Serious water shortage imminent as dry season continues

Published March 5, 2021
Girls head home after filling cans with water in I-9. The sector is one of the many areas in Islamabad facing water shortage. — Online/File
Girls head home after filling cans with water in I-9. The sector is one of the many areas in Islamabad facing water shortage. — Online/File

LAHORE: Water levels in Tarbela and Mangla dams have continued to decline due to no snow melting and almost no rainfall in the catchment areas in the ongoing and previous months.

There may be 30 to 40 per cent of water shortage in the country if the situation persists till April.

“The situation is very alarming as the water storage in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs has considerably dropped due to below normal rains in the catchment areas and snow melting,” spokesperson for the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) Muhammad Khalid Rana told Dawn on Thursday.

“And if this situation persists till April, it will definitely disturb agriculture and power generation/distribution sectors. We’re already facing a 10 per cent water shortage; this is what we had predicted in October last due to below normal rain forecast.” As per statistics by the Water and Power Development Authority, the water storage and levels in Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs and western rivers’ inflows massively dropped this year. The data also reflects a big increase in the water storage in Mangla on the basis of the average of the last five to 10 years.

Irsa official says water storage in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs has dropped considerably

The data shows 1,409.52 feet water level in Tarbela, 1130.95 feet in Mangla and 644.00 feet in Chashma as recorded at 6am on Thursday. The minimum operating and maximum conservation levels in Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma are 1,392 and 1,550 feet, 1,050 and 1,242 feet and 638.15 and 649 feet, respectively. Last year, the water levels in Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma in the same months were at 1438.13 feet, 1167.35 feet and 644.80 feet.

Likewise the water level average in the last five and 10 years recorded in the aforementioned reservoirs remained as 1415.48 feet and 1415.66 feet, 1107.09 feet and 1102.85 feet and 641.50 feet and 642.20 feet respectively. The reservoir storage in million acres feet as recorded at 6am on Thursday was 0.257 MAF in Tarbela, 1.099 MAF in Mangla and 0.100 MAF in Chashma. These three reservoirs have maximum storage capacity of 5.980 MAF, 7.356 MAF and 0.278 MAF, respectively. Last year, in the same period, the water storage was recorded as 0.911 MAF, 2.539 MAF and 0.120 MAF.

Similarly, rivers’ inflows also show a massive decline this year when compared with the last year data. The data shows 168,000 cusecs inflow in the River Indus at Tarbela, 4,100 cusecs in the River Kabul at Nowshera, 174,000 cusecs in the River Jhelum at Mangla and 6,500 cusecs in the River Chenab at Marala as recorded on Thursday at 6am.

Last year’s inflows in the rivers were recorded as 223,000 cusecs, 154,000 cusecs, 204,000 cusecs and 164,000 cusecs. The last five and 10 year average data remained as 190,000 and 202,000 cusecs, 1210,00 and 141,000 cusecs, 184,000 and 207,000 cusecs and 123,000 and 163,000 cusecs.“The total water inflow in these rivers recorded on Thursday morning was 4.4 million cusecs whereas it was 7.4m cusecs last year. On an average, it, in total, was 6.1m cusecs and 7.1m cusecs in the last five and 10 years respectively. Moreover, the entire storage in MAF of Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma recorded on Thursday was 1.541 MAF while it was 3.602 MAF last year, 0.979 MAF (on average) in last 5 years and 0.928 MAF (on average) in last 10 years, the data explains.

According to a report, the anticipated water requirement for the Rabi season from Oct 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, is 36.686 MAF whereas the availability is 35.632 MAF. Similarly, the anticipated system losses (seepage and evaporation) and anticipated Kotri barrage escape would be 2.501 MAF and 0.044 MAF. The overall shortage appears to be 10 per cent.

Punjab which requires 17.797 MAF during this period was supplied 10 per cent short of the requirement. Sindh, which needs 13.418 MAF, also received 10 per cent short supply. However, Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa and Balochistan were given full allocation of 0.701 MAF and 1.171 MAF.

“KP and Balochistan are exempted from the shortage, as Irsa always fulfills their requirement. But Punjab and Sindh are facing 10 per cent water shortage,” Mr Rana maintained. The Irsa official said the authority’s advisory committee meeting will soon be held wherein the overall water situation will be discussed.

“In this meeting, the participants will assess the situation and forecast the exact shortage and availability of water,” he maintained. He said the water shortage forced growers to use tube wells for extracting water for irrigation purposes. But on the other hand, this lowers the underground water table. “So there should be rainfalls and rise in temperature for snow melting, otherwise the situation would be very problematic,” he warned.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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