Friday April 12, 2024

IRSA to discuss water issue in its stormy session tomorrow

Indus River and Wapda’s opposition against the water releases from low-level outs of Tarbela Dam

By Khalid Mustafa
April 01, 2024
A general view of the Tarbela Dam. — WAPDA website/File
A general view of the Tarbela Dam. — WAPDA website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Advisory Committee of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) scheduled to meet tomorrow (Tuesday) may witness the stormy session mainly because the Wapda has failed to complete its tunnel projects at Tarbela Dam and its opposition to release the water to Sindh from low-level outlets and work out water availability for Kharif season with expected water shortfall of just below 30 percent.

According to top officials in one of the provincial irrigation and power departments, IRSA’s technical committee has worked out below 30 percent water shortfall for the whole Kharif season. However, for early Kharif spanning from April 1 to June 10, 2024, the water shortage will be much more than 30 percent mainly because of the low temperatures and slow melting of ice piled in the catchment areas of Pakistan’s rivers, especially of Indus River and Wapda’s opposition against the water releases from low-level outs of Tarbela Dam.

The Advisory Committee comprising IRSA’s five members, secretaries of irrigation and power departments of four federating units, Wapda’s water members, and top officials of the Pakistan Meteorological Office would finalize water availability probabilities keeping in view the working of IRSA technical committee. As per the IRSA’s technical committee’s working, the country is likely to brave the water deficit of just below 30 percent in the whole Kharif season.

Tarbela Dam at Indus is the main source to cater to the irrigational needs of the four federating units — Sindh, Punjab, KP, and Balochistan. Wapda wants IRSA to release water from the Tarbela Dam beyond the storage level of 1,420 feet mark and under this scenario, the sowing of two main Kharif crops including cotton and rice, in Sindh would be jeopardized.

Wapda’s instructions to IRSA came in the backdrop of the requirement of water for the construction of the tunnel project (T3) as water withdrawal from low-level outlets will hurt the construction work. The work by Wapda on T-3 and T-4 was to be completed by October-November 2023 but is still ongoing. However, on T-5, the construction work is to be completed in 33 months. With the completion of projects such as T-3, T-4, and T-5, Tarbela Dam would have the capacity to generate hydro generation of 6,298 MWs.

Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro told The News the advisory committee meeting on April 2 would take up the issue. However, Sindh needs maximum water releases in early Kharif; otherwise, it will brave an unmatchable loss in Kharif crops’ production. “We do not support the storing of water to the level Wapda has asked for. Sindh needs maximum water releases as per the water accord and if there is a shortage, it should be passed on to all the provinces,” said the minister.

In the IRSA technical committee meeting, Sindh has already shown its concerns over the Wapda’s failure to complete its tunnel projects. Sindh in the meeting stressed maximum water releases from the Tarbela reservoir from low-level outlets so that it could sow cotton and rice on time. Sindh in the meeting stated clearly that at Kotri Barrage, which is the last on Indus, there is no water available even for drinking purposes and in the Nara Canal and others, there was 70 to 80 percent water shortage.

In its letter sent to IRSA on March 26, 2024, Wapda’s chief engineer at Tarbela Dam asked IRSA to first maintain the water level at 1,420ft for releasing the water as the lowering of reservoir to the low-level outlet will halt the ongoing construction activities of the tunnel project – T3 trash racks replacement, which is scheduled to be completed by April 13, 2024, and cause an unaffordable delay in project completion. The project director of T4 earlier sent the same letter to IRSA’s technical wing.

However, an IRSA official says that Wapda’s letters on its tunnel projects and its failure to complete projects T3, T4, and T5 on time will be considered for decision on the water release plan from reservoirs of Tarbela Dam and Mangla Dam with water deficit to provinces, particularly for Sindh, in the advisory committee that will meet on April 2.