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PESHAWAR, July 16: Thousands of Dera Ismail Khan farmers will remain without irrigation water from Loonee Nullah until the newly-built Gomal Zam dam project’s water storage is filled to capacity, according to experts.

“Farmers in the nullah’s command area will never be able to receive their perennial irrigation water because of sudden changes in the project’s original plan,” Sheikh Mukarram, president Aiwan-i-Zaraat (Agriculture Chamber), Dera Ismail Khan, told Dawn.

He said the affected growers had initially been told that irrigation channels would be constructed from the water reservoir to Loonee Nullah’s catchment area, supplying them seasonal irrigation water flows in fulfillment of their rights.

The authorities, he added, had informed the affected farmers that the construction of irrigation channels to Loonee Nullah had been dropped following changes in the original plan, depriving growers of irrigation water.

“This is not true as neither Loonee Nullah has been plugged for ever nor was its catchment area ever included in the original plan of the project,” Saleem Khan, project director Gomal Zam Dam, said over the telephone when contacted.

The traditional Raud Kohi irrigation system receiving seasonal inflows from Loonee, he added, would revive once the water storage was filled to the required level. The Loonee Nullah catchment area’s farmers would not be deprived of the perennial water for ever, Mr Khan said.

He, however, added the reservoir had touched the 714 metres level (above sea) consequently water could not be released down the stream until it was filled to 743 metres level required for electricity generation.

The reservoir, according to him, is expected to receive seasonal monsoon rainwater shortly following which the storage level was expected to rise.

“The revival of Loonee’s Raud Kohi system would depend on the filling of the reservoir to the required level,” the project director said.

The suspension of perennial water flows in the Loonee Nullah catchment area, according to Mr Mukarram, has rendered barren some 70,000 acres in 37 villages.

“Since 2010 the growers had only been depending on rainwater, suffering financially,” he added.

He said the affected growers had contacted their area’s elected representative Faisal Karim Kundi, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, requesting him to protect their water rights.

“We are considering to moving the court because the land settlement record of 1876 and 1901 clearly establish our perennial water rights that have been violated by the construction of the Gomal Zam dam,” said Mr Mukarram.

Executed by Water and Power Development Authority, Gomal Zam dam is a multi-purpose project being constructed with local and foreign funding. Its hydel power generation component involves a 17.4MW electricity generation capacity, whereas, its irrigation system involves 191,139 acres catchment area in district Tank, adjoining Dera Ismail Khan.

While work on power generation component is about to complete, the completion of the irrigation component that involves a 63 kilometer long main canal and 369 kilometers long distributaries is far behind the scheduled timeline, according to an official document.

Besides, the project also involves the construction of a weir 43 kilometer downstream the main dam.

The main reservoir with 1.14 MAF gross storage capacity and the small pond would receive inflows from two traditional water courses, including Gomal and Loonee nullahs that depend on hill torrents triggered by seasonal rains.

According to the project director, a ‘small pond for water storage’ has been developed upstream the weir from where water would be flowed into an 850 cusecs canal.

“We would be storing a limited quantity of water in the pond above the weir to support the canal and the rest of the water would be released to the Loonee Nullah catchment area, reviving the old Raud Kohi irrigation system,” said Mr Khan.

He said they wanted to start releasing water to the Loonee Nullah water catchment area, but it was not possible until the main reservoir and the water pond had the required quantity of water.

He, however, rejected the Dera Ismail Khan farmers’ complaint about dropping the construction of irrigation channels in their area from the original project plan. Loonee’s area, he added, was beyond the boundary of the project.

The government, he said, had told the farmers that irrigation channels would be constructed in their area under other similar projects that would be executed in the near future.