ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Friday estimated 20 per cent shortage of irrigation water in the upcoming Rabi crop season and advised the political leadership to start building dams on a war footing.

This was discussed at a meeting of the Irsa’s advisory committee, presided over by its chairman Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, and attended by Irsa members, the provincial irrigation secretaries, and representatives of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

They estimated total availability of 29.48 million acre feet (MAF) of water for the approaching Rabi crop season, including 24 MAF from river flows and about 7.8 MAF currently stored in two reservoirs, and estimated system losses of around 2.24 MAF in the season.

20pc shortage of irrigation water estimated for Rabi crop season

The Rabi crop season begins in October-December and ends in April-May. Wheat is the largest crop cultivated in the season, along with gram, lentil, tobacco, rapeseed, barley and mustard.

Participants of the meeting set aside 100,000 acre feet of water for the recently completed Kachhi canal, and 1.9 MAF for Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that would stand exempt from cuts to their share. As a result of the Kachhi canal allocation, Balochistan will receive 1.23 MAF during Rabi compared to its previous share of 1.02 MAF. KP will receive 714,000 acre feet of water.

It was estimated that Sindh and Punjab would face a shortage of 20 per cent during the season against their shares decided in the 1991 water apportionment accord. Under the accord, Punjab had been allocated 15.72 MAF while Sindh was supposed to get 11.90 MAF.

The meeting also approved a revised rating table for Pat Feeder and Kirthar Canals to ensure that Balochistan would get its share of water, ending a long-standing dispute with Sindh. Sindh had been opposed to the revised benchmarks but eventually gave in to Irsa’s demand and expressed the desire to end the dispute once and for all.

Wapda representatives informed the meeting that siltation was taking a heavy toll on two major water reservoirs, and requested a revision of the minimum storage level — also called dead level. It proposed increasing the minimum conservation level for Tarbela to 1,386 feet instead of 1,380 feet and 10.62 feet for Mangla dam instead of the present 10.40 feet. Irsa directed a further study to be conducted to firm up the data.

Punjab also raised the issue of declining water storage year after the year. Irsa agreed that declining water storage capacity was a serious issue and demanded that work on constructing additional reservoirs should begin without further delay.

Irsa spokesperson Khalid Rana said the authority believed that the country needed to build many additional dams without wasting time. He said it was the responsibility of other institutions to find the appropriate location and conduct cost benefit analysis, and added that there was no denying that the present storage reservoirs were losing their capacity.

He said the storage capacity of Tarbela had dropped to 9.6 MAF from 6 MAF and it was required, under para-6 of the water accord, to build dams wherever possible.

He said during the Kharif season, which has recently come to a close, Sindh and Punjab had received the water shares according to their demands and another 9.5 MAF had trickled into the sea because the authorities were unable to conserve the water.

Participants of the meeting also discussed the operational criteria for filling Tarbela dam, and Wapda assured them that it would abide by the approved criteria during the next Kharif crop season which required filling storage at the rate of one foot per day after the conservation level of 1,510 feet.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2017

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