Ethiopia should lower the height of its Renaissance saddle dam to defuse the water crisis, says Nader Noureddine. The first stage of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam project is fast approaching its end. At 70 metres high, the dam is just 25 metres shy of the target for this stage of the project. Come June, it will be able to store the 14 billion cubic metres (BCM) of river water needed to kick the first turbines into action.  With two out of the 16 planned turbines up and running, the dam will generate 700 megawatts of electricity per year. And by late 2017, all turbines will produce 6,000 megawatts of power, drawing on a reservoir of up to 74.5 billion cubic metres. The dam will be 145 metres tall — one and a half times the height of Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. For the people of Egypt who live downstream, there is an overwhelming sense of anxiety about the heavy price they will pay for the dam in years to come — and the price they are paying even now.
Egyptian concernsApprehension has been growing among Egyptians that Ethiopia is already storing water in the Renaissance reservoir, ahead of schedule. Ethiopia had diverted the Blue Nile in order to build the dam. To re-divert the water back to its original course, the most reasonable course of action would have been to wait for the next flood. But instead Ethiopia did this on 26 December, passing the water through the dam — meaning it might already be storing water. There have now been nine years of drought, with nothing to herald the arrival of a heavy flood in 2016, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections from 2007 and 2008. [2, 3] Given that rainfall over the Ethiopian headwaters has decreased by 70 per cent in the past nine years — surpassing the previous record of seven years — Ethiopia should not have begun storing water. It should also have waited for the first heavy flood of this year to allow the three Sudanese Nile dams to be filled first, even partially. These dams have stopped operating due to severe water shortages caused by the record drought and weak water flow from Ethiopia. 
Ethiopian EvasivenessIn the ongoing negotiations between the three countries, the most recent of which ended on 11 February, Ethiopia has raised three no's in the face of the Egyptian negotiator: no to talks about stopping the work at the dam; no to negotiations about dam specifications, height and storage capacity; and no to talks about dividing water quotas with Egypt and Sudan. Unfortunately the Egyptian negotiator committed a strategic error by accepting these terms.
Ethiopia has raised three no's in the face of the Egyptian negotiator:
- No to talks about stopping the work at the dam
- No to negotiations about dam specifications, height and storage capacity
- No to talks about dividing water quotas with Egypt and Sudan
Deceptive reasoningFaced with Ethiopia’s three no's, Egypt was forced to negotiate marginal matters rather than the essentials: keeping its water quota the same as at pre-dam levels, and ensuring minimum daily or annual water flow through the dam. It has both failed to secure its water quota and to secure guarantees between the three countries with written, binding treaties rather than oral statements about causing no harm. Ethiopia's argument is that they cannot pledge a specific water quota for Egypt because the Blue Nile water flow varies by the year. But this is a deceptive argument: water experts know that states deal with river flows based on an average annual figure, calculated through consecutive 100-year blocs, not year by year.
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Sudan switches sides
Another reason for the growing apprehension among Egyptians is Ethiopia’s creation of a split in the Egyptian-Sudanese alliance. The 1959 Nile water sharing convention explicitly stated that Egypt and Sudan would act as a single unit, or vote, when negotiating with headwater states — those home to the Nile’s sources — on dams or water quotas.  Nowadays, though, Sudan defends the Ethiopian dam more than Ethiopia itself.On the Ethiopian side there seems to be a strategy of never-ending negotiations and non-stop construction. And Ethiopia has attempted to woo Sudan, as if it were constructing the dam for its benefit.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project. Facts:
- The dam is located on the Blue Nile about 20 miles from the Sudan border
- It's 145m high and 1,708m long
- It floods an area of 1,680 sq km
- It holds about 75 billion cubic metres of water