Egypt details technical fallacies as Ethiopia completes two GERD bottom outlets

Amr Kandil , Tuesday 20 Apr 2021

A bottom outlet is a lower opening at a dam’s reservoir that allows for water outflow. At the GERD, they are designed to provide a release of water into the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan

A general view of the the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia (Photo: AFP)

The Egyptian irrigation ministry detailed on Monday technical fallacies, related to Ethiopia’s recent announcement, on completing and operating two bottom outlets at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

A bottom outlet is a lower opening at a dam’s reservoir and it is responsible for allowing water outflow. At the GERD, they are designed to provide a release of water into the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan.

Opening the bottom outlets occurs in preparation for drying and elevating the middle part of the dam. This takes place in order to implement the second stage of the GERD filling, the Egyptian ministry said in a statement.

Bottom outlets, water flow

On Sunday, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water Seleshi Bekele said that the two bottom outlets at the GERD “have [the] capacity of passing the entire annual Abbay (meaning Blue Nile) flow in a year,” a claim that Egypt denied in the statement.

Ethiopia's “claim” that the two bottom outlets are capable of passing the average flow of the Blue Nile is incorrect, the ministry said.

The ministry noted that the current flow capacity of each of the two outlets do not exceed 50 million cubic metres per day, which is below average and insufficient for the needs of the two downstream countries.

With this year's second filling of the dam and by retaining a large amount of water, in accordance to Ethiopia's plans, “[this] will significantly harm the river system,” added the ministry.

It explained that the two bottom outlets, which fall short in discharging sufficient water, will be controlling the whole amount of the water flowing out from the GERD.

“The situation will be more complicated starting from the [next] raining season (next July),” the ministry said.

The bottom outlets will discharge less water than usual in July and August as their maximum outflow capacity is estimated at three billion cubic metres per month, assuming that the water level in the reservoir is brought to 595 metres.

“This means the two downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt will suffer in the event of a medium flood and [that] the situation will worsen in the event of a low flood,” read the statement.

The statement also said that this point highlights the necessity for reaching a legally-binding agreement that includes a clear coordination mechanism.

Egypt in both 2012 and 2015 called for increasing the number of these bottom outlets and offered to bear the expenses, the statement said, noting that Ethiopia had claimed that the number of outlets are sufficient and can be operated continuously in the event of a power outage.

Electricity, political gain

According to the Egyptian statement, the GERD is not ready to generate the amount of electricity that Ethiopia plans for it to.

This comes as the upstream country plans to soon test two of the dam's turbines. The initial two turbines were scheduled to start generating 750 megawatts each in the December of last year.

“The Ethiopian side was supposed to, during the first filling, generate electricity through two turbines. However, it implemented the first filling and stored water without generating electricity,” the Egyptian statement read.

“This affirms that the first filling was carried out for media and political reasons not [for] technical ones,” the statement added.

The ministry said that the GERD's 13 turbines are currently not ready for operation and therefore, the generation of the amount of electricity planned and promoted by the Ethiopian side is inapplicable.

“There is a strong link between the preparedness of the turbines for generating [electricity] and the amount of stored water,” the ministry said. “The Ethiopian side is racing against time to impose a fait accompli on the two downstream countries, through filling the dam’s lake for the second year, despite the dam not being ready to generate the planned electricity,” added the ministry.

The ministry also warned of technical problems that are likely to take place during the experimental operation of the bottom outlets, adding that the turbines will significantly affect water flow to Egypt and Sudan.

“Technical problems are known to take place during the experimental operation of these bottom outlets and initial turbines (two turbines), which will significantly affect the flow of water to the downstream countries,” the ministry said. “That’s in [the] case that the Ethiopian side could operate them,” it added.

Meeting international standards?

The Egyptian statement also denied Ethiopian remarks claiming that the massive dam is constructed in accordance to international specifications, saying in their statement that “Ethiopia is building the dam in an incorrect way”.

Egypt cited changes in the GERD’s saddle dam, altering the level of the turbines’ outlets and removing three dam turbines after they were installed as proof for the dam's incorrect construction manner.

The ministry also mentioned the reduction of the number of turbines from 16 to 13, removing the metal parts of the bottom outlets and reinstalling them while not pouring concrete into the dam's parts in an equal manner, which raised suspicions of corruption and caused the project to stop several times.

Concluding the statement, the ministry warned that Ethiopia’s implementation of the second dam filling, without an agreement on the filling and operation of the dam, “is a continuation of the adopted approach to impose a fait accompli through taking unilateral actions.”

The ministry said these unilateral actions “will cause harm to the two downstream countries due to the absence of a clear coordination mechanism among the three countries within the framework of a fair, binding legal agreement.”

The statement comes a day after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asserted that Ethiopia intends no harm to the lower riparian countries and reiterated his country’s plan to implement the second filling in July/August.

The Ethiopian plan comes amid Egypt and Sudan's rejection of filling the dam unilaterally before a binding agreement is reached.

Both countries have resorted to the United Nations Security Council, seeking the international community’s involvement to advance the stalled GERD talks and contribute to reaching an agreement.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi also took a hard line on Ethiopia over the past month, warning Ethiopia in early April against “infringing upon even a drop of Egypt's water because all options are open.” 

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