28 April 2014

Hydroelectric in Laos

Vientiane Times published an article update about Laos PDR's efforts to increase electricity generation. The article doesn't specify where the power sources are generating from - water, lignite, coal...but it is a safe assumption that most of the projects are hydropower on the Mekong or on the tributaries. Over 95% of Laos territory is found in the Mekong River basin. Due to the mountainous terrain, the water has great hydropower potential. Investors in power plants and all the related equipment must be very excited.

*Laos to reach 7,000MW by 2016*

Vientiane Times, 22 April 2014

Laos expects to have a total installed power generation capacity of around 7,000 megawatts (MW) nationwide in the 2015-16 fiscal year, due to the construction of several power plants set to be complete.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines Deputy Minister, Dr Khammany Inthirath said at a press conference two weeks ago, that Laos had 39 power plant development projects which were underway or about to begin construction.
Dr Khammany said the 39 power plants would include almost 20 power plants which were expected to complete in 2015-16 and they would have an installed capacity of almost 4,000 megawatts (MW).
“Currently Laos has had more than 3,000MW and it will be approximately 7,000MW by the time the construction finishes,” Mr Khammany said.
Another Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Viraphonh Viravong said at the Asia Cooperation Dialogue seminar held in Laos earlier this month that there were 33 projects with an installed capacity of 5,570MW under construction.
The Ministry's Planning and Statistics Division reported last month there would be four additional hydropower plants which would begin commercial operation this year after three came online last year.
The four plants which plan to begin energy generation this year are the Xekaman 3, Xenamnoy 1, Nam Sana and Nam Ngiep 3A hydropower plants in the provinces of Xekong, Attapeu, Xieng Khuang and Vientiane.
An additional seven hydropower plants will begin commercial operation next year while another five are scheduled to begin generation in 2016, the ministry said.
The seven plants which will start energy generation next year are Hongsa Mine-Mouth Power Project, Nam Ngiep 2, Nam Beng, Nam Kong 2, Nam Khan 2, Houay Lamphannyai and Nam Hinboun in the provinces of Xayaboury, Xieng Khuang, Oudomxay, Attapeu, Luang Prabang, Xekong and Khammuan.
Five power plants are also scheduled to commence generation in 2016, including Nam Sim, Nam Lik 1, Nam Mang 1, Nam Khan 3 and Xekaman 1 in the provinces of Huaphan, Vientiane, Borikhamxay, Xieng Khaung and Attapeu.
The Ministry reported last month, so far Laos has 24 operational power plants (starting from 1MW) with a total installed capacity of 3,245MW. Combined, these are generating more than 16,100 GWh annually for local and export markets.
“By 2020 Laos will have 12,500MW of capacity with 75 to 85 percent allocated for export,” Mr Viraphonh said.
“Since demand in the Greater Mekong Sub-region countries will be around180,000MW, Laos will be able to meet about 7 to 8 percent of the total demand,” he said.
Mr Viraphonh said the richest water resource is the Mekong River and it gives Laos the potential to develop more than 25,000 (MW) of electricity.

23 April 2014

Ethiopia set up an organization and web presence in response to Nile controversy

I totally missed this, but Ethiopia set up an organization and webpages to respond to the recent controversy surrounding development and water rights in the Nile River basin called the Ethiopian International Professional Support for AbayI was told today that an official statement (9 pages in length) was released in response to the IRN article released a few weeks ago. IRN responded back, asking why the debate of dams on the Nile is out of bounds. I just took a look at that piece and then wanted to know more about the organization and what is going on with accusations flying.

This does not appear to be the Ethiopian government. However, if the Ethiopian government did not like that some people put up a site claiming to be the Ethiopian voice on the Nile River, they would do something about it. Who is behind the site and organization?

