ISLAMABAD: In a rare move, the water discharges from the country’s largest reservoir — Mangla — were stopped with immediate effect on Monday, bringing generation from its power station to zero, as water shortages appeared going beyond previous estimates.
“With immediate effect, Mangla power house indent is reduced to ‘nil’ as demanded by the Punjab Irrigation Department,” announced Indus River System Authority (Irsa). The decision was intended to salvage upcoming crops through better management of scarce water resources.
This is the second time in 50-year operations of the Mangla dam that its outflows were brought down to zero. The water releases from the dam were last stopped for 10 days in January 2010 also due to water scarcity. A senior Irsa official explained that Punjab had drastically reduced its indent to 7,000 cusec from 50,000 cusec following water regulator’s advice for a contingency plan to cope with emerging water scarcity. As a result, Punjab conveyed to the regulator that it would not draw its share from Mangla for the time being until it starts wheat sowing in November.
The provincial government also closed all perennial and non-perennial canals. Except for drawing 6,000 cusec from Thal and 1,000 cusec from Chashma Right Bank Canal (CRBC), it would not draw its water share at least for the next 10 days.
Sindh government also followed suit even though it was already in wheat sowing process. It has also reduced its indent from 55,000 cusec to 40,000 cusec as part of the contingency plan.
The water releases from the dam were last stopped for 10 days in January 2010
Irsa is expected to shortly convene a meeting of its advisory committee to firm up future plans to meet the emerging situation in consultation with stakeholders and the provincial governments.
“This is unprecedented situation where water shortages appear to be higher than previously feared. Storage in the reservoirs and river flows are at 10-year low,” an official said. Flows in river Kabul dropped to 4,000 cusec and those in Jhelum to 5,000-6,000 cusec. “Flows in all the four rivers were 21 per cent down in first 22 days of current month when compared to last year,” he added.
For example, Kabul and Jhelum had a combined flow of about 65,000 cusec last year on October last year compared to just 53,000 cusec on Monday. Total river flows last year amounted to 3.7 million acre-feet (MAF) on Oct 22 last year while these were down 2.9 MAF this year — the lowest in last 10 years.
Likewise, storage in two reservoirs currently stood at about 6MAF compared to more than 8MAF the same day last year.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has also forecast lower than normal rainfalls over the next three to four months and the irrigation authorities were totally at a loss about the plunging flows. It was feared that in case of slippage on usual westerly waves carrying winter rain system could further aggravate the water shortage.
Ironically, as the country was facing acute water shortage for the upcoming Rabi season, more than 9MAF of water went down the sea during just concluded Kharif season in the absence of sufficient storage capacity.
On Oct 11, Irsa had conveyed to the provinces that it was fearing unusually acute water shortages of up to 30pc for Rabi season and hence contingent plans should be put in place for wheat sowing to avoid major loss to upcoming crops. The provinces have been warned that due to atypical prevailing weather conditions river flows were not showing promising trend and the phenomenon may lead extension in shortages during the ongoing Rabi season.
On Sept 28, Irsa had estimated about 20pc water shortage for Rabi season and flagged falling storage capacity as a serious concern and asked the provincial leadership to start building dams on a war-footing.
The Rabi season begins in October-December and ends in April-May. Wheat is the largest crop in Rabi season. Gram, lentil, tobacco, rapeseed, barley and mustard are some of the other Rabi crops.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017