Irsa warns water shortages may aggravate

Published May 20, 2021
According to Irsa, it is currently distributing water at 18pc shortages because of national storages. — Photo by Mohammad Asim/File
According to Irsa, it is currently distributing water at 18pc shortages because of national storages. — Photo by Mohammad Asim/File

LAHORE: As temperatures drop in catchment areas, national water shortages have risen close to 30 per cent, against earlier calculations of 10pc, and the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) says that next 48 hours are crucial.

According to Irsa, it was currently distributing water at 18pc shortages because of national storages, which have around one million acre feet and are supporting current distribution. However, next two days are very critical — if temperatures keep the current pattern, “we would be in trouble.”

Punjab, however, wrote a stinging letter to Irsa on Wednesday, berating it for “risking Mangla dam filling” for its current distribution preferences. “Punjab demands in the strongest possible words that Irsa adjusts kharif allocations judiciously to meet with the demands of provinces in accordance with the available inflows at rim stations without disturbing the planned filling of Mangla reservoir.

Punjab demands adjustments in kharif allocations as per available inflows

“Instead of revisiting the estimated availability, a shortfall which may be in the range of 25 to 30pc, Irsa has decided to supply additional water from the Mangla dam to Sindh through Panjnad. It leaves Punjab, with culturable command area of 21.71 million acres, bearing 26pc shortage against 15pc by Sindh, having significantly less CCA of 12.78 million acres.”

Irsa, however, defends its decision, saying that “no stakeholder wants to compromise current (cotton) sowing for storage for future,” says Irsa spokesman Rana Khalid.

These reservoirs are for integrated use; if today Mangla dam is depleted for Sindh, tomorrow it would be supported through link canals (transferring water from Indus arm) for filling. The authority is balancing current usage with future requirements and saving as much water as it can for the rest of the season. Exceptionally, low temperatures have rigged all calculations; on Wednesday, total national inflow was 168,400 cusecs, against 192,800 cusecs on the same day last year and average availability of 218,100 cusecs,” Mr Khalid explains.

Undeterred, Punjab thinks that Irsa needs some soul-searching: why its calculations went so wrong. Against 10pc calculation, why they have multiplied three times? All indications were that against 16-year average of 27 inches snow, this year it snowed only 12 inches,” says a member of the Punjab Water Council. Why was it not factored in?

Fearing worst, Punjab says that “Mangla Reservoir was experiencing a deficit of 53.30 feet in its expected levels as predicted by Irsa and a 75pc shortage in volume as against what was calculated by Irsa. This is an alarming situation. If this trend continues, outflow from Mangla reservoir would be reduced to about 38,000 cusecs within next 15 days which will drastically affect the kharif sowing,” reads its letter to Irsa.

“Mangla dam’s situation is worsening day-by-day and there is a certain risk of it not getting filled which may badly affect the leftover period of early kharif and most importantly the upcoming season of (wheat) rabi season in Punjab. Mangla is the major source of water supply to feed the channels of Jhelum-Chenab Zone which consists of 13 million acres of fertile farmlands, an area greater than Sindh’s. If filling of Mangla reservoir is not handled prudently, it would be detrimental to the farmers of Punjab and national economy and food security of the country as a whole.”

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021

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