Sindh sticks to its guns on water shortage

Published June 4, 2024
A shepherd passes through the dry bed of Indus river along with his herd of livestock near Latifabad, on Sunday.—Umair Ali
A shepherd passes through the dry bed of Indus river along with his herd of livestock near Latifabad, on Sunday.—Umair Ali

• Irrigation secretary says province faced 29pc shortage in early Kharif; blames Punjab for diverting flows into link canals, decision to fill reservoirs
• Insists discharging water downstream from Kotri essential to meet drinking water needs
• Irsa disputes claim Mangla is witnessing record storage level

HYDERABAD: As a tiff between Sindh and Punjab over the distribution of water through the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) continues to simmer, the former has reiterated its claim that the province faced a water shortage in the early Kharif season, despite ample storage available in the country’s reservoirs.

This resonated with earlier claims made by Sindh in the last week of May, when it requested Irsa to halt the transfer of water from the Indus zone to the Jhelum-Chenab (JC) zone, saying the practice had put lower riparian Sindh at a disadvantage. It had also questioned Punjab’s decision to operate link canals.

In response, Punjab said Sindh had exceeded its Kharif share by up to 20pc, and accused the province of underreporting and shifting the blame.

Sindh, however, maintains that its viewpoint is backed by statistics, allocations, and the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991.

“Sindh utilised 3.560 million acre feet (MAF) from April 1 to May 20 against accord allocations of 4.645 MAF with 23pc shortage,” Sindh Irrigation Secretary Zarif Khero told Dawn.

Dispute over water share

During the April 2 Irsa Advisory Committee (IAC) meeting, the province’s share was fixed at 28.805MAF for the Kharif season, whereas its allocation under the 1991 accord was 33.94MAF, so the province used only 3.560MAF (12pc of its allocated share) and 10pc of the accord-based allocations until May 20.

Punjab had claimed that on May 31, the maximum share of Sindh under the Water Apportionment Accord was 98,700 cusecs whereas it had placed its indent of 140,000 cusecs, and against this demand, Irsa was releasing 190,000 cusecs, which was more than double the actual share of Sindh.

“We are not placing indents more than the share, but it is inclusive of losses [as per Irsa’s standard operating procedures] calculated right from Chashma downstream to Kotri barrage. Therefore, the claim that Sindh placed 140,000 cusecs against accord-based share of 98,700 cusecs while Irsa released 190,000 cusecs (double than actual share) is, prima facie, misleading,” Mr Khero said.

The allocation of the water share is made on a “10 daily basis” for each month under the 1991 water accord.

On May 13, Irsa reduced shortages to “zero per cent” for the provinces (mainly Punjab and Sindh)for the early Kharif season (April 1-June 10). An Irsa statement noted that since full indented supply was being released in the system since May 13, any shortage at any barrage could not be attributed to Irsa.

The full supply was attributed to two factors: high temperatures in catchment areas and ongoing work at Tarbela’s Tunnel-5. Excessive flows were available in the system, indicating a 30,000 cusec-discharge for Sindh and 16,000 cusecs for Punjab, in excess of their indents below Chashma.

However, Sindh claimed that due a shortage in the flows, it had to use 3.560MAF out of its 8.292MAF share till May 20. This means that 4.732MAF (57pc) of Sindh’s share still remained unutilised for two ten dailies of the early Kharif season.

Secretary Khero said Sindh faced a 37pc shortage in the second 10 daily of May, whereas link canals were operated at the same time to transfer water from Indus Zone to JC (Jehlum-Chenab) zone in Punjab.

Sindh attributes this shortage to storage beyond planned levels in dams and operations of ‘controversial’ link canals, saying it faced 29pc shortage till June 1 while its barrages faced 19pc overall shortage till June 2.

‘Underreporting’

Talking about claims of underreporting, the Sindh irrigation secretary maintained that Punjab “always questioned” the assessments of “neutral bodies” in this regard.

“Recently, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Irsa members, and provincial representatives observed discharges Taunsa downstream twice, leading to ’huge discrepancies between actual discharge and reported ones by Punjab,” he said.

An Irsa statement also noted the discrepancy, saying that it had sought clarification from Punjab over the recent discharge measurement taken by the PCRWR at Taunsa barrage.

But at the same time, Irsa pointed out that spot/surprise checks had revealed “underreporting at different barrages on Indus”, without specifying which province these occurred in. The statement said that a provincial response was awaited on the matter.

Discharges downstream of Kotri

The Sindh irrigation secretary said that Punjab’s view of releases of 0.062MAF below Kotri as a violation of the IAC decision was “patently illogical” as the release of meagre cusecs downstream Kotri ensures potable water supplies for Hyderabad district’s Latifabad taluka, besides Kotri city.

Lately, hazardous total dissolved solids in the water have drastically increased due to contaminated discharge from Manchhar Lake into the river, forcing Hyderabad’s civic agency to stop lifting water from its Kotri downstream facility in April, to avoid a repeat of the casualties seen in May 2004.

The secretary also rebuffed criticism of the releases downstream of Kotri.

“[Around] 5,000 cusecs per day are needed below Kotri for drinking and environmental needs. A concentrated discharge of 25MAF was recommended at least once in five years to check sea intrusion through silt deposition,” Secretary Zarif said.

Sindh Irsa Member Ehsan Leghari also noted that the Kotri discharges could not be objected to on any grounds, if the 1991 Accord references were anything to go by.

He also contested Punjab’s claim that the April 2 IAC decided to operate link canals. “The claim to transfer water through link canals to facilitate Mangla’s filling is just incorrect,” he said.

The irrigation secretary said the transfer of water from the Indus to the JC system was “mind-boggling” amid shortages, even though ample water was available in JC to feed south Punjab canal commands.

Taunsa-Panjnad link canal

The situation in the Taunsa-Panjnad (TP) link canal is rather strange. With Indus water, the TP feeds the JC system upstream of Panjnad. On June 2, TP drew 12,000 cusecs for the JC system.

Interestingly, 16,000 cusecs were again released from JC downstream Panjnad to head for Sindh on June 2. “Isn’t it evident that they [Punjab] had 4,000 cusecs of surplus water available in JC?” Zarif quipped.

Had these 12,000 cusecs not been diverted to TP Link Canal and released for Guddu to meet the shortage in Sindh and Balochistan, it could have avoided losses and a seven-day time lag. “Is there still any justification to lift water… through link canals,” he asked.

Another irrigation officer said through this practice, Punjab “recharges its groundwater aquifer”. He said when this was being done in the early Kharif season, Sindh was facing a 37pc shortage.

Water levels in Mangla

Separately, an Irsa spokesman contested the Sindh irrigation department’s claim that Mangla had not seen the kind of storage levels currently being witnessed, in the past 60 years.

The level surpassed the current level of 1,186ft in 2015, 2016 and 2020 on the same date, the spokesperson said, adding that Mangla dam was filled as per the parameters approved by the Irsa Advisory Committee on April 2.

Meanwhile, the Sindh Irrigation Department’s spokesman said that 2015, 2016 and 2020 could not be compared to 2024 as in those three years, Sindh faced almost no shortage from April 1 to May 20.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2024

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