In fact, the page does not identify who is behind the organization, but limits membership to Ethiopians only - either in citizenship or birthright. I personally think names should be attached to the claims. Maybe it is the American in me, but I don't like exclusive collectives (membership only things). How can I engage anonymous professionals writing in support of Ethiopia's position on the Nile? I had this frustration when a report was generated  in 2012 about the Renaissance Dam from two anonymous scientists. Much of the data contained was solid - taken from reports and census generated in Ethiopia. This served as a great baseline document. There was also a bunch of erroneous figures and bias statements in the work. Being someone who is researching the dam, I would love to have dialogue with other researchers and "gut-check" my own findings and work.

I would prefer Ethiopia step forward to engage in the global dialogue. Ethiopia should be counted as a country that has a voice. The same with Ethiopian researchers and professionals - step forward and find your public voice! Challenge on your own ground and with confidence. People may rip you to shreds in the media or wherever the conversation erupts, but in the end at least what you have to say is said for all to hear with qualification. 

With my defense looming, I don't have time to go through all of this in depth now, but I am interested to read more in the coming weeks.

22 April 2014

ETV video in English about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

The following video was produced for Ethiopian Television - in country - but is in English. The documentary is about 26 minutes long. The documentary provides information on the dam, how Ethiopians understand the project - much of the language in this film echoes language I heard on the streets in Ethiopia - and footage shot at the project site.

* Meheret Debebe is no longer the CEO of EEPCO - he has been replaced by Azeb Asnake, the lead engineer from the Gibe III Project.

Amharic Song includes Renaissance Dam?

I don't speak Amharic, but this appears to be a song about the late Meles Zenawi and includes some footage of the the Renaissance Dam.


IPE report covered by the Guardian

Under a section titled: Poverty Matters Blog, the Guardian (supported by the Gates foundation no less!) provides some coverage of the IPE report and what it means to finally have it released to the public. 

The first thing I want to say though is the name of the blog is irritating. Just because of the label - would you want a story about you to appear in something entitled poverty matters? It is just as bad as being a statistic. Just as impersonal.  

To me, the Renaissance Dam is not a symbol of poverty or an issue of poverty. Ethiopia is a poor country, yes. However, dams are symbols of progress, engineering skill, and modernity. The dam site is full of modern equipment, Ethiopian and foreign experts. The Renaissance Dam I think that it is a symbol of Ethiopia's internal political and economic stability - and change on the African continent - change that has not necessarily been successfully won on a large scale by the donor community. It was the 1960s that many African countries declared independence, the 1990s when apartheid finally came to an end. War has gripped much of the continent and still does...and right in the same neighborhood of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is war-free at the moment. 

The opposite of war is creation.   

I would suggest that though the report does not give definitive terms as to downstream impacts of the Renaissance Dam, it does symbolize the will for Ethiopia to cooperate and offer a level of transparency in the process of its own national development plans. This is necessary given the shared nature of the river. What is going on with Sudan, by the way? One of my colleagues, Ana Cascão, who is an expert on Nile water politics, brings up this question - "'Sudan's intentions [that] may instead cause the greatest long-term concern for Egypt. The Gerd would allow Sudan to siphon off more downstream water for farm irrigation, potentially allowing the republic to take more water from the Nile than allowed by an agreement signed with Egypt in 1959.' Sudan has achieved this leverage by engaging positively with the dam's construction..." Ana brings up an important point about the nature of the tripartite negotiations, but I wanted to highlight it here since it is sort of buried in the text.

Answer me this: how can anyone truly know, for sure, what downstream impacts are going to be of a dam on a river that has little to no hydrologic flow monitoring in Ethiopia, that has little to no data on sediment transport in Ethiopia, that has little to no data on precipitation/runoff in the Ethiopian highlands...? There are large and significant dams in between Renaissance and the Egyptian farmers in the Nile River Valley and that as long as Ethiopia is open to a gradual filling process of the reservoir, the issue of downstream impacts is negotiable and manageable with cooperative action? I think this can be answered even without the scientific numbers for the above data gaps. This is where the engineers can shine.

