Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Freshwater springs off Lebanon’s coast could help alleviate the country’s worst water crisis in decades, though the country’s government is yet to back an extraction plan proposed by researchers.
Experts say the discovery of freshwater erupting from the seabed “could turn the situation in the region upside-down.”
Lebanon has experienced lower than average rainfall and high temperatures this year depleting the country’s water reserves. This comes after years of poor water management and infrastructure; in many homes water is only available for a few hours every day.
The springs are at the core of a new study undertaken by the marine research vessel CANA-CNRS, overseen by Lebanon’s National Council for Scientific Research. The team on the boat have dived down to the seabed to find the source of bubbles breaking the sea’s surface.
Mohammad Al-Sarji, head of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers and a maritime legal expert, explained that the freshwater erupting from the springs never mixes with the saltwater of the Mediterranean as the pressure produced by the spring forms a volcano of water that shoots straight up to the surface.
“This water has existed for thousands of years, and surely in huge quantities,” Sarji told Asharq Al-Awsat. “These quantities are more than sufficient to meet the Lebanese people’s needs, and the Lebanese can even export this wealth to the Gulf region and elsewhere.”
So far, 22 freshwater springs have been found along the Lebanese coast, extending from Naqoura in the south to Al-Abda in the north. Most are located off Al-Qasmiya, below 37–45 meters, and are flowing as fast as the Litani River’s waters.
The sources of the springs are inland but the water runs out under the seabed to emerge straight into the Mediterranean.
Sarji says he has been speaking out about the potential of this “freshwater treasure” since 1995, but claims his words have fallen on deaf ears. “In Al-Qasmiya, there are 10 huge springs which alone could be sufficient to meet the needs of all of Lebanon and the Middle East.”
Earlier this month the citizen lobbying group Civic Influence Hub put forward a proposal for the extraction of water from the springs for domestic and industrial use. The document stated that water capture devices should be built and installed on the sea floor along with a pumping station that would deliver the water inland.
The group said this could be done with the assistance of the Lebanese army, and would produce roughly 80,000 cubic yards (60,000 cubic meters) of water from four springs in Chekka.
Sarji believes the extraction of water from freshwater springs would be simple and cost effective. “Extracting this water is not costly because it does not require drilling. Instead, it comes out to us when it surfaces in the form of a volcano that can be easily seen with the naked eye.”
“Everything is ready and waiting for an official decision to be made so that we can start implementation,” he says.
However, the Lebanese government has so far proven to be less optimistic about the seabed springs, preferring more conventional approaches to tackling Lebanon’s water shortage. In July, government ministers ruled out a plan to import water from Turkey, instead opting to dig more wells and siphon groundwater to tackle the shortages.
Mohammed Qabbani, the MP who heads Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are open to any solution that can solve the crisis.” However, he expressed hesitancy over the extraction of freshwater from the seabed. “The marine tour we made along Beirut’s shore did not lead to the discovery of any springs. Extracting freshwater from the sea requires a specific mechanism, which is a complicated process.”
If the freshwater were to be extracted, he believes it would only be “a partial, not a radical solution” to Lebanon’s water shortage.