Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Infrastructure in Lebanon

Faraya-Chabrouh Dam - Water Infrastructure in Lebanon
Photo 1: The Faraya-Chabrouh Dam is a dam above the village of Faraya- Lebanon, 40 kilometers northeast of Beirut that was inaugurated in 2007. (Source: Kameel Rayes)

Dams, irrigation systems, wastewater treatment plants, large well fields

The main large-scale water infrastructure projects under construction are around the Litani River (Map 1). These are:

  1. Bisri Dam (on hold) – part of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project.
  2. Greater Beirut Water Supply Project – water diversion outside basin area.
  3. Conveyor 900 – irrigation of around 22,000 ha of land within the Litani River Basin. A pilot project covering 2,000 ha has been completed.
  4. Conveyor 800 – irrigation of around 14,000 ha of land in South Lebanon (outside basin area).
Litani River Basin - Water Infrastructure in Lebanon
Map 1: Planned infrastructure projects for the Litani River Basin. @Fanack water

Until 2010, Lebanon had only two dams with a total surface water storage capacity of 229 MCM. These are the Qaraoun Dam (constructed in the 1950s) on the Litani River with a static storage capacity of 220 MCM and the Chabrouh Dam in Mount Lebanon, which mainly captures runoff and Laban Spring water, with a capacity of 9 MCM.

The Qaraoun Dam was originally proposed for drinking water, irrigation and hydropower use. However, the use for drinking water was limited and, since 2016, irrigation use has been stopped mainly because of the poor water quality.

The NWSS 2010 proposed a total of 26 dams (including Chabrouh and Qaraoun). Although the 2020 strategy aims to decrease this number, nine dams are currently under construction and 14 dams are still proposed for the period to 2035, bringing the total number of dams to 23. Table 1 shows the number and status of the dams (existing and under construction). The aim is to increase the static water storage to around 409 MCM per year upon completion of the dams under construction.[1]

Dams in Lebanon have always been a subject of debate for two main reasons:[2]

  • The unreliable and contradictory data related to the national water balance and water availability, as highlighted in sections 2 and 4.
  • The striking variation in the groundwater recharge calculated in the 2014 UNDP report and the water balance estimate in previous reports used as a reference for the NWSS. Notably, the groundwater recharge is much higher in the UNDP’s groundwater budget compilation compared to any other water table estimations. This is highlighted here because, as one study noted, ‘underestimating the importance of groundwater in accounting for water balance in official reports, and not using a groundwater water budget instead, has led to an overestimation of surface water. Inflated surface runoff estimations have subsequently been used in the rhetoric advocating for building dams to capture this “wasted” water going to the sea.’[2]

Of the dams that are currently under construction, including the relatively larger ones, none has been completed yet (Table 1). These are:

  1. Janneh on Nahr Ibrahim, construction of which started in 2013, is contested by the local population. This is because the construction started before the project information and two environmental impact assessment reports on which the construction decision was based were made available to the public.[3]
  2. Bisri Dam on the Awali River, which is part of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project, is also contested because of the various social and environmental impacts and risks it poses. The World Bank has partially cancelled the funding for the dam ‘due to non-completion of the tasks that are preconditions to the commencement of construction’.[4] Moreover, it has been noted that the dam’s reservoir will overlie the active Roum Fault. This could lead to potential ‘fault movement underneath the dam, liquefaction around the dam foundations, mass movements near the dam site, and direct effect on inducing seismicity on a delicate fault system’.[5] More attention should be given to this location, which might make the Bisri area a ‘very unfavourable site for the proposed Bisri Dam’.[5]
  3. Balaa Dam in North Lebanon is being constructed in an area with numerous sinkholes: depressions and openings in the ground where surface water enters and seeps into the groundwater. It has also been reported that no environmental impact assessment was completed for the dam,[6] which has been under construction since 2014 and is still not complete.

Table 1: Existing dams and dams under construction in Lebanon.[1]

DamAreasStatic storage (MCM)Dynamic storage (MCM)StatusUsage
Ballout LakeBeirut Mount Lebanon0.50.5OperationalPotable/irrigation
Bisri DamBeirut Mount Lebanon125125Under constructionPotable/irrigation/hydropower
Baqaata DamBeirut Mount Lebanon612Under constructionPotable
Chabrouh DamBeirut Mount Lebanon911OperationalPotable/irrigation
Janneh DamBeirut Mount Lebanon3895Under constructionPotable/irrigation/hydropower
Qaysamani DamBeirut Mount Lebanon11OperationalPotable
Assi Dam – phase 1Bekaa6363Under constructionIrrigation
Yammouneh LakeBekaa1.451.45OperationalIrrigation
Balaa DamNorth Lebanon1.22.2Under constructionPotable
Brissa DamNorth Lebanon0.80.8Needs repairIrrigation
Kouachra LakeNorth Lebanon0.40.4OperationalIrrigation
Mseilha DamNorth Lebanon612Under constructionPotable/irrigation
Qaraoun DamLitani River Authority220300OperationalPotable/irrigation/hydropower