Again, drawing attention away from the high level diplomatic and economic argument, stepping forward instead of back as it were, one is left with very critical issues still - the issues of the environment - the river itself which is, in the reaches of Ethiopia, still wild - and the subsistence communities in Ethiopia and downstream in Sudan. Why aren't these issues getting a mention in these articles? Is the realm of high level governmental business all too attractive to pull attention away from? The dam is under development. There are 8500 workers out there working 24/7. They've made progress and continue to make progress regardless of what is going on behind closed doors and what appears in reports.

A journalist just wrote me today asking whether I am sure about the 20,000 people figure I have put forward in a paper I published. I am only as sure as the documents for resettlement I was able to read at the EEPCO project offices in Addis and at the dam site. The journalist suggested that he heard that the company is doing a recount. I suspect the number is higher, but not because of a recount. The 20,000 mostly Gumuz people in Ethiopia are not the only ones who will be directly impacted by the dam's construction. There is still an undocumented and unknown number of subsistence communities who live in Sudan, just over the border. How do I know? I don't from my own eyes, but I have a hunch. Plus, linguists who studied the Gumuz people produced maps that show the extent of the community follows the river valley right over the border. There are only 200,000 Gumuz people full stop, according to the little I could find in published literature about this ethnic minority. I think this is something to care about even if no one has ever heard of the Gumuz. I wish someone would get out there and document now.

Rant over, back to work. I defend my research this Friday at 10am PCT. Wish me luck!

Poverty Matters blog

Nile dam study fails to stem the tide of Egyptian indignation towards Ethiopia

Claim and counter-claim has attended the delayed publication of a report on the likely impact of the Grand Renaissance dam
Sudanese villagers ride in their boat at the river Nile in Sudan's capital Khartoum
Villagers on the Nile in Khartoum. Ethiopia's Gerd dam may give Sudan greater water access than an agreement with Egypt allows. Photograph: Antony Njuguna/Reuters
The opening sentence of Egypt's new constitution describes the country as the river Nile's gift to Egyptians. It is a grand claim, but one that helps explain Egypt's indignation at the ongoing construction of a blockage on the Nile, thousands of miles upstream: the $4.7bn (£2.8bn) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Gerd).
Egyptians have long maintained that Ethiopia's dam project will dangerously deplete its water stocks – about 95% of which are derived from the world's longest river. A year ago, a former Egyptian water official boldly claimed that the Gerd might deprive Egypt of up to 10bn kilolitres, devastating roughly a million acres of farmland along the shores of the Nile.
"Then you might cross the Nile on the back of a camel," the former head of Egypt's National Water Research Centre said at the time, in what were highly contested claims.
Egyptian politicians have used such claims to portray the dam as a threat to national security, and have occasionally made ambiguous statements about the possibility of military action. For their part, the Ethiopian government sees the Gerd as a crucial developmental goal – a 6,000 megawatt source of surplus electricity that they could sell to foreign countries to boost their economy.
Last month, the saga took a fresh twist after the leak of a highly anticipated and hitherto suppressed report into the long-term effects of what would be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam. Written by two water experts from each of the three main countries concerned – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – as well as international advisers, the report was seen as a much needed means of arbitration between the parties concerned.
But for nearly a year the report's contents were a mystery. After its submission last April, publication was suppressed at the request of one of the countries involved, enabling all concerned to make whatever claims they liked about its contents.
That should have changed at the end of March, when a leaked version(pdf) was finally published by the International Rivers Network (IRN), an independent group that campaigns against dams across the world. But rather than clarifying the dam's impact once and for all, the report has become the latest pawn in a war of words between Egypt and Ethiopia.
IRN said it showed that "big questions remain" and called for a halt to the dam's construction. But Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said the group was "absolutely biased", and "part of the smear campaign organised by Egypt". In the meantime, the dam's construction continues apace.
The report is nuanced and complex, and does not try to quantify exactly the likely downstream effect of the dam on Egypt's water supply. But its 48 pages nonetheless contain alarming findings. If the dam's reservoirs are filled during years of average or above-average rainfall, says the report, the hydroelectric capacity of Egypt's downstream Aswan High dam (Had) – which provides about 15% of Egypt's power – could face a temporary 6% decrease. But if filled during years of below-average rainfall, the Gerd may "significantly impact on water supply to Egypt and cause the loss of power generation at Had for extended periods".
Among other criticisms, the report warns that the dam's foundations may need further structural support to protect against sliding. It also says Ethiopia has done little to assess the Gerd's effect on local people, ecosystems and biodiversity. Based on these findings, the IRN concludes that the report "confirms Egypt's concerns that the project's impacts could be significant", and calls for construction to cease pending better analysis.
Not all independent analysts share this view, however. According to Dr Ana Cascão, a researcher at the Stockholm International Water Institutewhose doctoral thesis analysed hydropolitics in the Nile basin, Egypt fought for the report to be kept secret. Cascão argues the study is largely optimistic about the Gerd's impacts – "and that's why Egypt was not happy for it to be released". It is critical about the dam's social and environmental impact, she says, "but otherwise – in terms of dam safety and even in terms of water going downstream – the report is quite positive".
This is because the Gerd may eventually help to reduce the build-up of sediment in downstream dams like the Had, increasing capacity. The Gerd will also help to keep the Nile's flow – which presently fluctuates according to the amount of rainfall, potentially causing problems for downstream farmers even in Egypt – constant throughout the year. In terms of structural safety, Sudan – the country most endangered by any catastrophe at the Gerd – is satisfied with its construction.
Egypt's interests may actually be aligned with Ethiopia's, since Ethiopia will ultimately want to see as much water flow through the Gerd as possible in order to maximise hydroelectric power. It is, says Cascão, Sudan's intentions that may instead cause the greatest long-term concern for Egypt. The Gerd would allow Sudan to siphon off more downstream water for farm irrigation, potentially allowing the republic to take more water from the Nile than allowed by an agreement signed with Egypt in 1959.
Sudan has achieved this leverage by engaging positively with the dam's construction; Egypt's only means of reaching a grand compromise may be through similar engagement.
But it may now be too late. According to the Ethiopian government, an army of 8,500 builders, working 24 hours a day, has already completed about 30% of the 1,800 sq km site.

