Irsa increases water supply to Sindh

Published May 17, 2021
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had strongly criticised the federal government for ‘reducing Sindh’s water share and alleged theft of water through canals’ in Punjab.
— Photo by Mohammad Asim/File
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had strongly criticised the federal government for ‘reducing Sindh’s water share and alleged theft of water through canals’ in Punjab. — Photo by Mohammad Asim/File

ISLAMABAD: While blaming the Sindh’s higher losses and climate change conditions for recent dip in river flows, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Sunday increased water supply to the province and asked the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership to refrain from politicising a technical matter.

“As of today the share of Sindh, with immediate effect, has been increased from 66,000 cfs (cubic feet) to 71,000 cfs,” said the water regulator, adding that the province was reporting 39pc losses in its areas against a permissible limit of 30pc.

Irsa’s spokesman Khalid Idris Rana said in a statement that the adjustments in provincial water shares were being made, represented by all the provinces including Sindh, in line with fluctuations in river flows and water availability. He said the Sindh irrigation authorities were also allowing substantial water flows downstream Kotri despite upstream shortages for irrigation.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had strongly criticised the federal government for ‘reducing Sindh’s water share and alleged theft of water through canals’ in Punjab.

Irsa explained that its advisory committee had approved on April 8 the Water Availability Criteria for Kharif 2021 with average shortage of 16pc in early Kharif and 4pc in late Kharif. “All the provinces, including Sindh, agreed that the expected shortage was manageable with efficient water application and distribution practices. The distribution of provincial shares was as per the Three Tier formula to which Sindh also agreed.”

Unfortunately, due to excessive variability and historical dips in river flows last month as a result of regional climate change and almost exhausted storages in Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs, the fluctuations could not be absorbed and regulated. Hence, unavoidable flow variations passed downstream Chashma Barrage. Indus River inflows at Tarbela touched historically lowest levels of 15,000 cfs and 13,100 cfs in April.

The spokesman said Irsa tried to cope with the dip by utilising available storage in Tarbela and subsequently Chashma reservoir, but because of limited storage at that time, Tarbela reservoir touched dead level on April 27 and Chashma reservoir on April 30. With significant improvement in Indus and Kabul River flows in early May, Irsa decided to implement water sharing afresh by increasing Sindh’s share at Chashma Barrage downstream. This was managed by reducing Punjab canal withdrawals at Taunsa and Panjnad barrages to facilitate Sindh as much as possible. The withdrawals at these barrages were reduced from 19,161 cfs on May 4 to 13,876 cfs on May 6.

Due to this adjustment, downstream Taunsa flows gradually increased from 33,666 cfs on May 4 to 63,129 cfs on May 11, but losses between Taunsa - Panjnad - Guddu Reach jumped simultaneously from 300 cfs to 16,700 cfs in a matter of days, causing less supply at Guddu upstream.

Irsa said: “Sindh’s losses downstream Taunsa to Kotri from May 1 to 10 were -39pc (against allowance of -30pc), while Punjab’s losses were -8pc (against allowance of -10pc) in Jhelum-Chenab Zone and +2pc (against allowance of -30pc) in Indus Zone during the same period.” This disturbing loss pattern made it an impossible task for Irsa “to make judicious distribution unless Sindh reported correct flow data and stopped downstream Kotri escapages amid excessive system shortages”.

The regulator put on record that many Joint Discharge Measurements conducted by Irsa in the past with representation from all concerned have confirmed misreporting of flow data but no corrective measure has been initiated by the concerned Provincial Irrigation Department. Moreover, during Rabi 2020-21 downstream Kotri releases were recorded at 0.556 Million Acre Feet (MAF) and from April 1 to-date, escapages below Kotri were 0.046 MAF. “Releases downstream Kotri have been made despite shortages in the system in violation of Irsa’s instructions.”

On Sindh’s objection on reduction of Mangla Reservoir outflows, Irsa said the outflows had been cut immediately to 50,000 cfs on May 3 from 55,000 cfs to prevent reservoir’s drop below the spillway’s crest level, otherwise the reservoir below the spillway crest level would have constrained the outflows only through the power house of around 38,000 cfs. At the same time, about 0.710MAF water was released from Mangla Reservoir exclusively from April 6 to May 2 to meet requirements of Sindh.

Mr Rana said Irsa’s prime responsibility was to balance the shortages between Punjab and Sindh by June 10 and full cooperation was assured to all stakeholders in provision of water by remaining within the agreed parameters. However, Punjab utilised 16pc lower than anticipated share compared to only 4pc lower consumption by Sindh.

Responding to Mr Bilawal’s allegations, the water regulator said it had not cut Sindh’s water share but in fact increased downstream Taunsa supplies by reducing Punjab withdrawals. The present dip in river flows was unavoidably passed downstream as no regulating storage was available at Tarbela and Chashma reservoirs.

Irsa said it was distributing available supplies to all provinces as per the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord and the Irsa Act of 1992 and the 3-tier formula which was adopted decades ago through a majority vote and based on Para 14 (b) of the water accord. Sindh’s objection to the formula is pending with a technical committee constituted by the Council of Common Interests to suggest a way out.

The water regulator alleged that Balochistan had been enduring chronic shortages since early seventies as all its canals originate from Sindh and were under control of the Sindh irrigation department. “Still Balochistan’s canals are facing -61pc shortages as of today,” it said.

Irsa also rejected Bhutto-Zardari’s other allegations saying it had to-date neither heard of any plans nor received any NOC request from any quarter for construction of a power house on Taunsa-Panjnad link Canal, while permission for a power plant on Chashma-Jhelum link was with a majority vote and would be run solely on provincial irrigation requirements and power production from the plant shall be a by-product of that operation.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021

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