This weblog updates my article "Saddam's Damn Dam [i.e., The Mosul Dam], published today.
(1) To begin with, information from a recent discussion of the Mosul Dam by Amanda Ellison of the US Army Corps of Engineers in Water Power Magazine:
Nov. 30, 2007 update: Alexandra Wynne provides more details in New Civil Engineer about the report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Stuart W Bowen Jr, to Congress. Bowen
said the $27M (18.4M) reconstruction project on the Mosul Dam – the country's largest – has lacked any "significant progress", two years after it began. ... The US government is funding the project to improve basic grouting facilities needed to tackle problems with the dam foundation, while the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources seeks a longer-term solution.
The document said improvements to concrete-mixing units had not been completed: "Three mixing plants currently provide no usable benefit to the ministry. Because the contract required delivery of five grout-mixing plants by July 2006, the massive grouting and enhance grouting programmes are now more than one year behind schedule." The dangerous security situation in Iraq hampered the SIGIR inspection team and meant it could only conduct site visits for three hours at a time – it made two of these in September.
The day before the quarterly report, the Office of SIGIR published Relief and Reconstruction Funded Work at Mosul Dam, Mosul, Iraq. The report cites a letter sent in May to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki from the US ambassador in Baghdad warning that an instantaneous failure of the dam when at its maximum operating level would be catastrophic.
An extract of that urgent letter from both David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. commanding general and ambassador in Iraq, respectively, to Maliki: the dam was constructed on "a foundation of soluble soils that are continuously dissolving, resulting in the formation of cavities and voids underground that place the dam at risk for failure."
Dec. 17, 2007 update: A truck bomb has blown up about 1 kilometer away from the Mosul Dam, killing one policeman, injuring a second, and damaging a section of the main access bridge connecting the dam's two shores, announced Brigadier-General Abdul-Kareem al-Jubouri, the commander of police operations in northern Nineveh province. According to Reuters, "Jubouri said the bomber parked his truck near the bridge, telling police that it had broken down and that he need to fetch a tow truck. Shortly after he left the scene it detonated."
Security officials say scores of armed men have entered the Province of Nineveh with orders to detonate Mosul Dam. ... "Some 250 armed men have entered Nineveh Province with the aim of detonating the Mosul Dam," one source said. Another source said information was based on intelligence tips passed to provincial authorities recently. "The men were trained in Pakistan," the source added. ... The government is reported to have sent more reinforcements to the area.
Comments: (1) What was the purpose of this exercise? A shot across the bow, an announcement of intentions? But why give a warning?
(2) Given the parlous state of the Mosul Dam, as I detailed in a recent column this news is particularly menacing. At a time when the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds the current probability of failure to be "exceptionally high," the U.S. government is setting itself up for a massive coup of bad publicity by closely associating with a potential disaster waiting to happen.
(3) If it's high time to make it clear to all concerned that the Mosul Dam is an Iraqi problem, not an American one, that is not at all the trend. On Nov. 29, the U.S. Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment announced it had contracted Versar Inc. to repair Mosul Dam for $320,000 by engaging in an "enhanced grouting" program with geotechnical support. This political mistake could do immense and lasting damage to the American reputation worldwide.
Dec. 18, 2007 update: Some additional details on the bombing, from a Los Angeles Times report:
Syrian trucks coming from the northern Iraqi border use the bridge to transport gasoline and other goods, locals said. U.S. forces and Iraqi security forces also use the bridge. Witnesses said the bomber left the truck on the bridge, pretending it broke down. Police at a checkpoint were suspicious and went to check his documents. As the man proceeded to another checkpoint the bomb went off. Police arrested him, according to reports from the scene.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling , commander of Multi-National Division - North.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling , commander of Multi-National Division - North.
"You know, there are going to be continued spectacular attacks," he said when asked about the bombing of a bridge across Mosul dam on Monday. ... "We have some intelligence that says it was part of a bigger plot. There is some intelligence that they may have wanted to cut off that side of the river to make safe havens," Hertling said. "There are some indications that they wanted to close that route because it is used by coalition forces." Hertling added: "I personally think it is an additional indicator that these people who are trying to disrupt the people of Iraq will do anything to screw up the people of Iraq."
