The Lebanese government is considering the possibility of extracting fresh water from springs under the Chekka Bay. The proposal to the government was submitted by the Civic Influence Hub, the lobby group behind the Blue Gold Project. According to the proposal the water extracted from the sea will help alleviate the country’s water shortage and reduce extraction of groundwater from the inland. The cost of this project is estimated at $472,000 and would take about 42 days to complete. The project entails an assessment of the springs to be conducted with the Lebanese Navy, cleaning the sea floor, pumping soil out of the area and installing water capture devices on the sea floor and a pumping station to deliver water inland. Dr. Nadim Farajalla, an environmental hydrologist at the American University of Beirut, argued that although the springs are a good source of water, reducing water waste (fixing pipes and preventing people from washing sidewalks) would be a cheaper alternative.
In addition to Dr. Farajallah’s argument, it is important to that there is no mention of the potential environmental impacts of such an initiative, which is necessary to estimate the true cost of the project. In addition and as the water sector in Lebanon is unregulated and plagued with corruption claims. It is therefore logical to expect that water extracted from these springs will not be immune to these problems.
Another issue that also needs to be tackled is the lack of data and monitoring of water resources. Information about levels of underground water is hard to come by. The amount of water lost in the water network (nonrevenue water) is also unknown. In 2000, the city of Beirut had a nonrevenue water ratio of 0.40; in other words, 40% of the water produced in the city is lost before it reaches the customer. This ratio is likely still high (or higher) due to the deteriorating water infrastructure and population incrase. The lack of population statistics and water metering makes the available water consumption data questionable. Climate data, such as precipitation, is up for debate in the country. The government has very little information on the private water selling enterprises that have emerged to compensate for the state water deficiency. Without such crucial information one has to wonder how Lebanon’s long term water strategy can possibly be developed.
While this proposal sounds like a good idea in the short run, it is important to ask if this is the best course of action for Lebanon, where all solutions focus on the short term without looking much further ahead.