LAHORE: A critical shortage of irrigation water for upcoming Rabi (winter) crops is looming large as release of water downstream Kotri Barrage is going on at a large scale though water inflow at Tarbela reservoir is at a level much below the expectations of authorities.

The Indus River System Authority (Irsa), which distributes water among the four federating units under the 1991 Accord, expected water at Tarbela to be 5.558 MAF (million acre feet) as of Aug 4 but actual storage at the reservoir was 2.669 MAF meaning 52 per cent short of the expected inflow.

A cursory look at the water availability data reveals that it is the second time during the last 10 years that water level at Tarbela Dam remained this low. Earlier, the critical situation was witnessed in 2012 when water at the reservoir in the first week of August was at 2.43 MAF.

On the other hand, outflow of water downstream Kotri is being continued at the anticipated higher water inflow for the year. And since April 1 this year, at least 2.197 MAF water has gone downstream Kotri though the Punjab irrigation authorities have written thrice in the last as many weeks to Irsa drawing its attention towards unexpected low water inflows but higher outflows.

As no meetings of Irsa are being held since the outbreak of Covid-19, worried at the reservoir depletion ratio the Punjab irrigation department wrote to the authority on July 16 urging the latter to verify actual water uses and Sindh indents for daily data indicated heavy releases downstream Kotri while water level was depleting at Tarbela Dam.

The authority was again approached a week later on July 24 wherein the Punjab irrigation department’s director (regulation) pointed out in writing that more than 26,000 cusecs of water was being released downstream Kotri while all river flows are less than anticipated. The authority was requested to consider loss of water and make necessary adjustment of Sindh indents below Chashma Barrage as per the water distribution formula for sharing water losses between Sindh and Punjab.

Failing to find a response to the two official letters, then irrigation minister Mohsin Khan Leghari himself penned down a request to the Irsa chairman inviting the latter’s attention towards the fact that despite repeated calls heavy outflow downstream Kotri was going on for the last many weeks.

The communiqué sent on Aug 3 pointed out that so far around 2.197 MAF water has been lost in this manner, despite the fact that Irsa itself had estimated river flow below than the previous years.

It warns that if the trend continues, a severe irrigation water shortage may be faced by all the provinces in the upcoming Rabi season. The letter called for immediate rectification of the situation considering the aforesaid irrigation water loss.

No Irsa official was taking calls when this reporter tried to get their comments on the issue.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2020