Feb. 20, 2008 update: Khidhr Domle paraphrases Nineveh Deputy Governor Khasraw Goran in the Kurdish Globe on the possibility of the Mosul Dam's collapse. Goran considers this to have become
a serious problem. He said a conference was held in Istanbul with the participation of the Iraqi Minister of Water Recourses, an advisor representing the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Nineveh Deputy, and a number of academics. Conference members concluded that repairing the dam would take three to four years as well as an allocation of $1 million (USD).
Comment: $1 million sounds a bit on the cheap side to me.
May 1, 2008 update: The International Medical Corps (which calls itself "a global, humanitarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training and relief and development programs") is engaged in a multi-month initiative "to draw up a crisis plan for the Mosul dam."
Oct. 19, 2008 update: An elusive news report, "Water resources: filling of al-Mosul dam about to end," translated from As-Sabah newspaper (I could not locate the original) reads in full as follows:
Works of filling al-Mosul dam with cement materials are about to end within its punctuated dates implemented by private cadres of the State Directorate of Dams and Treasures at Water Resources Ministry. The cadres are round-the-clock working to ensure that the dam not be fall down due to the continuous looseness of its bases. The financial allocations reached to ID14 billions [=US$12.1 million] for the current year, while the directorate cadres had ended the first and second phases of geophysics surveys in the region with ID300 millions [=US$260,000].
Dec. 22, 2008 update: Dams break not just in Gaza but also in the United States. The breach took place at an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre retention pond used by the Tennessee Valley Authority, "releasing a frigid mix of water and ash that flooded as many as 10 homes and put hundreds of acres of rural land under water."
Mar. 12, 2009 update: In a paper prepared for the Thirteenth International Water Technology Conference in Hurghada, Egypt, two professors at Mosul University prepared a paper titled "Simulation: Tigris River Flood Wave in Mosul City Due to a Hypothetical Mosul Dam Break" that looks at various outcomes should Mosul Dam experience a catstrophic collapse. The authors, Thair M. Al-Taiee and Anass M. M. Rasheed, explain that they chose to analyse this particular dam because of its defects since going online in 1986. "The objectives of the present research were to predict the characteristics of the flood wave due to a hypothetical Mosul Dam break and to estimate damaged areas downstream, specially in Mosul city."
The authors ran five different scenarios to simulate dam failure. At the high end, it found the most severe flooding would entail:
- A volume of 207,632 meters cubed/second;
- An average velocity of 3.5 meters per second or 12.6 kilometers per hour;
- A high water mark of 25.3 meters above the Tigris River bed within 9 hours after the dam failed;
- A flooded area between the dam and Mosul of 252 square kilometers;
- An inundated area covering about 54% of Mosul city.
Comment: Imagine a wall of water 25 meters high; and if that is too awful, the least severe scenario posits a wall of water half that high.
Flood depth map of the Tigris River above and at Mosul city in the most severe scenario of the Mosul Dam failing.
June 4, 2009 update: In a rare news report to acknowledge the fragility of the Mosul Dam, Heath Druzin of Stars and Stripes writes that "Forces put aside differences to protect vital dam: Iraqi, Kurdish troops to work together to secure structure."
Commanders with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga, two forces often at odds in northern Iraq, have come to an agreement on sharing responsibilities for the protection of a vital dam outside Mosul in Ninevah province, according to the U.S. military. "Over the past few days, leaders from the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army came together in a joint effort to ease tensions and develop a peaceful solution," said Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, deputy commanding general of Multi-National Division—North.
Brown believes that the dam agreement has larger implications: "Two days ago there was a temporary solution, but through a joint effort, and extensive communication, it has evolved into a permanent solution that could become the model for the rest of Iraq with regards to solving provincial issues in the disputed areas. What has occurred is a true success."
The Mosul Dam.
The Mosul Dam.
The Iraqi water authorities warned that the Mosul Dam, which is one of the largest Iraqi dams, may collapse. These concerns that the dam may collapse started a few years ago when officials discovered deterioration in many walls of Iraqi dams, most importantly in the Mosul Dam as well as the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River. Also, Samara Dam on the Tigris River has similar problems.
