Lake Qaraoun: High Water Levels Overshadowed by Pollution

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Two years ago, water levels at the Qaroun lake were well under the maximum capacity of 280 million cubic meters, 27 December 2010. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah - Archive)

By: Usama al-Qadiri

Published Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Residents of Lebanon’s Western Bekaa valley rejoiced at the heavy rainfall this year which led to a rise in the water level at Lake Qaraoun to about 85 percent of its general capacity – approximately 220 million cubic meters – before the end of winter.

This piece of good news however did not dispel the concerns that owners of parks and restaurants located on the banks of the lake have over rumors about pollution, which could be detrimental to their usually busy summer season.

Rumors have it that Lake Qaraoun is polluted by sewage from towns and villages along the Litani River, which in turn flows into the lake.

Such rumors are detrimental to the reputation of the lake because they drive tourists away from the area which is famous in the Bekaa region for its temperate climate.

This could very well mean major financial losses for people working in the tourism sector in the area.

Everyone realizes that dealing with pollution does not begin with the lake but by controlling what is dumped into the rivers that flow through the Bekaa plain.

The water that flows into the lake in the winter season is for the most part from rain water and underground springs. In addition, the rivers are torrential in the winter, which actually reduces pollution.

Ali Charaf, owner of a park located on the western bank of Lake Qaraoun, does not hide his concern over the rumors about pollution.

He says what is being circulated about the lake is nothing more than a deliberate plan to drive tourists away to other areas.

Charaf tells us that he waits for the tourist season from one year to the next.

“Instead of spreading rumors, a solution should be provided to solve the problem of the sewage from the city of Zahle and its surroundings by building sewage treatment plants in these areas,” he says.

He denies that the sewage of a village that lies on the edge of the lake flows into it, adding that the “ball is in the authorities’ court.”

On the other hand, Charaf is happy about the heavy rainfall, especially when compared with past years. The lake’s water level has not been this high for a long time.

This new reality bodes well for those who work around the lake and whose livelihood is dependent on tourists who come to visit, just as long as “pointless rumors don’t hang us out to dry,” as Charaf puts it.

Walid al-Mubayed’s situation is not much better than other park owners. He emphasizes the need to put the area of the Western Bekaa – and specifically the area of Lake Qaraoun – on the tourism ministry’s agenda because of its healthy and pristine climate.

“Isn’t it enough that so many people in this area emigrate, what more do they want us to do?” he asks.

Ahmad Moussa, owner of a motorboat, also makes his living by renting out boats to Lebanese and foreign tourists.

This is the case with tens of other residents of the towns surrounding the lake, who are asking the government to pay attention to their predicament, so they can benefit from the new tourism season.

Lake Qaraoun’s maximum capacity is 280 million cubic meters.

The lake was emptied out last summer entirely to make repairs to the adjoining dam in order to prevent leakage, as is customary every 10 years.


The Lake’s Water Level

An employee at the Litani Power and Irrigation Project who refused to give his name said it is unlikely that the water level at the Lake Qaraoun has exceeded 170 million cubic meters.

He estimates that in the coming two weeks the water level will reach 200 million cubic meters, particularly after the last snow storm at the end of February.

The current water flow of the Litani River is expected to pour out into the lake at a rate of 30 cubic meters per second, i.e., 2.5 million cubic meters per day in the short-term.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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