02 April 2014

International Rivers Releases Leaked Copy of the IPE Report on Renaissance Dam

For those of you interested to read the IPE report, International Rivers Network, an environmental advocacy group out of California, released the leaked report today. This report is the one released just at the governmental level in May 2013. Out of respect for national interests, all three governments have kept this report out of public view since then.

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

Monday, March 31, 2014
GERD under construction in April 2013.
GERD under construction in April 2013.
Construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam(GERD) – Africa’s biggest hydropower dam – began based on piecemeal preliminary studies and design documents, with only a very basic analysis of how the project would affect downstream neighbors, according to the 2013 final report by an international panel of experts established to evaluate the scheme. The megadam is being built on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, near the Sudan border, and has created conflict with Egypt over its downstream impacts; the experts' study confirms Egypt’s concerns that the project’s impacts could be significant and are not well understood.
The Ethiopian government reported last year that the panel’s report “showed that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries”, while Egypt has repeatedly said the report calls for more analysis of downstream impacts. Because the report was not made public, neither side could be vetted. Egypt has called for mediation if further studies are not allowed; at this writing, Ethiopia had refused, and was continuing with dam construction. 
In March 2014, International Rivers received a leaked copy of the report.  The report documents numerous problems with existing analysis and a lack of analysis on a number of critical issues. The panel recommends further investigation into the dam’s hydrological impacts, including on downstream countries’ water supplies and power generation; risks from climate change, and geotechnical issues. The panel recommends “a full transboundary environmental and social impact assessment … conducted jointly by the three countries.”
The 10-member panel included two members from each of the three riparians (Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan), plus four international experts agreed upon by the governments. A geotechnical expert group was added later. The main panel met for about a year, and had four field visits to the dam site. While the panel's members were granted access to many key project documents (all of which remain confidential at this time), some key reports were not shared with them, including the critical geotechnical assessments for the main and saddle dams, and project cost-benefit analyses. 
One international dam expert who has seen the report states that it shows that construction on the project is proceeding on “an aggressively accelerated schedule” with little room for adjusting key elements of dam design to reduce harm or prevent problems. A number of key studies for the project are described by the panel as being outdated or in process. While references are made to some specific international standards being adhered to, overall, the process described seems chaotic and incomplete. It is also clear that there is precious little oversight on Africa’s largest dam project to date. While the international panel has brought a type of oversight, it may be too little, too late – and with too little teeth; it seems the panel does not have a continuing role in ensuring best practices as construction proceeds.
The panel’s report is almost a year old at this writing, yet its members have been mostly silent since their report was completed (as far as we know, none of the panelists have made public statements about the project). The Egyptian and Ethiopian governments continue the war of words, while at the same time construction on the megadam proceeds, and questions raised by the panel remain unanswered. 
Going forward, International Rivers recommends construction on the project be halteduntil all necessary studies recommended by the panel are completed, and a process is in place for ensuring public accountability on the project. Given the panel's findings, Egypt’s call for mediation in the process is reasonable, and donor governments and international bodies should support such a process.
The following summarizes some of the panel’s key findings and recommendations: 

