HYDERABAD: Sindh government will finally take over operational control of Darawat Dam, a fully-fledged reservoir built at a cost of Rs11.67 billion, from the federal government six years of the structure’s completion in 2014.

Though the dam itself and the fact that its storage level has been increased by another 2.5 meters to 106 meters as of Friday from 103.5 meters is good news for the water-stressed province the water the reservoir stores at the moment cannot be of immediate benefit to farmers because the irrigation department has not yet developed the dam’s command area.

It means the long wait of farmers dependent on rainwater for irrigating their land is not over yet. Once the irrigation department takes over control of the dam it plans to develop the command area through watercourses, which will be laid over land the Sindh government plans to distribute among landless farmers.

About 625 acres out of 25,000 acres demarcated for the purpose had been distributed, 25 acres each, in 2008. This area is supposed to form the dam’s command area. The then Pakistan Peoples Party government had also planned to provide high efficiency irrigation system – drip and sprinkler – to farmers of the area but it too had to wait for want of the command area.

The irrigation department will take over control of the dam by early next month as its officials led by executive engineer Zahoor Sahito had been trained by Wapda in managing the dam, the first of its kind for the department, according to officials of Wapda and irrigation department.

So far, the officer says, the irrigation department has been constructing and managing delay action or rainwater harvesting dams mainly in Nagarparkar, Mithi district and hilly terrain of Thatta, Jamshoro and Dadu districts. These dams are fed through spate irrigation that is dependent on natural waterways, hill torrents and streams unlike Darawat Dam which is a rain-fed reservoir.

It was conceived in 2008 and inaugurated by then president Asif Ali Zardari in 2014 but the Sindh government had since been avoiding to take its operational control on the pretext of lack of expertise to manage the structure.

Officials of Wapda and irrigation department confirmed that training had been imparted to Sindh irrigation officials. “Now inspection work of some assets is under way so that when the department takes over control it should have everything operational and in running condition,” says an irrigation officer.

The irrigation officials said: “We want to see how the dam behaves once its spillways are opened and that has not been done yet. We want to see it for reasons of safety”.

The dam’s project director Javed Qazi confirmed that the dam’s current storage level was 106 meters. “It was 103.5 meters before the onset of rains but after yesterday’s rainfall the level has risen to 106 meters,” he said, adding that water could not be released to farmers at the moment in the absence of command area.

The dam was run on trial basis in 2018 for a few minutes when it had storage level of 108 meters. In the present shape the dam has one major canal on its right side, two distributaries and one minor.

The lands in the dam’s command area are to be surveyed and handed over to landless peasantry, mostly women, as per Sindh government’s plan. The demarcation of the already distributed land out of the planned 25,000 acre is still awaited while the distribution of the remaining land among landless peasants is yet to begin.

As federal-funded project, the dam was completed on Aug 31, 2014 by a Chinese firm. It is supposed to irrigate around 25,000 acres. The dam’s site is a spate-irrigation area where water flows are received from Nai Baran - a hill torrent emanating from lower Khirthar mountain range in Balochistan’s Bella district.

The dam has been built in Jamshoro district’s hilly area stretching over 135km to the north east of Karachi and 70 km to the west of Hyderabad. Its command area lies in Thatta. Spread over 10,500 acres the dam’s reservoir area upstream lies in Jamshoro district with a storage capacity of 121,600 acre feet.

The downside of the otherwise beneficial project is that it may affect local communities dependent on Nai Baran as the dam’s structure upstream for storage has submerged their cultivable land. Likewise, the dam deprives population living downstream of seasonal water flows of hill torrents which they used to harness for agriculture.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2020