The report then reiterates the usual fears of what a collapse would mean for Mosul city, Baghdad, and all Iraq. Then, more surprisingly, we learn that something may be done about the looming disaster:
The Ministry of Water announced that it will conduct wide-scale renovation projects for the dam to prevent a real catastrophe from taking place due to possibilities that the Mosul Dam will collapse. The Minister of Water Resources, Abdul Latif Jamal, announced that iron walls are being built at the bottom of the dam's foundation. The ministry reiterated that Iraqi technical teams continue to strengthen the dam. An iron wall, that is more than 200 meters, is being built at the bottom of the dam. This wall is supposed to prevent water leakage and stop the deterioration of the dam's foundation. The Ministry of Water Resources also said that it has contacted international water experts in hopes of receiving special proposals and ideas for renovating Iraqi dams as well as practical solutions to prevent deterioration.
July 14, 2009 update: Perhaps the danger of collapse will be obviated by a lack of water? According to a report by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times today,
The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq's neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago.
Sep. 26, 2009 update: A review of news on Al-Jazeera reports that something is actually happening at the damn dam:
Concerns regarding the stability of the Mosul dam (in addition to several others in Iraq) surfaced years ago, and after initial denials and reassurances by local authorities, the Iraqi government acknowledged that the dam is indeed threatened and requires continuous work to protect its foundations. Local engineers familiar with the dam (originally called "Saddam's Dam") state that the project suffered design flaws from the outset, requiring periodic injection of concrete into its foundations. The relative lack of maintenance during the years of the sanctions and after the US invasion may have compounded the problem and threatened the structure further.
Al-Jazeera quoted the Minister of water resources who announced that a 200 meter long concrete barrier will be built under the structure's foundations, and that work is ongoing on the project. In addition, the Ministry said that it has contacted "international experts" to provide suggestions on the maintenance and upgrade of Iraq's dams.
Oct. 1, 2009 update: A snippet from an article on "A Precarious Peace in Northern Iraq" by Quil Lawrence conveys the precariousness of the current situation there:
In May the guns were drawn again when Maliki sent an urgent mission to secure the aging Mosul Dam, which was one car bomb away from unleashing a torrent that would drown the city. He chose to ignore that the peshmerga had been guarding the dam for nearly six years to forestall just such a disaster. US military observers again smoothed things over, and arranged for joint protection of the dam (the ice was broken nicely when the army realized they had set up no supply lines, and the peshmerga began providing them with food and water).
Oct. 3, 2009 update: Lawrence takes another cut at the same subject, this time in the context of Arab-Kurd joint patrols in northern Iraq:
The largest hydroelectric dam in Iraq is north of the city of Mosul, holding back a trillion gallons of water. Earlier this year, the government in Baghdad sounded the alarm after it realized that no government forces were guarding the aging dam. A single car bomb there could unleash a flood that might kill 500,000 people in Mosul and other cities on the Tigris River.
Army Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, who commands U.S. forces in the province around Mosul, says the government was ignoring the fact that the dam has been guarded for years by Kurdish defense forces, known as peshmerga. The Kurdish forces had recognized the vulnerability of the dam and began guarding it in 2004. "The central government in Baghdad said, 'Hey, get the Iraqi army up there!' " Brown says.
When troops from the mostly Arab Iraqi army reached the dam, they walked into a standoff with the Kurdish peshmerga. "Both sides think the worst — the peshmerga are thinking they're going to kick us out, and the army thinking the peshmerga aren't going to leave," Brown says. It was not the first time that Kurds and Arabs have nearly come to blows. But Brown says the Mosul dam has turned into a positive example.
With some help from the Americans, the Kurdish and Iraqi army forces started protecting the dam together. In fact, when the Iraqi army troops arrived, Iraqi officers soon realized they hadn't arranged for supplies, and the Kurdish soldiers ended up providing them with food and water.
Last week, Brown visited the Mosul dam, which is now protected by about 450 Kurdish peshmerga and the same number of Iraqi army soldiers. He formally thanked the peshmerga for protecting the dam over the past five years and handed out commendations. But almost no Iraqi Arab troops turned up for the ceremony. The Iraqi army commander in the province, Gen. Hassan Abbas, canceled at the last minute.
