Again, nothing particularly new in the report - you can read my general analysis here - the Ethiopians cooperated and their studies are what the report is based upon, but you can now read for yourselves. The biggest hole that I can see, and I discussed this with my EEPCO and Ministry hosts in Ethiopia at the time, is the lack of rigorous environmental baseline investigation - ecosystems - what is there that will be lost (are there Abyssinian lions?) and how the Blue Nile basin, as a total system, will be managed as a holistic system for soil conservation to reduce erosion of fertile topsoil, for biodiversity, for many things not addressed yet.
IRN gives their ideas and concerns in the article (also pasted below).
GERD Panel of Experts Report: Big Questions Remain
- Quality of project documents: The present design criteria are “quite general, and do not include project- and site-specific conditions … The most essential geotechnical, seismological, hydro-geological, hydrological, hydraulic and structural design data should be compiled into a consolidated report and not scattered in numerous design reports.” The project’s main design report is outdated and does not reflect numerous and significant design changes to the project.
- Safety: “The stability of the main dam and other main structures should be verified under consideration of additional geological and geotechnical findings.” The panel believes more analysis may be necessary, but without having access to all information on this aspect of the project, cannot be sure. Nonetheless, they do question some assumptions on the project’s “shear strength” and raise concerns about sliding, seepage and other safety issues. “In view of the on-going construction works . . . highest priority shall be given to clarify [dam safety issues] as soon as possible. Structural measures might be needed to stabilize the foundation to achieve the required safety against sliding.” The panel also suggests design modifications for the saddle dam and further studies on the spillway dimensions. The panel recommends that the discharge of the “Probable Maximum Flood” used in the dam design be increased.
- Downstream changes to water flow: First and foremost, “The (hydrological study) is very basic, and not yet at a level of detail, sophistication and reliability that would befit a development of this magnitude, importance and with such regional impact as GERD.” Project studies looked only at the GERD site. “No upstream developments are taken into account, and no downstream flow records … are given as would be needed to assess downstream impacts.” The panel notes that, “given the proposed upstream cascade development of similar magnitude than the GERD, the upstream flow records could be of significant importance.” The panel notes that the hydrological report uses questionable estimates of evaporation from the reservoir (a key issue in how much water the dam will “use”), and recommends further assessments of evaporation. It also notes that the project did not quantify water losses through deep percolation during reservoir filling. Regarding GERD's impact on Egypt's water supply, the panel found that “mass balances represented in the report of water between the GERD and the High Aswan Dam could not be reconciled given the information presented.” The GERD also allows for greater expansion of irrigated cropping in Sudan, which could further reduce flows to Egypt; the panel recommends a detailed study on this issue.
- Environmental impacts: Surprisingly little information is included on impacts on local people, ecosystems, fisheries or biodiversity. The official Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report was “strictly limited to the impact zones located upstream of the dam site in Ethiopia.” Downstream environmental impacts were not considered as being significant, and therefore several related socio-economic impacts are not addressed. Dam height was chosen without consideration of downstream environmental and socio-economic impacts. The panel recommends a full transboundary impact assessment be done.
- Climate risks: The panel notes that the project did not assess the project’s sensitivity to climate change. A project of this scale and with such heavy reliance on rainfall patterns requires a better understanding of future hydrologic conditions to ensure the highest degree of flexibility and resiliency in its design and operation. The panel recommends a study that looks at the potential influence of climate change on the flow regime at GERD and further downstream.
- Sediment and water quality issues: The project did not include an analysis of sediment deposition in the reservoir (a troublesome issue for dams on the muddy Nile). The panel notes that sediment flows downstream of the dam will be substantially reduced, with implications for floodplain farming productivity, navigation, Sudan’s brick industry, riverbank erosion, and biodiversity. The panel also recommends additional studies on water quality changes from the project, particularly on methane gas production and the depletion of dissolved oxygen levels in water releases that could harm fisheries and biodiversity downstream.
- Dam operations: Very little information on how the dam will be operated was given. At a basic level, both present and future needs for “peaking power versus base power needs to be assessed in more detail,” and “needs to be taken into account in (project) planning and sizing.” The report requests verification of the 6,000MW installed capacity. Furthermore, the Panel does not indicate if the dam was designed in a way to accommodate “environmental flows” (which can be used to mitigate impacts of a dam on a river). In all likelihood this was not considered as the panel writes that "it is not clear whether the present design considers (capacity, functionality) the minimum mean flows of the dry months release to the downstream countries” without use of power generation facilities or the spillway. It is also clear that consideration of operation of the GERD in coordination with water systems in Egypt and Sudan was at a very preliminary stage during the writing of this report. The report strongly recommends additional studies of the GERD “in the context of the Eastern Nile System” in order to “quantify the downstream impacts in detail with confidence.”