Lake Assad

Lake Assad (Arabic: بحيرة الأسد, Buhayrat al-Assad) is a reservoir on the Euphrates in Raqqa Governorate, Syria. It was created in 1974 when the Tabqa Dam was closed. Lake Assad is Syria’s largest lake with a maximum capacity of 11.7 cubic kilometres (2.8 cu mi) and a maximum surface area of 610 square kilometres (240 sq mi). A vast network of canals uses water from Lake Assad to irrigate lands on both sides of the Euphrates. In addition, the lake provides drinking water for the city of Aleppo and supports a fishing industry. The shores of Lake Assad have developed into important ecological zones.

Lake Assad
بحيرة الأسد
Lake Assad (left), Tabqa Dam (centre), and Baath Dam (right). The photo was taken on STS-78, June 1996. North is in the upper left corner of the image.
Map of the wider Lake Assad region
LocationRaqqa Governorate
Coordinates36°00′N 38°10′E
Primary inflowsEuphrates
Primary outflowsEuphrates
Basin countriesSyria, Turkey
First flooded1974
Max. length80 km (50 mi)
Max. width8 km (5 mi)
Surface area525 km2 (203 sq mi)
Water volume10 km3 (2.4 cu mi)
IslandsJazirat al-Thawrah

Project history

The first plans for a dam in the Syrian part of the Euphrates date to 1927, but these were not carried out. In 1957, an agreement was reached with the Soviet Union for technical and financial aid for the construction of a dam in the Euphrates, and in 1960 a financial agreement was signed with West Germany. Another agreement to finance the project was signed with the Soviet Union in 1965.[1] The project included a hydroelectric power station in the Tabqa Dam, and the construction of a vast irrigation network capable of irrigating 640,000 hectares (2,500 sq mi) of land on both sides of the Euphrates.[2][3] Construction of the dam lasted between 1968 and 1973 and the flooding of the reservoir commenced in 1974 by reducing the flow of the Euphrates. The project was completed under the presidency of Hafez al-Assad as part of his modernization policies and agricultural reforms.[4] In 1975, Iraq complained that the flow of the Euphrates had been reduced below an acceptable level and threatened to bomb the Tabqa Dam; mediation by Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union eventually settled this dispute.[5]

Rescue excavations in the Lake Assad region

In anticipation of the flooding of the Tabqa Dam reservoir, an intensive, international program of archaeological rescue excavations was carried out in the threatened area between 1963 and 1974. As part of this program, excavations have been carried out at sites ranging in date from the Late Natufian to the Ottoman period. Excavated sites include Tell Abu Hureyra, Emar, Habuba Kabira, Mureybet, Tell es-Sweyhat, Tell Fray and Dibsi Faraj. At Qal'at Ja'bar, a castle on a hilltop that would be turned into an island by the flooding of Lake Assad, a protective glacis was built and two minarets at Mureybet and Meskene were relocated to an area beyond the flood zone.[6]


The maximum capacity of Lake Assad is 11.7 cubic kilometres (2.8 cu mi) at a surface area of 610 square kilometres (240 sq mi), making it the largest lake in Syria. The actual capacity is, however, much lower at 9.6 cubic kilometres (2.3 cu mi), resulting in a surface area of 447 square kilometres (173 sq mi).[7] The proposed irrigation scheme suffered from a number of problems, including the high gypsum content in the reclaimed soils around Lake Assad, soil salinization, the collapse of canals that distributed the water from Lake Assad, and the unwillingness of farmers to resettle in the reclaimed areas. As a result, only 60,000 hectares (230 sq mi) were irrigated from Lake Assad in 1984.[8] In 2000, the irrigated surface had risen to 124,000 hectares (480 sq mi), which is 19 percent of the projected 640,000 hectares (2,500 sq mi).[9][10] Lake Assad is the most important source of drinking water to Aleppo, providing the city through a pipeline with 80,000,000 cubic metres (2.8×109 cu ft) of drinking water per year.[2] The lake also supports a fishing industry.[11]

The western shore of the lake has developed into an important marshland area. On the southeastern shore, some areas have been reforested with evergreen trees including the Aleppo pine and the Euphrates poplar. Lake Assad is an important wintering location for migratory birds and the government has recently undertaken measures to protect small areas along the shores of Lake Assad from hunters by downgrading access roads. The island of Jazirat al-Thawra has been designated a nature reserve.[12]

During the Syrian Civil War, water levels in Lake Assad have dropped significantly. This drop is possibly caused by the power station of the Tabqa Dam, which pumps more water out of the lake than is supplied by the Euphrates.[13]

See also


  1. Bourgey, André (1974), "Le barrage de Tabqa et l'amenagement du bassin de l'Euphrate en Syrie", Revue de Géographie de Lyon (in French), 49 (4): 343–354, doi:10.3406/geoca.1974.1658, ISSN 1960-601X
  2. Shapland, Greg (1997), Rivers of discord: international water disputes in the Middle East, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-312-16522-2
  3. Adeel, Zafar; Mainguet, Monique (2000), "Summary Report of the Workshop", New Approaches to Water Management in Central Asia, United Nations University/ICARDA, pp. 208–22 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. Reich, Bernard (1990). Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-26213-5.
  5. Kaya, Ibrahim (1998), "The Euphrates–Tigris basin: An overview and opportunities for cooperation under international law", Arid Lands Newsletter, 44, ISSN 1092-5481
  6. Bounni, Adnan (1977), "Campaign and exhibition from the Euphrates in Syria", The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 44: 1–7, ISSN 0066-0035, JSTOR 3768538
  7. Jones, C.; Sultan, M.; Yan, E.; Milewski, A.; Hussein, M.; Al-Dousari, A.; Al-Kaisy, S.; Becker, R. (2008), "Hydrologic impacts of engineering projects on the Tigris–Euphrates system and its marshlands", Journal of Hydrology, 353 (1): 59–75, Bibcode:2008JHyd..353...59J, doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2008.01.029, ISSN 0022-1694
  8. Collelo, Thomas (1987), Syria: A Country Study, Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, OCLC 44250830
  9. Elhadj, Elie (2008), "Dry aquifers in Arab countries and the looming food crisis", Middle East Review of International Affairs, 12 (3), ISSN 1565-8996
  10. Mutin, Georges (2003), "Le Tigre et l'Euphrate de la discorde", VertigO (in French), 4 (3): 1–10, doi:10.4000/vertigo.3869, ISSN 1492-8442
  11. Krouma, I. (2006), "National Aquaculture Sector Overview. Syrian Arab Republic. National Aquaculture Sector Overview Fact Sheets", FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO, retrieved 15 December 2009
  12. Murdoch, D. A.; Vos, R.; Abdallah, A.; Abdallah, M.; Andrews, I.; al-Asaad, A.; van Beusekom, R.; Hofland, R.; Roth, T.; Saveyn, B.; Serra, G.; Wells, C. (2005), A Winter Survey of Syrian Wetlands. Final Report of the Syrian Wetland Expedition, January – February 2004, London: privately published, OCLC 150245788
  13. "ISIS And Assad Waging A 'Water War,' Draining Key Lake That May Make A Bad Situation Even Worse". International Business Times. 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
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