The Bisri Dam, currently in the phase of land expropriation, is being advertised as the solution to Beirut’s water shortages, and as an economic and touristic boom to the region. However, scientists and activists claim that the dam will not actually store water due to the karstic nature of the land and the big volume of alluviums all along the valley and river. Rather, it will be extremely damaging to the environment, besides destroying fertile agricultural lands. Experts say that the project will impact the natural environment by interfering with the natural flow of the river at a site considered a natural protected area in Bisri (based on Article 131/1998). It will also destroy archeological, historic, and cultural heritage throughout the project area, demolishing Roman ruins, the Mar Mousa church, and nearly 75 other archeological sites within its premises.
Not only are farmers on expropriated land losing their livelihoods, but they are also not being compensated fairly. They claim that the compensation received only covers one or two seasons of what they make off their lands. They are being paid 50 thousand L.L. per meter square of land, 750,000 per olive tree, and 400,000 L.L per lemon tree. Farmers from the region whose families have been inheriting these lands for generations proclaim that they are against the dam even if they will be paid millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Shafiq Boulos, the mayor of the town of Bisri, says that the dam will only steal their livelihoods [السد جايي ياخذ ارزاقنا], and that they are not against providing water to those in need but not at the expense of losing their lands, especially since the region will not benefit from the project in any way.
In addition, the location of the proposed dam is on a highly seismic area, which puts the village of Kherbet Bisri, Bisri, Mazraat El Mathaneh, Aalmane, and Quastani at risk of flooding if the dam breaks. The mayor of the town Kherbet Bisri has complained that although studies confirm this risk, the responsible authorities have taken no precaution in case of a disaster, particularly since the Lebanese government is not prepared for an emergency response in such situations, which means the town will live in perpetual fear after the establishment of the dam.
Dr. Zaatiti, a hydro-geologist, warns against the project in its specified location, since it is located near a highly seismic area and the geology of the region is highly karstic, making it nearly impossible to store water. He also questions why other alternatives are not being taken into account, and stresses that Lebanon is rich in water resources and the construction of dams is unnecessary. He recommends making use of underground water resources, which would be less costly and more environmentally friendly, unlike the current water policies of the country mainly focused on dam building for the next 30 years, which will only serve to drown the country in debt to the World Bank.
It is important to note that 30 to 40% of water loss occurs due to leakage in the water infrastructure. This proposed dam will not solve that problem, and may actually aggravate it.
Furthermore, the source of the water that the dam would be bringing to Beirut is a polluted source -- from the polluted Litani River.
The plan for the dam is to house 360 million cubic meters of water -- a weight that could, according to seismologists, increase the risk of an earthquake in the country - since the dam would be on an earthquake fault line.
There is an additional environmental damage caused by the construction of the dam: the mining of sand and rock to build the dam.
Thus, when taken into consideration the various communities impacted by the dam's construction, and impacted by the water that would allegedly be distributed from the dam, and that may be impacted by a potential earthquake -- the dam's impact could reach the majority of the residents in the country.
CDR reports, however, that other no-dam alternatives have been proposed, such as desalination, ground-water and rainwater harvesting, wastewater re-use, and reduction in “unaccounted for water”, which did not turn out to be realistic solutions.
Besides environmental experts, geologists, and hydrologists, the municipality of Midane is the only municipality in the region that categorically rejected the project, even after pressure from the Interior Minister, and filed a lawsuit to the Shura Council, along with the heritage association APLH and some local residents. The three lawsuits are still pending a decision. The municipality highlighted, among other concerns, that the nearby villages will not benefit from the promised water or electricity, and that the sewage network in nearby villages will pollute the water collected in the dam creating a public health issue. However, other municipalities in Shouf and Mount Lebanon are supportive of the project.
Activists declare that science does not seem to be important when it comes to the current water policies of the country, and the biggest reason the project is getting implemented is for political reasons -- and personal economic motivations. The project is backed by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, former prime minister Fouad Seniora, Walid Jumblatt, and foreign minister Gebran Bassil.
The conservative amount forecast to be spent on the project is 1.2 billion dollars -- paid for by taxpayers. The first 128 million were approved in February 2, 2017, and the project is projected to finish in 2023. In a conference organized by the Lebanon Eco Movement on World Water day (23 March 2017), it was ironically stated that Beirutis would die of water shortage by that time.