July 31, 2010 update: In an unusual statement by Ministry of Electricity's the ministry's information officer, Musaeb al-Mudaress, that the dam "cannot be filled with more than 40% of its capacity" of 11 billion cubic meters of water. Its hydro-electricity power plants used to produce around 320 steady megawatts but now they produce less than 100 erratic megawatts. Khayoun Saleh writes in "Iraq's largest dam loses 60% of its water reserves," for Az-Zaman, that this drastic decline "is catastrophic to Iraqi agriculture since the water reserves were essential to farmers cultivating land on both sides of the River Tigris."
Why the decline? Saleh explains: not due to lowering water levels from the Tigris but due to erosion of its foundations. The reduction is "necessary to preserve its shaky foundations and prevent its failure which is bound to inundate major cities including Mosul and Baghdad if it bursts at full capacity."
Sep. 1, 2010 update: Iraq's minister of water resources Jamal Rashid said that cracks in the Mosul dam cause a loss of half a million dollars per year and causes electricity problem in the country. Therefore, his ministry is offering tenders to treat the cracks.
Nov. 4, 2011 update: Could the Iraqi government be prepared seriously to address Mosul Dam's infrastructural problems? It appears so, judging by the amount of money involved:
German construction and engineering company Bauer said it signed a letter of understanding on a $2.6 billion contract to refurbish a dam in Iraq. ... The project, the company's biggest ever, is scheduled to take about six years to complete It will involve Bauer building a cut-off wall to seal the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. The ground beneath the 3.6 kilometre-long dam has become increasingly water-permeable.
Comment: Curious that the U.S. government punted on this issue and the Iraqi government has taken responsibility for it. Good for the Iraqis – and lucky for the Americans, who would get the blame for a catastrophe.
Dec. 25, 2011 update: For an aerial view of the dam and its lake, click here.
Screen grab from an aerial video of the Mosul Dam and its lake.
Apr. 2, 2012 update: A series of foreign sources have reported on growing dangers to the Mosul Dam:
- Hermes magazine of Germany's in 2011 published reports that the concrete base on the right hand side of the dam may collapse in 2012 if not attended to immediately.
- The Daily Telegraph (London) reported in detail about increasing cracks and warned of its imminent collapse,
- A Japanese organization pointed to delayed maintenance of the dam and warned of the presence of a high proportion of salt and phosphate in the foundations of the dam causing cracks in the foundation that increase the possibility of a collapse.
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources today denied the problem. Ali Hashem, general director of the ministry's projects department said: "The reports obtained by the ministry confirm the absence of any fears from the collapse of the dam, and the reports that foreign and local media mentioned are inaccurate." Hashem said the ministry is working on an ongoing basis to repair and rehabilitate the dam. Government statistics indicate that this maintenance costs about US$500 million a year.
Apr. 15, 2012 update: Issa Elias, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Sven Knutsson of the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden have published a study on "The effect of operation of Mosul dam on sediment transport in its reservoir Publication."
June 17, 2012 update: In an alarming statement, a geologist named Walid Satee has declared that, at a meeting with engineers and geologists, it was found that "Mosul Dam will collapse within a period that doesn't exceed this month." Satee noted the urgent need to discharge water from the dam "to prevent the occurrence of cracks that would lead to explosions inside its structure," adding that a team of engineers and specialists has been formed which will start to empty water from the dam "and guide it to the southern marshes of Iraq." Should a collapse take place, he went on, "Mosul will sink. The flood waters that will result from the collapse of the dam will reach the capital [of Baghdad] within three days."
In contrast, Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources rejected as "completely untrue and groundless" the predictions of an imminent collapse and asserted that "the dam situation currently is very safe, well-functioning and the maintenance and perpetuation work of the dam is continuing."
Comments: (1) Let us hope the ministry is right and Satee is wrong. (2) How fortunate that U.S. forces are gone from Iraq and, should things go terribly wrong, it will not be seen as an American responsibility. Or will it?
June 27, 2012 update: Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, the director general of the Mosul Dam, said that talk of the dam collapsing is "groundless" and "mere rumor that aims to confuse the situation in the province." Rather, he asserted, "The situation in the dam is safe and it is better than the previous condition due to the continuous works of grouting and injection for the dam's base which started to improve after 2006. ... "We do not have any concerns about the dam's collapse."
