Meetings end without consensus on filling reservoir at 6,000-MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Talks at the 17th Annual Tripartite National Technical Committee negotiations, recently held in Egypt, ended without an agreement on rules for filling the reservoir at the 6,000-MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and using flow to generate power.

On Nov. 12 in Cairo, irrigation ministers from three Nile River Basin countries — Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan — held discussions that centered around how, in terms of length of time, Ethiopia would fill GERD’s reservoir and how much Blue Nile River flow it would use to generate power once the project is online.

State-owned Ethiopian Electric Power will operate the facility. No announcement was immediately made for a date when all three nations will meet again to discuss issues related to the plant’s operation. But, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn are scheduled to meet in Cairo sometime in December to discuss the current deadlock, according to a report in Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram.

The tripartite meetings aimed to reach a consensus on the technical findings contained in a preliminary report on GERD’s potential effect on Egypt and Sudan, according to a report published in Egypt Today.

In January 2016, HydroWorld.com reported the tripartite selected French engineering consultants BRL Group and Artelia to begin performing technical studies on the project.

Prior to Ethiopia moving forward with filling the reservoir, the tripartite is required to reach an agreement on filling methods, based on study results.

On March 23, 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn signed the Tripartite Declaration of Principles on GERD in Khartoum, Sudan, which lists the requirement for agreement.

If no agreement takes place between the three countries, Sudan and Egypt would consider Ethiopia’s next step in violation of the agreement.

The project is anticipated to cost about US$5 billion and will be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa.

GERD and its hydroelectric project are located 700 km northeast of the capital city Addis Abeba, in the Benishangul—Gumaz region of Ethiopia, along the Blue Nile River, about 40 km from the Sudan border.

When it is completed, the dam’s concrete volume of 10.2 million m3 will be the largest roller compacted concrete volume dam in the world. Its reservoir of 70 km3 will be comparable to those of Bennett (Canada) and Kraskoyarsk (Russia).

Downstream countries, particularly Egypt, have expressed concern they will suffer water shortages as the project’s reservoir is being filled. The Blue Nile accounts for 85% of the Nile River’s flow.

Egypt’s concerns include negative effects GERD could likely have on its historic Nile water share, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters in Egypt only, in accordance with the 1959 agreement with Sudan.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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