Lebanon President Emile Lahoud is expected to lay the cornerstone of the Orontes river dam project following the government's recent signing of Lebanese-Syrian cooperation accords and a water agreement with Syria.
The project will include the construction of hydroelectric power plants on the banks of the Orontes river.
The river, whose source is in Lebanon, extends for a distance of 15km inside Lebanese territory and flows into Syria, after which it eventually pours into the Mediterranean Sea in southern Turkey, in a region that is claimed by Syria. Lebanon and Syria share the river’s water in accordance with international law.
Fruit and vegetable growers based in the northern Bekaa will benefit from the dam, which will provide irrigation water for large areas on both banks that now resemble desert-like terrain.
The government is expected to benefit from the project through increased revenues provided by the electrical power project.
Proponents of the initiative also argue that it will spur social development in the area, encouraging locals to remain in their villages and profit by what they have dubbed the ‘dream project’.
Accordingly, a delegation of MPs from northern Bekaa, headed by Baalbek-Hermel MP Assem Qanso, recently paid a visit to Lahoud and gave him up-to-date copies of the maps of the project, illustrating its impact on the areas involved.
Qanso said that the project was divided into four parts with a cost of US$210M and would provide irrigation for some 6100ha.
The MP, who has taken a keen interest in water-related projects for the area, indicated that the initial reported cost of the dam could be reduced.
The project is divided into several stages, the first consisting of a small dam to change the course of the river and divide the river water into two parts, one for Hermel and the other for Baalbek. The cost of this leg of the project is estimated at around US$3M. The irrigation aspect of the project, which calls for building three canals, would cost around US$85M.
The Orontes dam itself, expected to be 65m tall, is expected to cost US$100M and the power plant US$22M.
Qanso said that the most difficult obstacle was to obtain funding for the initiative. He called for the immediate launching of the project, which was approved by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.