Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our Kellie Floyd makes this connection here…

The article entitled “Syrian Insurgents Claim to Control Large Hydropower Dam” was written by Hwaida Saad and Rick Gladstone of The New York Times, posted in their February 11, 2013 online news. This piece of news relates the WRE domain of hydraulics and the common issue of the struggle for power over distribution of water resources. In this case, the Tabqa Dam—Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam—has just been taken over by the rebel forces, who will now be able to divert power to areas they are in control of, and deny power to certain areas. Control of this dam also means control over the reservoir created by the dam, Lake Assad, which is responsible for providing irrigation for nearby farms and drinking water to Aleppo—one of the contested cities that depends on the dam for electricity as well.  The Tabqa Dam is considered a “potent weapon in the battle for allegiance” in the current Syrian conflict. I believe that the article is accurately stressing how much of an effect this could have in the conflict, and accurately portraying the large role that dams serve in society—generating electricity, providing irrigation and drinking water, and preventing disastrous floods. Dams are able to reduce the natural variability in water quantity, ensuring an available supply of water by storing water when possible, which can then be distributed. The International Commission on Large Dams stresses the significant role of dams in societies, and their many purposes. The Pacific Institute’s website “The World’s Water” has a section on “Water Conflict”, complete with a chronological list of historical water conflicts, which shows that throughout history, control of water resources is a huge part of many conflicts and can seriously impact the way a conflict proceeds, as those with control of water resources hold power over those who lack the control.

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Figure 1 – Map showing location of Tabqa Dam in Syria

Within water resources engineering, the management of water resources can have an economic, societal, political, and environmental impact.  The conflict over control over a large hydroelectric dam—the Tabqa Dam in this story—can be seen to have a political impact, as the power gained over the dam translates to political power, as well as a societal impact, since the dam provides power and water to societies nearby and any change in the distribution of the electricity or water could seriously change those societies. How the neighboring societies view each other as maybe one gets access to more water/power than another, and how these societies function, could change as a result of this takeover.  There is also a possibility for economic impact; the generation and distribution of electricity, as well as the generation and selling of food from crops that depend on irrigation from this dam’s reservoir, are both parts of Syria’s economy.  The potential environmental impact would come from irresponsible control of this dam and reservoir. Conflict over water resources always has, and will continue to be, a part of our history. Because water resources are so important, and control over them can allow influence in so many ways, such as economically, politically, and environmentally, this is not surprising.

Figure 2 - Insurgents claiming control of Tabqa Dam.

Figure 2 – Insurgents claiming control of Tabqa Dam.

References

Gleick, Peter. “The World’s Water.” Pacific Institute, Nov. 2009. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://www.worldwater.org/conflict/index.html&gt;.

“Role of Dams.” International Commission on Large Dams, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://www.icold-cigb.org/GB/Dams/Role_of_Dams.asp&gt;.

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