Har­ness­ing Wa­ter

Sri Lanka is pru­dently utiliz­ing its wa­ter re­sources for agri­cul­tural and power re­quire­ments.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Syed Zee­shan Ahmed

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.

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