach this investment to 93.6% of the value of this slope. In addition, the energy generated by this last solution can be controlled (régularisation), while this control was not possible by adopting the first solution.

Upon this, the project submitted from the Point IV included the following:

Three dams of the following sizes:
– Qaraoun: 200 million cubic meters.
– Khardaleh: 85.2 million cubic meters.
– Bisri: 32 million cubic meters.

Three 99,000 kw power plants each year produce 400 million kwh along the diversified water course towards Bisri river, ( Awali, Joun  plants).

Three 72,000 kw power plants annually produce 288 million kwh on the Litani River natural course (Sohmor, kelia, Zrariyeh plants).

20500 hectares irrigated by 200 km of channels between the 900m level and the sea distributed as follows:
– Bekaa: 10400 hectares.
– Upper Nabatieh Plateau: 2500 hectares.
– Lower Nabatieh Plateau: 3,700 hectares.
– Saida Coast – Beirut: 3,900 hectares.
In addition to 4,500 hectares irrigated by the Al Qasimia Project.

Bisri dam was studied in detail by the point IV in 1953.The water would be dragged from Quaraoun lake through Aytanit village to Bisri river for electricity generation and irrigation purpose. The actual location selected for Bisri dam is based on those studies done by Point IV.

The Litani River Authority, established in 1954, contracted Groupe Francais du Litani (GFL), which included 4 French companies) in 1957 to implement the Litani Project. 3 power plants works were implemented along with Quaraoun Dam. Electricity de France was then contracted in 1961 to continue the works with the Lebanese Engineers who worked with GFL. Most of the new Master Plan first phase of the Litani Project was achieved, except the irrigation schemes, which lasted unachieved till now.

In 1955: World Bank signed a loan agreement with LRA, marking the debut of WB activity in Lebanon. Under the agreement the WB will lend Lebanon the financement of the Litani Project along with the technical assistance. In 1994, the WB resumed lending Lebanon after the Civil War. Underscoring the importance of water as a development tool, one of the WB’s first post war projects addressed the water issues.

The Litani River Authority ( LRA) assigned foreign companies to draw up studies:
In 1964-1967: The studies Firm Energoprojeckt has carried out a number of investigations and studies within the framework of LRA activities. These studies and investigations were related to the general planning for the exploitation of the rivers of South Lebanon. This planning included studies of the meteorology and hydrology of the region as well as general and detailed geological and hydrogeological investigations related to a number of sites and reservoirs.

In the 1970’s, FAO provided the international technical assistance to Litani River Authority on the study on the development by irrigation of the regions between Qaraoun and the southern border. This South Lebanese hydro agricultural development was financed by a grant from UNDP, under the authority of LRA. FAO conducted several multidisciplinary detailed studies for the Bisri Dam. The location studied by Point IV was selected. The capacity of Bisri Dam was 80 Mm3 to be allocated for irrigation purpose.  Moreover LRA has assigned to la Societe du Canal de Provence a collaboration mission to establish the feasibility for the irrigation of the South Bekaa, within the framework of cooperation program FAO – Bird. (Mission S.C.P. Gersar) Late Engineer Kamel Awada (from Litani River Authority) was responsible to supervise the pre- feasibility studies on Bisri Dam. The capacity of the dam was 100 Mm3, in the same axe chosen by Point IV. From the Bisri dam, most of the water will be allocated for the purpose of drinking water and industry for the Northern areas of Awali and Beirut and suburbs, in the context of a consistent directive plan for the sources of the three dams: Quaraoun, Khardali and Bisri.

In the 1980’s: Engineer Jean Saliba (Litani River Authority) was assigned to review the studies on the Bisri Dam. Unfortunately, the irrigation component was no more valid, due to the construction of residential complexes on the agricultural lands. As a result, the project was shifted to only drawing drinking water from Awali River to Beirut and its suburbs.

In the 1990’s, the project was on the table again,due to civil war in the country. Engineer Saliba was called upon to set the final studies, related maps, and the feasibility for the Awali Project, which became only for drinking water. The primary water source for this project was Joun lake, which collects the water of lake Quaraoun and Awali, and this was possible according to the results of laboratory tests of the water. But, unfortunately the pollution struck Quaraoun Lake, and the Bisri Dam became the source of water which will collect the Awali river water and  will be filled with 120 cubic meters. The implementation of the project to supply Beirut and its suburbs with drinking water began two years ago, after a delay of twenty years. The most important positive aspect of this project is securing water by gravity for all areas of Beirut. It is a basic factor to avoid pumping to deliver the water to all Beirut reservoirs.
After the implementation of the project, Beirut and suburbs will receive water from two main sources: from the South, from Awali –Bisri water, and from the North, the water from Jeita and Qasquoush spring, here measures should be taken to raise the capacity of dragging the water from 255 m3 per day to 500 m3 per day during the winter months. The Water Establishment for Beirut and Mount Lebanon has the role to secure the distribution of water by gravity in Beirut and suburbs from Hadath tank, especially to the tanks that are higher than this latter.

In conclusion of this historical part, we can state that the initial Master Plan of the Litani Project witnessed many changes, the 3 hydro power plants were achieved ( Markaba, Awali, Joun) no sustainable works have been achieved for the irrigation, which had serious consequences on the depletion of the groundwater. Seldom works were implemented to ensure on time needs without considering the global master plan, the pollution of the river is very high and no measures are being implemented seriously to treat the source of pollution. Concerning the Bisri Dam, we can state that it was fully studied over and over with time, and the location selected by Point IV is still adopted by all stakeholders. The purpose of the Dam changed over time, from electricity generation and irrigation to dragging the water to Beirut and its suburbs, the latter was the proposal of GFL.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Amine M Daouk

    Your last comment is very important
    quote: “Seldom works were implemented to ensure on time needs without considering the global master plan”
    unquote

    This is a detrimental fault of the Lebanese Administration and Governments, and we see it going back many years. How many times were the Late Eng. Ibrahim Abdel Aal studies been reviewed and how much did these cost ???

    We are again restudying Bisri with many question marks being thrown at the Geological feasibility (a FAULT is predicted in the location). Again, there are Water for Beirut needs and Electricity Generation needs for the whole of Lebanon, which of the two needs has priority to global Lebanese needs… I think we should remember here that while Electric Power is still being generated from the Litani River, irrigation and drinking water was not possible due to pollution.

    A big question in my mind as to the real serious considerations taken by a government that does not have a Ministry of Planning (وزارة تصميم) to evaluate the real needs of Lebanon, if we are ready to put aside Corruption which has destroyed the country>|

    Amine M Daouk
    Civ Eng

  2. Claude Tabbal

    “”(a fault is predicted) “. I guess one must not base studies on predictions. The studies carried out by all these serious eminent intl. Companies are still valid. Top bad constructions of dwellings took place in Bisri area. Though ecological concerns must be tsken in consideration, i humbly believe in the utility of Bisri dam.

  3. Rony Bou chebl

    Water needs can be met by wastewater treatment plants and water harvesting.. Beirut is mostly flat. Other than the yearly floods blocking our highways… All this water can be harvested and treated. In dry seasons wastewater is mostly used! We actually dont need any rivers or underground water.

    1. Michel Frem

      The solution(s) you mentioned cannot be considered as main source of water supply (not to mention the required cost for advanced treatment, the continuous cost of pumping…). In fact, the only possible solution for Beirut is a combination of dam and non-dam actions. Moreover, your statement “we don’t need any rivers or underground water” lacks some vision on the geopolitical aspects of the water issue. Otherwise, how do you explain the existing tensions over shared surface water bodies and groundwater aquifers in the Middle East?

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