July 16, 2012 update: More words of comfort from Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources, though some huge caveats. Minister of Water Resources Muhannad al-Saadi told Shafaq News (with mild English-language editing by me) during a visit to Mosul that "developments at the dam are very reassuring; sustaining and maintenance work is continuing and because of it, there is no fear of collapse."
But then he added several eyebrow-raising points:
- "We are afraid of earthquakes in the region that may occur and lead to the dam's collapse, because these are outside the framework of principles and designs on which the dam was built."
- "There's no fear at all that the dam will collapse for a period of at least twenty years."
- "The cabinet formed a cell crisis a month ago, during a meeting of the National Security Council, which includes relevant ministries and which coordinates the ministries of defense, interior, intelligence and civil defense in the province; they will take appropriate action if the dam collapses."
Comments: (1) That the dam was built without heed to earthquakes confirms how poorly it was constructed. Those responsible for the building of this structure should, at no cost to the Iraqi government, pull down the damn dam in an orderly way, before catastrophe strikes. (2) The good minister appears to be contradicting himself – either a quake can bring it down in the next twenty years or it cannot. (3) Once again, the dangers poised by the Mosul Dam appear not to be taken seriously enough.
Jan. 3, 2013 update: Something else to worry about: according to an analysis, "Sedimentation and New Operational Curves for Mosul Dam, Iraq," by Issa Issa, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Seven Knutsson of Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, the annual sedimentation rate in the reservoir behind the Mosul Dam is 0.59 percent. The authors conclude that this "suggests that the reservoir will be filled completely within 169 years." Well, it's something to worry about if the dam lasts that long.
Jan. 4, 2014 update: An unnamed Iraqi expert in dam construction told Shafaq News that he holds Saddam Hussein fully responsible should the Mosul Dam collapse because he was aware about the problem of its location but insisted on that current location for political reasons – to cut off Kurdish movement in the area. The engineer also recounted how Russian experts had been brought in to take a look and reported that the ground was not suitable because of its gypsum base, which gets eroded by water. This weak base has meant a need to pump liquid cement under and around the dam.
May 20, 2014 update: For some pictures of the Mosul Dam, click here.
June 10, 2014 update: The group called "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" captured Mosul yesterday from the Iraqi government. For a discussion of what this might mean for Iraq's waterworks, see my weblog entry, "Will ISIS Cause an Artificial Drought in Iraq?"
July 1, 2014 update: For the danger not of collapse but manipulation of the Mosul and other Iraqi dams, see a new weblog entry, "The Acute Danger of Iraqi Dams."
July 2, 2014 update: Keith Johnson has this to say about Mosul Dam in Foreign Policy:
Researchers say it could send as much as 50 million gallons of water per second crashing toward Mosul that would cover more than half the city under 25 meters of water within hours. Further down the Tigris River, Baghdad itself could be under 4 meters of water within three days. It would also wipe out more than 250 square kilometers of prime farmland.
"The only measure which can reasonably be taken to reduce the risk to downstream populations" is building another dam downstream, researchers concluded earlier this year. Construction started on the Badush Dam in the 1990s but never completed.
Mosul Dam's regular maintenance appears to continue uninterrupted by ISIS, said researchers at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden, who have studied the dam. The dam's manager declined to discuss the facility's state or the risks posed by ISIS.
July 4, 2014 update: An American who once worked at the Mosul Dam informs me that it has been directly threatened and an attempted low scale attack has proven to unsuccessful, so far.
He notes that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "has had on his desk the repair plans from Germany's Bauer Group for the Mosul Dam for 4 years and has done nothing to begin the process. I had access to the plans and know it was to be a huge project; plus, evaluation teams had already arrived. But when Maliki began consolidating power, progress stopped and things have remained at a standstill since 2010. The world should know that if the dam fails or is blown up, responsibility lies completely at the feet of Maliki."
On the other hand, my informant is optimistic about the Kurdistan Regional Government's growing reach: "The Mosul Dam lies completely within Kurdish territory and now that the KRG is on the move, it will benefit from protection by Kurdish security and might get fixed."
Aug. 8, 2014 update: Fox News discusses the dangers surrounding the Mosul Dam, especially the maintenance issue, in nearly six-minute segment.
