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Water shortage in Tarbela dam exceeds official estimates

Updated May 01, 2018

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File photo of the lake of Tarbela dam. Water inflows usually start by April but this year has seen alarmingly low levels of water coming in.
File photo of the lake of Tarbela dam. Water inflows usually start by April but this year has seen alarmingly low levels of water coming in.

ISLAMABAD: Water shortage is exceeding official estimates amid Tarbela Dam hitting dead level for the second time in a fortnight. The development will be a serious challenge for Kharif crops in Sindh and Balochistan.

Officials said the existing water resource at Tarbela dam was heading towards dead level in two days and there were no immediate signs of improving river flows in the catchment of Northern parts of the country.

They said conservation level at two reservoirs — Tarbela and Mangla — had reached dead level almost a month ago and mostly remained so until mid-April.

They said current storage at Tarbela was around 4-feet that would exhaust within two days at the current rate of discharges of 40,000 cusec compared to 35,000 cusec of inflows. In fact, the discharges were reduced to 40,000 cusec on Monday from previous level of 45,000 cusec because of precarious circumstances.

The officials said the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) had estimated up to 40 per cent water shortage for early-Kharif period which is now being anticipated to go beyond 44pc if river flows do not improve in a day. As a consequence, the provincial inter-provincial bickering is emerging over discharges as provincial irrigation authorities seek greater control over limited resources.

The sources said Punjab on Monday asked the water regulator to reduce discharges from Mangla dam from 28,000 cusec to 25,000 cusec as flows in river Chenab had improved and would be suffice to meet its irrigation requirements.

However, Irsa rejected the demand fearing it would create serious issues at Chashma barrage and may need closure of Taunsa-Panjnad (TP) Link Canal and hence releases from Mangla could not be reduced at this stage. Instead, the regulator said it was shifting 4200cusec from Taunsa-Panjnad to Jehlum-Chenab zone.

On the other hand, Sindh irrigation department warned that while storage at Tarbela was just 4-feet above 1,386-feet operating level, the storage at Mangla was 53-feet higher than operating level of 1,103-feet. It protested that despite this situation, discharges were still in progress from Tarbela against conservation at Mangla.

“Further transfer of water from Indus to Jhelum-Chenab System through CJ canal and TP Link Canal is being continued” despite the fact that water availability on Indus was on the lower side than Jhelum-Chenab zone,” Sindh government said.

Sindh feared that “acute water shortage crisis in the province will be further aggravated” within 1-2 days if the trend continued, forcing dam operations purely on run-of-the river basis and the Sindh would have no other option “except to defer operation of right bank canals of Guddu and Sukkur barrages, which will obviously affect the supplies to Balochistan canals of Pat Feeder and Kirthar also.

Therefore, Sindh demanded immediate end to transfer of water from Indus to Jhelum-Chenab system and requirements of Trimmu, Panjnad and Sindh canals be fulfilled by releasing more water from Mangla.

Kharif season starts from April 1 to November 30, and rice, sugarcane, cotton and maize are some of the key crops.

According to the latest data released by Irsa on Monday, the Tarbela dam was at 1390-feet against its dead level of 1,386-feet, with inflows of 34,900 cusecs and outflows of 45,000 cusecs.

The Water level at the Mangla dam stood at 1,103-feet against its dead level of 1,040-feet.

Inflows at Mangla were recorded at 33,200 cusecs against outflows of 28,000 cusecs. As a result, total inflows at rim stations were recorded at 112,600 cusecs against total outflows below rim stations at about 117,500 cusecs.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018