RAINFALL last year and this monsoon has filled Darawat Dam to a level where water flows could be released for irrigating the command area spread over 25,000 acres.
Since this command area is not connected with off-taking canal of the dam through watercourses, an ad-hoc arrangement has been made to ensure water supply at least to small farmers to enable them cultivate winter and summer crops. Farmers are using pipes to lift water downstream of the dam.
The dam, a federally funded project, was completed in August 2014 by a Chinese company. Its construction started during the previous government’s tenure in January 2010. It is located some 135 kilometres north-east of Karachi and 70km west of Hyderabad, and is built on Nai Baran, a hill torrent in Jamshoro district.
Spread over 10,500 acres, the dam’s reservoir area upstream lies in Jamshoro district with a storage capacity of 121,600 acre-feet.
At present, 33,000 acre-feet of water is available in the reservoir. The level, which was 50,800 acre-feet in August 2016, has dropped after flows were ensured for cultivation of onion and wheat crops during the last year. Presently, farmers are getting water for cotton and vegetable sowing.
Zahid Sheikh, superintending engineer at the Sindh irrigation department, says a study on the topography of the dam’s command area is under way to assess which kind of high efficiency system — sprinkler or drip — suits this rain-fed area considering the fact how water travels in the hilly terrain.
The irrigation department does not seem to take control of the dam even by early next year as it lacks expertise, officials say
While the Sindh government has to build an irrigation system, the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) is also in the process of bidding two pilot projects on 10 acres each to be connected with drip and sprinkler systems on farmers’ land to see results of per-acre productivity.
The dam’s project director, Iqbal Sheikh, says bidding is already under way for this purpose but it is not part of the whole project which stands completed. The pilot projects would be completed in one and a half years and would be monitored by Wapda.
The project is reported have hit by cost overruns, and Wapda is seeking a second revision of its PC-I, a project document which covers almost all aspects of the project.
The first revision of the PC-I was approved at Rs9.3 billion by the federal government after it was conceived at Rs3.175bn in September 2009. PC-I would now be revised at Rs11.67bn by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council.
An amount of Rs6.37 billion has been paid to the dam’s Chinese contractor whose liabilities have now accumulated. Sources say the federal government has earmarked Rs800m for the project under the current fiscal year’s Public Sector Development Programme.
Wapda has set up 73 outlets with a main line canal and three distributaries that can irrigate 25,000 acres on the right and left banks of the canal that has a designed discharge of 156 cubic feet per second (cusecs) and stretches over nearly 46km.
The entire command area is to be connected with watercourses to be built by the irrigation department. Smallholders say that with the current storage they are able to grow wheat and onion since October 2016.
Dasrat Kumar, a farmer of the area, says that presently more than 1,500 acres of land is being cultivated and the farmers’ produce finds its way to Karachi, mostly through the middleman as farmers get payment in advance to buy inputs.
Another elderly farmer, Noor Ahmed, says that the “rate of evaporation and water losses remains very high as our land in this hilly tract remains dry most of the year”.
Irrigation officials say the department does not seem to take control of the dam even by early next year as it lacks expertise to operate a dam like Darawat.
The provincial irrigation department has built small dams in Karachi, Jamshoro, Dadu and Tharparkar. With monsoon rains in their catchment, small dams always help recharge groundwater aquifer, enabling growers to pump water for crop cultivation and livestock rearing in rain-dependent areas.
According to the original PC-I of the dam, Wapda would be establishing pilot projects of high efficiency system on 10 acres each for orchard and vegetables cultivation. Farmers would provide land and Wapda would bear the cost of inputs while its produce would be given to framers.
Sources say that even if Wapda met pending targets of pilot projects of sprinkler and drip, the irrigation department would not be in a position to get control of Darawat Dam unless a full-fledged division, with both staff and officers, was established in the department to run the dam on a permanent basis.
This can only be done through the approval of a summary of new establishment by the Sindh government, which is not likely until early next year, they say.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 7th, 2017