Aug. 16, 2014 update: U.S. forces used jet fighters and armed drones to conduct nine airstrikes against ISIS yesterday at 5 p.m. local time with the apparent goal of seizing the Mosul Dam. According to Central Command, they destroyed or damaged 7 armed vehicles, 4 armored personnel carriers, 2 Humvees, and an armored vehicle.
Aug. 17, 2014 update: With U.S. air support, Kurdish and Iraqi governmental forces together partially have re-taken the Mosul Dam, in a first reversal for ISIS since its current rampage began in early June. The New York Times reports:
The American assaults hit 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint belonging to fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the United States Central Command said Sunday.
In the past two days, United States forces have conducted 30 airstrikes across Iraq, officials said, with many of them focused around the dam, which militants captured after routing the Kurdish forces 10 days ago. A statement from the National Security Council in Washington on Sunday said that the bombings were ordered by President Obama to help the Iraqi forces "retake and establish control over the Mosul Dam." ...
As of late Sunday, Kurdish government officials said fighting around the dam complex, Iraq's largest, was continuing, despite early reports that the site had been retaken. "We do not control the entire dam yet," said Fuad Hussein, a spokesman for Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish president, in a televised statement. ...
Kurdish officials acknowledge that the airstrikes have been vital to recent success in halting the militants' onslaught. For their part, pesh merga officials have complained bitterly about inferior arms compared with those used by the militants, who have claimed powerful American munitions abandoned on the battlefield by the Iraqi military. "The aircrafts have handicapped the ISIS forces — they cannot move easily," said Hariam Agha, a local commander of the Kurdish forces in Dohuk. "They killed a lot of their fighters." ...
Still, in Alqosh, at the military base where the operations to retake the dam originated, there was a decidedly optimistic attitude among the government fighters. Several offered to speak to reporters visiting the area, but only if they were not identified because they were not authorized to comment publicly. The soldiers boasted that the ISIS militants were retreating and spoke of an imminent victory at the dam as military vehicles passed in and out of the checkpoint area.
Officials also spoke confidently about the re-energized pesh merga forces. "There is some fighting in different places in the area, but the pesh merga has moved easily forward," said Duraid Hikmat Tobia, a minority affairs adviser to the governor of Nineveh Province. "The problem is the mines — they cannot move quickly because they are afraid to hit them." "Still," he added, "I think tonight or tomorrow the Mosul Dam will be controlled by the pesh merga."
Also today, Obama sent a letter to Congress concerning in which he justified the air strikes on Iraq:
On August 14, 2014, I authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam. These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site, as part of their ongoing campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace. Pursuant to this authorization, on the evening of August 15, 2014, U.S. military forces commenced targeted airstrike operations in Iraq.
Comment: (1) The White House acknowledges, all these years later, the danger that the Mosul Dam poses. (2) Shoddy but not suprising that Obama would focus on the U.S. embassy personnel to justify this major step.
Aug. 18, 2014 update: Obama announced the re-taking of Mosul Dam. The Kurds forces also announced full control of the dam and its surrounding facilities. In contrast, the Iraqi government only claimed to have "liberated a large part" of the dam, not the entire complex.
Dec. 9, 2015 update: A brief essay, "Geological and Engineering investigations of the most dangerous dam in the world," by Nathir Al-Ansari and three other authors offers some background:
After impounding in 1986, new seepage locations were recognized. Grouting operations continued and various studies were conducted to find suitable grout or technique to overcome this problem. The seepage due to the dissolution of gypsum and anhydrite beds raised a big concern about the safety of the dam and its possible failure. This problem was kept in a small closed circle within the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources (previously Ministry of Irrigation) till the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study on Mosul Dam for the period June, 2004 to July, 2006 and highlighted the possibility of the dam failure.
The problem was already known in 1984, when a company called Swiss Consultants worked out the scale of the potential catastrophe, as summarized in this table:
Should the Mosul Dam collapse: a summary of water volume, time of arrival, wave height, and distance
Comment: One is not surprised that the Saddam Hussein government hid this news; but Swiss Consultants? And why is this disaster still mostly unknown to Iraqis?
Dec. 10, 2015 update: Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is advising Australians not to travel to Iraq; one reason for this concerns the Mosul Dam's possible collapse:
The Government of Iraq has begun to take measures to improve the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam. It is currently impossible to predict if or when a dam failure might occur. A dam failure could cause significant flooding and interruption of essential services.
