From lined legacy to modernised channel

Published January 15, 2024
HYDERABAD: The irrigation staff is busy with the maintenance work of Akram Wah during the annual closure of Kotri Barrage in January.—Photo by Umair Ali
HYDERABAD: The irrigation staff is busy with the maintenance work of Akram Wah during the annual closure of Kotri Barrage in January.—Photo by Umair Ali

One of the two main perennial canals of Kotri Barrage, Akram Wah or the lined channel, will no longer be a lined channel once its remodelling and rehabilitation phase is done under World Bank funded Sindh Water and Agriculture Transformation (SWAT) project.

Its remodelling and improvement will be done for Rs898 million by Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida) under SWAT, for which an agreement has been signed between Managing Director (MD) Sida and Project Implementation Consultants (PIC) for proposed works.

The channel is a perennial canal on the left bank of the Indus River and takes off from Kotri Barrage. It was the only channel, out of Sindh’s 14 main canals, that was lined in Sindh. A few years back, part of Sukkur barrage’s Rohri canal was lined but only to benefit a construction tycoon’s housing scheme in Nawabshah to avoid seepage. Other branches of different canals were lined recently for water conservation.

Akram was operationalised in 1951 and badly hit by the floods of 1956 as Kotri Barrage crossed 981,000 cusecs due to floods. This peak was later passed in September 2010’s super floods when a flow of 939,442 cusecs passed downstream the barrage.

The remodelling and rehabilitation of Kotri Barrage’s Akram Wah canal may address some of Sindh’s water woes

The canal was then repaired for Rs0.6m, and it started feeding perennial supplies to the Gaja area in 1957 after its construction. It became operational around 1958 after the construction of the Kotri barrage. At the time of construction, it was partly lined and partly earthen.

After construction, the lined channel was named after Akram Shaikh by the then governor of West Pakistan as per the January 1961 document that shows the history of “Wah” and is part of the record in Sida (a copy of which is available with Dawn). The canal’s renaming was done to recognise the services of Sheikh as chief engineer of irrigation in West Pakistan during the execution of the Ghulam Mohammad (Kotri) barrage.

“The designed discharge of Akram Wah was increased from 3,714 to 4,300 cusecs in the 1960s,” said deputy director (irrigation and floods) Sajjad Ali Soomro. He said that the section of the present canal’s structure could not be enhanced due to settled areas surrounding the canal.

“Our consultants will review the feasibility study of Akram Wah in the Water Sector Improvement Project. They can see whether the lining of Akram Wah is indeed necessary. Consultants will also vet that feasibility report,” said MD Sida Pritam Das.

He said that only a few panels of lining are intact in Akram Wah, and the rest had been eroded because the adjacent agricultural land is located on an elevated surface, and seepage has hit the lining structure.

“Secondly, at the time of construction, the aspect of groundwater recharge was perhaps not factored in by engineers,” observed MD Das. But, he said that consultants will look into the lining of the canal.

Like perennial irrigation flows of the canal, Akram Wah’s problem remains chronic since it hasn’t carried the withdrawal of designed discharge at its head for decades, although it feeds lower Sindh’s Tando Mohammad Khan, Badin as well as parts of Hyderabad district’s rural area with a cultivable command area of 0.49m acres and gross command area of 0.59m acres.

Hyderabad’s Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) also withdraws water from the channel for drinking. To ensure required flows for agricultural purposes to farmland, Sida feeds the canal through the non-perennial New Phulelli canal’s Alipur regulator to offset its never-ending water deficiency. It irks those dependent on the water of New Phulelli for their paddy cultivation.

Ironically, cultivation of paddy in the left bank of Kotri barrage’s command areas, though it is banned in left bank areas of Guddu and Sukkur barrages by the provincial government under West Pakistan legislation, is seen in Akram Wah’s command areas during Kharif season. During this period, the water shortage situation aggravates in the Indus River system in general and Sindh in particular.

Akram Wah’s water was used to irrigate Sukkur barrage’s left bank command area, which was otherwise fed through the Rohri canal of Sukkur barrage. These areas are located at the tail end of the Rohri Canal.

As the Indus River system experiences a shortage of flows, Kotri Barrage faces the worst water shortage during the summer, reporting the highest water shortage figure percentage-wise. “Growers dependent on New Phulelli canal’s water are justified in raising hue and cry against diversion of their share of water just to meet needs of Akram Wah. We sincerely hope to resolve this in this project,” MD Das said.

Under SWAT, Akram Wah’s works include removing damaged lined panels of the canal in certain sections as the debris blocks the flow regime of the channel. Retaining walls will be built at vulnerable canal sections where it passes through the city. Four cross regulators are to be replaced along with some bridges that constrain the flow.

One hopes that the canal’s remodelling will address all issues once and for all under this project.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 15th, 2024

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