Traditional water collection and distribution systems

In general, the water distribution network coverage in Lebanon is good. Based on monitoring for Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) and target 6.3.1 in particular (proportion of wastewater safely treated), it is estimated that around 89.6% of the population has water on premises.[7] However, these networks are old and leakage is high, with the percentage of unaccounted-for water varying between 40% and 55%.[1]

Table 2: Overview of the regional water establishment water network status.[1]

DescriptionBeirut Mount LebanonBekaaNorth LebanonSouth Lebanon
Number of villages533250457385
Estimated population in the service area2,907,000750,0001,716,0001,200,000
Estimated population supplied2,667,758390,425561,569792,000
Estimated population tapping water from unknown origin (%)8486734
Estimated unaccounted-for water (%)40-30484655

For wastewater, the proportion of the population living in households connected to the wastewater network is around 60%.[1] In areas with no connection, there is a reliance on septic tanks.[1] However, the problem here lies with the operation of the wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Out of the current 78 WWTPs with a capacity of 664 m3/d, only 11 plants treat beyond the primary level, while all volume goes untreated to open surface water bodies.[1] On the industrial level, no WWTPs have been installed in any of the 133 dedicated industrial zones. Figure 1 summarizes the status of WWTPs as reported in the NWSS 2020.

Figure 1: Status of wastewater treatment plants in Lebanon.

Qaraaoun lake - Water Infrastructure in Lebanon
Photo 2: Artificial Qaraaoun lake running into the overflow pipe near the dam in the west of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley ( Source: JOSEPH EID _ AFP photo)

Planned projects

Several projects are planned in the NWSS 2020.[8] These relate to five major topics:

  1. Sector governance: implement legal and regulatory framework reform (Water Code), rationalize the tutelage framework with the aim of creating clear dispatching between operational and regulatory activities, and develop proper mechanisms for performance monitoring.
  2. Financial and commercial: conduct a customer and user census, implement consumption-based tariffs for water services and revise the tariff structure for sanitation services.
  3. Reporting and monitoring: enhance sector monitoring, sector transparency, sector coordination and communication with users.
  4. Capacity building: strengthen the Ministry of Energy and Water’s monitoring capacities, streamline and structure water establishments’ internal organization and management.
  5. Operation and management of facilities and services: improve operating cost control and adopt a shared wastewater management framework.

Other infrastructure projects are also proposed, which are divided over three sectors: water, wastewater and irrigation. The projects have different priorities depending on urgency and impact.

Water projects include: developing and expanding water resources to cover potable water needs; providing adequate water storage capacities; providing adequate main transmission lines by increasing the capacity of existing lines or replacing very old ones; constructing distribution networks; monitoring main transmission and distribution lines through the installation of district water meters to better control and isolate leakages.

Wastewater projects include: implementing new WWTPs and sewer networks in densely populated areas; expanding and upgrading major existing WWTPs.

Irrigation projects include: rehabilitating existing concrete irrigation channels; constructing new channels or pipes for irrigation; increasing the availability of water resources and constructing all related works; constructing new networks and developing new resources (including dams) for potential future expansion.

Dams are proposed as a new water resource to cover future water needs and make up the water deficit. The NWSS 2020 clearly states that surface water storage is a strategic priority, and the construction of storage facilities is encouraging as a first option to meet water needs. Groundwater is regarded as a strategic reserve for future generations.[8]

[1] MoE (Ministry of Environment), 2020. Lebanon State of the Environment and Future Outlook: Turning the Crises into Opportunities (SoER 2020). With UNHCR, UNICEF and UNDP.
[2] Riachi, R, 2016. ‘Water policies and politics in Lebanon: where is groundwater?’ IWMI Project Report No. 9. International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
[3] Environmental Justice Atlas, n.d. Janna Dam, Lebanon.
[4] The World Bank, 2020. Cancellation of Water Supply Augmentation Project (Bisri Dam Project).
[5] Nemer, T, 2019. ‘The Bisri dam project: A dam on the seismogenic Roum fault, Lebanon.’ Engineering Geology 261: 105270.
[6] Allaw, S, 2020. ‘Lebanon Dam Business: Destroying the Environment and Squandering Public Funds.’ The Legal Agenda. Published on 18 March 2020.
[7] WHO (World Health Organization) and UN-Habitat, 2020. Sustainable Development Goal 6 Monitoring. Lebanon – 2020 Country Estimate.
[8] MoEW (Ministry of Energy and Water), 2020. National Water Sector Strategy Update 2020.