If you are in Iraq, particularly in areas near the Tigris River, including Baghdad, you should ensure that your contingency plan covers the need for you and your family to evacuate ahead of any rising waters. You should not expect the Australian Government to facilitate your departure should commercial options be unavailable. ... We continue to advise against travel to all of Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan.
Dec. 17, 2015 update: Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced on Dec. 15 the deployment of soldiers to protect the Mosul Dam from ISIS. "The appeal [to protect the dam] was made by an Italian company ... and we will send 450 of our men there to help protect it alongside the Americans." That Italian company is the Trevi Group, a specialist in the field of soil engineering, which won a $2 billion contract to do urgent repair work on the dam. Trevi explains the situation:
A first emergency intervention package is being finalizing with immediate start of the works and lasting 18 months. This represents the first stage of implementation of a permanent solution for the consolidation of the dam in the means and to the extent to which it has been intended for years.
The risks of a potential collapse of the dam are worsened given the lack of maintenance of the dam in recent years, and an intervention for the safety is more than ever necessary. ...
The presence of the Italian army (on the side of the Iraqi Army and international forces) is critical for the safety of the remediation works.
Jan. 10, 2016 update: The New York Times' story today, "Neglect May Do What ISIS Didn't: Breach Iraqi Dam," by Michael R. Gordon, has a much new information about the Mosul Dam:
- The dam is most imperiled in the spring, when the Tigris is swollen by rain and melting snow, and that is also when its collapse would do the most damage.
- The U.S. government has installed 92 monitors to assess the disintegrating gypsum base.
- Barack Obama has stressed to Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the need to make emergency repairs. Likewise the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr, stressed this point with Abadi.
- American officials have also called on Baghdad to warn the citizenry about the dam and where to find safe refuge in the case of a collapse.
- Over the years, around 600 Iraqis workers three times a day, six days a week drill holes in the gypsum base under the structure and fill them with a cement grout mixture in an attempt to prevent water from eroding the base.
- After ISIS forces briefly held the dam in August 2014, many workers stayed away and regular maintenance has not been kept up.
- While the Italian government planned to dispatched 450 of its troops already in Iraq to protect Italian workers at the dam, the head of Iraq's ministry of water resources, Moshin al-Shammari, has rejected this offer, with an aide saying "There is no need for Italian forces to protect the dam."
Jan. 11, 2016 update: Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in December 2015, reports the Daily Mail, that the Mosul Dam could cause a "civilian disaster.'
Jan. 28, 2016 update: In the aftermath of an American team's visit to the Mosul Dam and finding three gaps that need urgent work, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. general in Iraq, has warned of a "catastrophic" collapse and developed a contingency plan to move civilians to safety should this happen. He warned that "when [the dam] goes, it's going to go fast," adding: "If this dam was in the United States, we would have drained the lake behind it."
In response, Riyadh Izeddin, the director general of the dam, said he did not know about any contingency plan. "The Americans didn't tell us anything." Furthermore, displaying the typical official Iraqi indifference, he stated that "There is nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing seriously wrong with the dam."
Feb. 1, 2016 update: Muhsen al-Shammari, Iraq's minister of Water Resources minimized the fears of a dam collapse: "there is no problem in the dam that may lead to its collapse," he asserted. and the ministry is continuing its routine maintenance.
But non-governmental Iraqis are not convinced. Some members of parliament from the Mosul area accused the government of neglecting the dam, others called for an investigation into corruption in its maintenance, and a few even pointed to "a plan to drown Sunni areas." Some MPs want an emergency session to discuss issues surrounding a potential dam collapse and to planning for the worst.
Feb. 2, 2016 update: Iraqi officials and engineers are in full denial mode concerning the danger posed by the Mosul Dam. Some quotes:
- Naufal Hamoudi, the exiled-governor of Mosul province: "We told Baghdad there is no big threat and we asked for reconstructing some parts."
- Abdullah Taaqi, deputy manager of the Mosul Dam's electricity station: "I was only 20 when I first started working here and now my hair is turning all white. But the dam is exactly as it always was." He explained that some of the concerns might be due to technical issues. "The station is capable of producing 1,100 megawatts of electricity but due to technical issues now it only produces 750 megawatts. The threats they are talking about is due to the fact that water is only falling out only on one side, unlike before, when it poured down two sides."
