HYDERABAD: The Sindh irrigation department and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) are at loggerheads over the construction of the Rs125 billion Sindh barrage, approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan in August 2019.
A couple of months back Wapda sent its inception report for a feasibility study of the project. Sindh irrigation experts responded to it and raised technical objections. However, Wapda in its response, by and large, stick to its report and indicated that it will approach the irrigation secretary to resolve the issue, an official told Dawn.
Sindh barrage is proposed on the Indus River in Thatta, 180-km downstream Kotri barrage and 45km upstream outfall into the Arabian sea. Its reservoir in the floodplains would be 160km upstream from the barrage, according to Wapda statement issued after a meeting between Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda, Wapda Chairman retired Lt Gen Muzammil Hussain and Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah in 2019.
Downstream Kotri, the reservoir will store between 2MAF and 3MAF of water
The reservoir would store 2 million acre feet to 3MAF of water and Wapda dubs the project as a phenomenal mega scheme to address water issues downstream Kotri — starting from sea intrusion to land erosion in the delta, climate change, loss of wetland, mangroves, non-availability of freshwater and mass exodus.
It would be the fourth largest reservoir after Tarbela and Mangla and last over the Indus after Kotri.
The irrigation department in its observation to Wapda’s inception report said: “...feasibility study is being carried out by Wapda’s own human and technical resources, which is inappropriate for mega project with complex issues”. It termed the Wapda report “collection of general natural points with repetitions, preconceived ideas. Problems downstream Kotri barrage were briefly described sans discussing options for solution of issues and that suggesting “barrage no Indus” with upstream reservoir as “remedial measure is not fair for a feasibility study at inception level”.
The department referred to studies reviewed by International Panel of Experts (IPoE) after reviewing Water Apportionment Accord 1991 especially its para-7 on “minimum escapages to sea, below Kotri, to check sea intrusion”. About structural solution, IPoE mentioned barrage would have to be closed, especially during low flow periods. “River reach downstream Kotri barrage will be dry during low flow periods which to have negative impact on environment,” it said.
Wapda replied to department’s observations, disagreeing with irrigation officials. It said “it didn’t have preconceived ideas but report is based on data collected from departments and reconnaissance survey done by experts of hydro planning. Wapda said, “recommendation of IPoE about 5,000 cusecs round the year (3.6MAF) discharge downstream Kotri to check sea intrusion has not been implemented so far. Recommended 5,000 cusecs would be neutralised with Sindh barrage.
“When construction of additional storage projects like Mohmand (6.40MAF), Bhasha (6.40MAF) have been initiated, structural measure below Kotri would be a feasible solution as per 2005 study-I of consultants. The Barrage will help achieve objectives of 2005 studies”, said Wapda.
Still, the irrigation department differs over ‘2AMF reservoir/lake’ to be built Kotri city downstream and upstream Sindh barrage. “It [lake] will cover area stretching around 70km in length,” said Kotri barrage chief executive Haji Khan Jamali, who is also the member of the Sindh government’s technical committee on barrage.
He said even if Wapda’s figures mentioned in report, are taken then 13MAF water, on an average, had flowed downstream Kotri between 2000-2020 while Wapda refers to “28MAF water flows” that flowed between 1976-2020 period. “More waterworks were built 1976 onwards to reduce water flows. How much water [out of this 13MAF] will be available once projects like Bhasha, Dasu, Nai Gaj, Raini canal [at Guddu barrage]?”, he quipped to justify that 2MAF storage reservoir won’t be feasible.
He said Wapda may hire international consultants for a study on the proposed barrage otherwise it won’t go down well with Sindh.
He wondered how the floodwater would pass when riverbed is silted. “The canals being mentioned in Sindh barrage are not reflected in Water Accord 1991, so what about their allocations? he asked and added that IPoE had recommended 5,000 cusecs daily (cumulatively 8.6MAF) and 5MAF flows, once in a year to go downstream Kotri which is not done.
The Sindh government in its Annual Development Plan 2020-21 has, however, reflected “Procurement of consultancy services for feasibility study of delta barrage with off-taking canals creation of lakes/reservoir and revival of ecosystem in coastal area” as new ‘Survey & Investigation’ scheme. But work has yet not started on it.
Wapda’s GM Hydro Planning Abid Sheikh told Dawn that the authority wants to address issues of sea intrusion, environment, ecology, drinking water supply etc through barrage. “What happened to IPoE findings since then?’, he asked while speaking from Lahore on phone.
“Barrage will stop sea wave action as we propose new dykes within 140km long existing bund in floodplains that would be 30km on left bank 20km on right bank of barrage to protect reservoir against wave action”, he said.
Mr Sheikh argued a component of drain is there to address seepage although there would be freshwater in reservoir/lake which would improve environment. It will benefit fishing community and reservoir or lake would stop sea intrusion. “In addition to main barrage there will be an auxiliary barrage to ensure freshwater provision up to Shah Bandar area”, he said.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021