  • 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.”

01 April 2014

IPE Report Part 2: What is the international panel of experts report on the grand ethiopian renaissance dam and what does it say?

I was sent the International Panel of Experts Report on Friday. What I received is just the report itself, though the text indicates that the official document has a number of appendices, presumably some of the official documents used to write the report. I do not have these. I decided to send the report to a few trusted colleagues who could provide me feedback in their areas of expertise - I include our general ideas below.

First of all - what is the report? The report is an assessment written about documents and plans pertaining to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. It was released in May 2013 - but only to the officials in the countries of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. This document is presumably the basis by which the tripartite meetings moved forward in the fall of 2013.

People following debates on the Nile are curious as to the findings of the tripartite group of experts. The experts are people that poured over the Ethiopian dam documents, familiarized with the policies and legal aspects of the dam, the geotechnical aspects, the structure, the economics, and wrote about their opinion of the project. Here is what I could glean from the report about the process:

The IPE did not do their own research - what this means is that their data input is only as good as the existing documents provide. It does not new information about the dam and its impacts - both benefits and costs to economics, regional stability, local communities, ecosystems, the river hydrology, etc. The Ethiopian government provided documents on several occasions, sponsored a few trips to the dam site, and did not provide documents in some cases. This IPE report serves as a gut check to the Ethiopian documents and processes. One of the colleagues I sent the report to stated that this process serves as a sort of peer review process done with other projects of this magnitude - esp. when dealing with other countries that will be impacted by change to a shared river. That the IPE report exists is a good thing. The report itself misses a few key points and makes a few key points which I will highlight.

Why has this report been kept secret? I am not sure entirely. There is nothing new or earth shattering contained in the IPE assessment. In fact, I saw many of the same exact documents that the experts were permitted to see. The IPE does highlight that some reports need updating, further analysis, more information. The IPE was not permitted or had limited access to some reports/documents.

Another colleague asked why I thought Egypt had not released the report before now? What is the motivation for secrecy? Ethiopian government is pretty clear why they are keeping their project under wraps. Expediency may be one reason. The Ethiopians would like this project to commission as soon as possible. The more people involved, the more lengthy and complicated the process. Sudan is keeping quiet all around. They are in a tight spot - two bordering neighbors, 25 years of conflict sapped resources, immediate downstream benefits once the Renaissance Dam is complete. Egypt being quiet? Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Ethiopia did conduct so much work on reports, due diligence, or with their own plans to develop water projects from Lake Nasser to the desert. Maybe there is no interest to turn the spotlight on things like Lake Nasser because of a want for transparency.