- Jassm Mohammad, an engineer who has been working in the technical department of the dam for more than 15 years: "The problem they are talking about existed from day one" and is simple and easy to resolve.
- Karim Amedi, another engineer: "There is no threat of collapse."
Feb. 3, 2016 updates: (1) Italy's Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni confirmed yesterday that the Iraqi government and the Trevi Group, an Italian engineering firm, have reached a tentative agreement to provide a long-term solution to the Mosul Dam's problems; according to Keith Johnson and C.K. Hickey of Foreign Policy, however, "the tricky repairs needed to prevent a catastrophic failure ... could potentially make a bad situation even worse."
Calling the nearly 100,000 tons of grout pumped under the dam so far "just a Band-aid," they note the absence of consensus how to fix the dam. One approach is to build a "cutoff wall," a concrete wall under the dam's embankment that bars seepage and ends the erosion.
"Putting a cutoff wall at Mosul is likely the only long-term solution to the problem," John Rice, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Utah State University and an expert on dam stability, told Foreign Policy. The big challenge at Mosul, he said, is that the dam will require a deeper cutoff wall than has ever been built in the world before, about 800 feet below the dam's embankment. "The construction of the cutoff will not be easy and, if done without proper precautions, could increase the probability of failure," he said. But Iraq has few real alternatives: Grouting is a short-term fix at best and can be interrupted at any time due to the security situation on the ground.
Other experts have cautioned against trying to dig under the already unstable Mosul Dam. Nadhir Al-Ansari, a civil engineering professor at the Lulea University of Technology, who has spent years studying the dam, specifically recommended that the Iraqi government forget the idea of building a cutoff wall, warning in the study with his colleagues that it "is not only infeasible technologically and financially, but it could endanger the integrity of the dam itself." "I don't think it is a good solution," Al-Ansari told FP. He said a better way to prevent flooding from a catastrophic breach at Mosul Dam is to finally build a retaining dam downstream on the Tigris River, an expensive project that has been stalled for years.
(2) For another structure in "dire" condition and in danger of collapse, affecting millions adversely, learn about the Kariba Dam on the border between of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Feb. 9, 2016 update: An Associated Press article draws on an important Jan. 30 report issued by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and became known in Baghdad yesterday. It concludes that ISIS in two ways made the Mosul Dam even more dangerous than before it seized control of the dam for several weeks in 2014:
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces retook the dam, but no grouting took place for six weeks. Even since then, the grouting has not been up to full levels in part because the militants control the nearby factory that produces the concrete for the dam. As a result, there are "almost certainly ... an unprecedented level of untreated voids" in the dam's foundation from continuing erosion. ... "Mosul Dam is at a significantly higher risk of failure than originally understood and is at a higher risk of failure today than it was a year ago."
American officials have told Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that a collapse "could be 1,000 times worse than [Hurricane] Katrina."
As usual, Iraqi officialdom dismisses these concerns. For example, Water Resources Minister Mohsen al-Shimari says that "The danger is not imminent, it's far off. The danger is 1 in 1,000. ... The danger for Mosul Dam is no greater than that of other dams."
Relying on Nadhir al-Ansari, a former adviser to the minister of irrigation who witnessed the initial stages of construction in 1980, the article explains that "it was politics that placed it on an eroding geological base. Saddam's deputy Taha Yassin Ramadan chose the site in an effort to bring jobs to Mosul."
"When I went there I was shocked," said al-Ansari, who is now an engineering professor at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden. He recalled walked though large caves at the site that immediately indicated to him it was unstable. Within a year, leaks sprouted and the floor of the reservoir began to collapse, creating sinkholes. The Iraqi government was so concerned it began building the Badush Dam as a replacement. But construction halted in 1990 with the imposition of U.N. sanctions. "It was all just politics, stupid politics that built this dam in such a quick and dangerous way," said Ansari. "And now it's just politics and corruption again, that's why no one has reached a solution for Mosul Dam."
A permanent solution for the dam requires the building of a second dam, the downstream Badush Dam mentioned above. But it would likely cost over US$2 billion. A previous Iraqi government in 2006 looked at resuming the Badush Dam but found the cost too high.