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ISLAMABAD: As the weather experts reported 50 per cent lower snow cover on the river catchments, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) called for construction of at least two mega dams simultaneously to cope with water crisis.

This was the crux of an advisory committee meeting of the water regulator presided over by its chairman Sher Zaman Khan and attended by all the Irsa members besides officials of provincial irrigation and agriculture departments, Wapda and Meteorological Department.

Briefing journalists after the meeting, Irsa spokesman Khalid Rana said the meeting also expressed increase in the pace of sedimentation in both Mangla and Tarbela dams owing to silt and unanimously recommended to the government to quickly move towards construction of two dams wherever feasible.

Water shortage will hurt Kharif crops

Based on working papers of all the stakeholders, the regulator estimated 32pc water shortage during early Kharif season and 10pc during late Kharif. Total availability water availability for entire season was, therefore, estimated at 95.12 million acre feet (MAF) compared to 107 MAF of last year, 107.3 MAF of past 10-year average and 112MAF of post-Tarbela dam average.

The meeting concluded that Kharif crops would be totally dependent on unusually lower river flows and monsoon rainfall in the absence of substantive snow melting. The Punjab government objected to 40pc water losses estimated for Indus zone. Therefore, these were estimated at 35 percent for early Kharif and 20pc for late Kharif for the purpose of provincial water shares and in the meanwhile conduct a study to ascertain actual losses.

The meeting confirmed that Jhelum flows this season would be 40-50pc lower than average and expressed concern over the situation. It decided to review flows in river Jhelum along with revision in operational criteria for Mangla dam by end-April.

After accounting for losses and other factors, total canal withdrawals were estimated at 62.02 MAF. Of this, 30.24MAF was allocated to Punjab, 27.96 MAF to Sindh, 0.82MAF to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 2.99MAF to Balochistan.

The meeting was told that Mangla Dam was unlikely to be filled to its historic conservation level of 1242-feet.

It was also decided that water distribution would be made under the 3-tier formula but was contested by Sindh saying it was against the 1991 water apportionment award. Under the 3-tier formula, Sindh expected its share cut by 5MAF in the wake of lower water availability.

The formula envisaged that in case of Kharif water availability of up to 103MAF, water shares between Punjab and Sindh be set on the basis of historic uses of 1977-82, putting Sindh at a disadvantageous position. In case of water availability between 103 and 114MAF, distribution has to be made in line with shares set in para-2 of the water accord. The water beyond 114MAF is provided to provinces on flooding basis.

The Irsa chairman observed that Sindh would be free to take up the matter with the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in case it was not satisfied with distribution.

The Irsa also allocated 6.5 MAF of flows downstream Kotri. The Met Office told the committee that temperatures during May and April would be unusually higher this year. On the other hand, snow fall in the Northern Areas and catchment areas of river was 50pc lower this year and hence total reliance of crops would have to be made on monsoon rainfall.

The Met Office also warned that in case of lower than normal monsoon rainfall, there could be an alarming situation for the crops.

The meeting desired that Wapda should move a case to further raise the minimum operating level of Mangla from 1,050 feet to 1,060 feet within a fortnight.

Kharif cropping season starts from April-June and lasts until October-December in different parts of the country. Rice, sugarcane, cotton, maize and mash are some of the key crops of the season.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2018