Sometimes somethings are just state secrets. This is a big national project.

What did the experts highlight? This report is now about a year old - so presumably, some of the issues highlighted by the IPE have been addressed. There are some technical issues with the structure itself. My colleague, who knows more about dam structure than I do, indicated that these are the simplest challenges. The Ethiopian government told me more than once that they are open to technical modifications for the dam. I imagine, if anything, this was helpful for the Ethiopian government. Some of what is being decided upon at the dam is in the hands of consultants hired from abroad. EEPCO is managing and overseeing, but the lead engineer, Semegnew Bekele, drops in unannounced constantly in order to keep everyone on their toes - and to make sure things are going as planned. Having another set or sets of eyes on design is always a good thing. There are issues with the spillway, the saddle dam. These are all fixable given time and money.

There are some questions about the flow and evaporation rates. The hydrological information is a matter of data availability. My colleague pointed out that normally two hydrologists will not agree on the frequency of flood events. Take, for example, all the recent flood events in North America and Europe where lots of water infrastructure exists, based on flood projections.

I was asked to review a paper that has not yet been published that covers different forecasts of reservoir filling using a model - and data that they input with large assumptions. Although I understand the need for these forecasts, they are not that useful in my opinion. In this case especially - we don't have the data to input in the first place. When I spoke with people at the Ministry of Water and Energy in Ethiopia they told me that they can't collect the data as the equipment installed isn't functioning - also the infrastructure that exists in some other countries - good roads to get to remote river stretches or populations able to read and relay data to offices in the city, do not exist, nor do the funds to fix equipment and supply gas to cars making a weekly or monthly trip to the river or the tributaries. So, although records state that Ethiopia has flow gauges on the tributaries of or on the mainstream Blue Nile River, the actual data collection is not and has not been happening. What about rain gauges to track precipitation? Runoff? The story is the same. My colleague who is more versed in hydro-models explained that using assumed numbers is something engineers do, but with such a mega project more careful consideration is necessary to be able to predict future flow trends, filling, dry season, electricity generation. So, if there is not good data to being with - what are we predicting with these models?

The report does not take global climate change into account and only touches briefly upon sediment flows. The Blue Nile River is highly reactive to the precipitation patterns in the highlands. If, for reasons of climate change, these patterns should change, the reservoir and dam functioning would be impacted. Ditto for sedimentation issues - the dam really should have some sediment traps built at the bottom - these are trap doors at the bottom of the dam structure that allow for sediment movement - not the dead storage volume space for silt depostion - I saw this design on the Xayaburi Dam in Laos - I don't know if it works. Even if the Ethiopian government could come up with as aggressive plan for soil conservation as they have been able to do to get this dam going - the soils are old and will continue to erode into the river with every rainy season. Step one - address holistic, watershed wide, federal program for soil conservation. Step two - address what to do with the sediment storage that will inevitably shorten the life of the dam. As for climate change? There are some predictions out there for East Africa - I think one can start there and make some informed suggestions for scenarios and how to prepare?

A colleague highlighted this statement from the report: "the dam height was determined on technical criteria...does not consider environmental and socio-economic impacts downstream" - or I'd argue, upstream for that matter. The most important aspects of the documents for the experts have to do with the flow, the feasibility, the structure, the water quality. The experts do not explore the ecosystem impacts, the socio-cultural impacts downstream - probably because this information is still unavailable. The IPE is not concerned with Ethiopia's own people so much either - as mentioned in other posts, the Ethiopian government is making plans for those to be relocated. To be honest though, in everything I have read about dams in the past few years, there has never been a fully successful relocation of riverine communities due to dam projects. Whatever the World Bank says it does or the Asian Development Bank or whoever, people lose. River people know how to live on the river, their lives are in the river, around the river, based on the river. Take the river away, or take the people away from the river, it is like taking an arm and a leg from people in the communities. At least with many of the adults. Kids will adapt, but whether the culture can survive is unknown.

Stay tuned for further assessment shortly...