Sri Lanka is prudently utilizing its water resources for agricultural and power requirements.
Water symbolizes life. For Sri Lanka, it can be associated with the massive hydropower projects that the country has been developing for decades now. Under the Mahaweli Development Scheme, which centers on the Mahaweli River, the country has so far completed a number of small and large hydropower projects. The 2000 MW Mahaweli Project, for instance, is Sri Lanka’s largest multi- purpose reservoir. This particular project is supported by the several loans that were taken by the government from the World Bank
between 1970 and 1998.
Victoria Dam, another project under the Mahaweli Development Scheme, is one of the other important dams in the country, and is located 72 miles east of Colombo. It is the highest dam in the country, and also has the largest power station. The dam’s construction started in 1978 and it was commissioned in 1985. Apart from its service as a hydropower generator, it also supports irrigation. With a base width of 82 ft, the dam is about 400 ft tall. While the active capacity of the Victoria reservoir, that the dam creates, is 390 thousand ac. ft., its gross capacity is 415 thousand ac. ft. The location the dam is known for its scenic beauty, complemented by a congenial climate.
Samanalawewa Hydropower Project is located near the town of Balangoda. Its construction started in 1986, and it started operation in 1992. Sri Lanka had financial support from Japan and United Kingdom to build this huge project. The Samanalawewa project or Samanala Dam, as it is commonly known as, is the second largest hydropower electric scheme in the country. It had been reported to produce 405 GWh annually. The dam is 360 ft in height, with a length of 1,740 ft. Its volume is 4,500,000 cubic meters (160,000,000 cu ft). Apart from its high efficiency, Samanala Dam is also known for its leak. The leak is on the right bank, and has been there since its construction. It continues to be there and the remedies applied have failed. Interestingly though, the leak hasn’t affected the power production of the dam, and has been giving the expected output since its commission in 1992.
The Kukule Ganga Dam, a gravity dam, is located near Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo, and is next to Sinharaja Forest Reserve. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a biodiversity spot, stretching 21 km from east to west, and 7 km north to south. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kukule Ganga Dam’s location next to such a spot adds to the serenity of the area. The dam’s construction started in 1999, and it was operational in 2005. It is built on the Kukule river, and has a capacity of 70MW, with 317GWh being its estimated average annual energy generation. The Kukule Ganga reservoir, that the dam creates, has a capacity of 1,630,000 cubic meters (58,000,000 cu ft). The length and height of the dam are 361 ft and 66 ft, respectively.
All the hydropower projects mentioned have added to the power sector in Sri Lanka, a country which had faced power issues in the past. The projects have also delivered what was promised. But all that has not been without criticism. Civil society groups in Sri Lanka have claimed that these projects, including those which are in the pipeline are causing environmental disturbances, which will have terrible consequences. A case in point is the displacement of Sri Lanka’s indigenous population called Wanniyalaeto. This large-scale displacement is considered as one of the most severe negative impacts of the project. The people were evicted, forcefully, and their settlements were made in different colonies. They were not informed about the eviction beforehand, as per the reports, and were not even compensated for their losses, which included the area where they had been living for ages and also their hunting grounds.
While the large projects have been welcomed by some, others have suggested the projects centering on small hydropower schemes, in the rural countryside, will be more effective. The government, however, has no apparent plans to halt its hydropower projects or make amends. For instance, the Upper Komal Project, which according to the government will have 150 MW electric power capacity, is currently proceeding with construction despite the harsh criticism. Protests have been lodged by civil groups which claim that the project will be the cause of the loss of hundreds of family houses. Their concern is not just confined to that. According to them the environmental damages will be severe if the government continues with its project. The benefits will also go to the Japanese government and the powerful stakeholders.
Sri Lanka, it seems, is willing to continue with its hydropower projects despite the concerns from civil society. Moreover, the existing projects have been giving enough returns to make their case, and substantiate their claims. The environment, however, should not be sacrificed for the sake of hydropower projects. In any case, the government should make sure that people and the environment they live in should not suffer.
All hydropower projects have added to the country’s power sector and have delivered what was promised.