The Janna Dam is currently being constructed on Ibrahim River in the Adonis Valley. The dam is part of a water strategy being implemented by the Ministry of Energy and Water. The Ministry is proposing about 55 water infrastructure projects throughout Lebanon to be constructed by 2020. These projects are expected to increase the water storage capacity of Lebanon substantially.
The construction of the dam began in March 2013. It is expected to have a fixed storage of 38 million cubic meters and a mobile storage between 80 and 90 million cubic meters. In addition to the water storage the dam will also generate 4 megawatts of energy. Since the planning phase, the location of Janna Dam had been questioned.In June 2012, a report published by the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources concluded that the infiltrating water is believed to flow to Jeita spring. The geology experts believe that if this infiltration zone is disturbed, it could have a negative impact on the water level of the Jeita spring. The report also found that the geology of the area makes storage almost impossible. The report concluded that in light of these findings it would “not make sense to construct the dam”. Despite these warnings the construction of the dam proceeded.
In April 2014, the Minster of Environment at the time requested that the construction of the dam be halted and for an Environmental Impact Assessment to be conducted in accordance with Lebanon’s environmental regulations. The construction was never stopped, however, but an impact assessment was conducted to study the full effect of the dam.
On September 25, 2014 a public session was held in Qartaba town close to the project area to communicate with the public and stakeholders the results of the EIA for the Janna Dam. Even though there has been a lot of controversy regarding this dam, not many people were present at the session. It is important to note that the session was held on a weekday, and not a weekend as the common practice, and this could partially explain the lack of participation. Attendees to the session included representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Tourism, Energy and Water, and Environment. There were also representatives from the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment, NGOs, and municipalities of neighboring towns. The presentation was given by the consultant team of Khatib and Alami and the French from Artelia.
The presentation briefly presented the results of the environmental impact assessment. The presenter described the project components and listed the benefits of constructing the dam, such as:
- 700,000 people will benefit from additional water and energy generated including drinking water to Jbeil and Beirut and agricultural water to Jbeil and Keserouin
- Renewable energy reduce of carbon emissions (no mention how many carbon emissions are reduced)
- Increase in tourism and the potential for water sports
It was also mentioned that economic value of the land used for the dam is very low since it cannot be used for anything else. The only two negative impacts that were mentioned were a slight increase in traffic during construction and the displacement of 60 people.
Despite the low attendance at the session, there many issues were raised regarding the dam construction. For example, it was questioned whether any other project alternatives had been considered. Another question was why the construction was not halted until the impact assessment was completed. A resident from a neighboring town asked if the construction will affect the neighboring area. Among the audience were a group of experts that went into more detailed issues, pointing out that the type of soil in the area was incapable of harvesting water, emphasizing the historical significance of the project site and the richness of flora and fauna (a topic that was not covered by the presentation). All the experts called on conducting a specialized session to discuss the different technical concerns.
On the other hand, most of the government representatives and municipality members supported the dam construction, in addition to several residents of Qarataba and other neighboring towns. All the supporters were excited about the prospect of increasing water and electricity supply and did not believe there were any major environmental issues of concern.
The consultant responded to the some of the questions posed. Regarding the issue of biodiversity, the EIA study had found no rare flora or fauna on the site and thus did not believe any additional measures were needed. The consultant suggested that if more information about the biodiversity was obtained by any of the stakeholders, they would like to receive them. The consultant also mentioned two alternatives to increase water supply that had been considered, the first was desalination and the second underwater springs. Both alternatives were found to be too costly and impractical and were therefore not selected.
The planning and construction of the Janna Dam is an interesting case study which highlights the flaws of governance and EIA procedure in Lebanon. Many of the activists and residents that are against the dam were frustrated because the public session seemed more like an activity to fill in a requirement and not to take their opinions into account. In fact, part of the session was held in French with no translation and therefore many of the attendees could not understand what was being said. In addition, construction of the dam continued despite calls for it to await the EIA results. It is therefore difficult to see what impact the EIA would have on construction activities. Even though the public announcement said the session will present the results of the EIA very little impacts were discussed. The presentation focused on the project benefits and technical issues; construction impacts were barely mentioned nor was any environmental impact on the neighboring area described. The most serious impact, which an earlier study had found, on the Jeita spring was not mentioned.
There are many conflicting studies about different aspects of the dam. There is no information on why certain studies and conclusions were considered while others ignored. The Ministry of Water should at least provide a justification for relying on the findings of certain studies and not others. That is why many of the activists were calling for an expert session.
Lebanon needs infrastructure projects to provide services to its people, but unless the government takes the EIA process, which is intended to limit the negative environmental impact of these projects, more seriously, then the cost on the country will be much higher than the contractor’s bill.