March 06, 2012 02:09 AM
By Rakan al-Fakih
The Daily Star

QAROUN, Lebanon: The heavy snow and rain over the past week is bringing smiles to farmers in the south and east of the country, since there is more water to irrigate fields and fuel hydroelectric plants.

But more rainfall for Lebanon’s biggest lake is a double-edged sword, because of the increased threat of polluted water supplies.

Last week’s storm blanketed the high country in snow, even giving coastal areas the rare sight of snowfall at sea level. Precipitation levels this year are higher than this time last year. In the capital, 618 mL has fallen so far this year, compared to a yearly average of 436 mL, while the precipitation around Lake Qaroun has doubled (SEE BOX).

While the recent heavy, wet weather was blamed for causing damage to crops, farmers are greatly relieved overall, as the rain and snowfall has filled Lake Qaroun and they can take advantage of the reserves in the summer months, as well as the coming years.

Lake Qaroun, in the Western Bekaa, is the largest and most important reservoir in the country. According to the Litani River Authority, the lake, which it also oversees, is of vital importance to agriculture, especially in the Bekaa and south Lebanon, where the river provides irrigation for 60,000 acres of agricultural land in the summer.

The current water level in the lake, which is actually a reservoir, is now more than 100 million cubic meters, compared to 65 million cubic meters at the same time last year, according to an official at the LRA. But the reservoir isn’t in danger of overflowing, since its total capacity stands at 220 million cubic meters. The official said that the water flowing into the lake is expected to remain high for several days due to snowmelt.

Most of the water from the reservoir is used for irrigating agricultural land and generating electricity at three hydroelectric plants: Markaba, which has a 36,000 kW capacity; Awali with a capacity of 105,000 kW; Joun, which can generate 42,000 kW.

During the summer months, water from Lake Qaroun is necessary to keep the hydroelectric plants running and to keep water flowing to crops.

The importance of Lake Qaroun has also placed it at the center of the Litani River project, which was launched in January this year.

The first phase of the $330 million project will channel water from the Lake Qaroun to areas in the south, and is expected to last five years. The second phase will provide agricultural land with irrigation networks and facilities, along with land rehabilitation.

While the heavy snow and rains are decidedly positive in this respect, there are risks associated with the rising water levels, according to the LRA official.

“The rising water in the lake and river pose a threat because of the illegal construction on low-lying surrounding state land, a phenomenon that has been around for decades,” he said.

This is especially true in the few areas where the river water is overflowing its banks.

In areas where there is quarrying activity, the official continued, the high water levels are sweeping loose material into the river, along with waste from factories and sewage from villages and towns along the river, which travels downstream, settling at the bottom of Lake Qaroun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 06, 2012, on page 4.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::