Monday May 27, 2024

Irsa in hot water again over Tarbela dam constraints

“The water regulator cannot store water above 1,470-foot on account of the construction work going on in the tunnel-5 hydropower plant

By Khalid Mustafa
May 13, 2024
The Tarbela Dam in Pakistan. — WAPDA Website/File
The Tarbela Dam in Pakistan. — WAPDA Website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has landed in hot waters again, as it is now compelled to release more water to provinces than their water idents because of the Tarbela Dam constraints.

“The water regulator cannot store water above 1,470-foot on account of the construction work going on in the tunnel-5 hydropower plant. In case, the level increases above 1,470-foot, water can enter the tunnel, putting the project in danger. Right now, water level in Tarbela reservoir has already reached 1,470 feet,” senior officials of the water ministry told The News.

“The IRSA authorities are quite upset as Wapda has asked that the water storage in Tarbela Dam should not exceed 1,470 feet till July 20, 2024, as in July the medium to high flood in Indus is being assessed and IRSA badly needs to store the flood water in the dam. If Wapda does not allow to store water just to save the tunnel-5 project, floods would play havoc in various parts of Punjab and in particular Sindh and more importantly the precious water could not be stored.”

This has put IRSA’s top mandarins in a state of worry and today (Monday) they have convened a special meeting of the provinces to review the water availability that has increased manifold. This is due to 200 per cent excessive rains in April and more importantly last week, melting of glaciers also accelerated, resulting in an increase in water flows in Indus. The temperature in Skardu increased by 10 degrees from 17 to 27 degrees due to the heatwave last week.

In the meeting, IRSA authorities have also summoned the Tarbela general manager (GM) and Tunnel-5 project director (PD) to resolve the issue. Both the officials will face the music as IRSA authorities are in a rage over the situation that has cropped up due to the criminal negligence and failure of Wapda to complete the project on time.

When contacted, the IRSA spokesman confirmed to The News that the special meeting had been convened for Monday (today) to review the water availability and the situation that appeared owing to the inability of Wapda to complete the Tunnel-5 project in Tarbela Dam on time.

However, sources said that IRSA might further reduce the water shortage from today up to 10 per cent for the early Kharif season from April 1 to June 10, 2024, from the earlier anticipated 30 per cent shortage that was later reduced to 21 per cent. IRSA would increase water releases from Tarbela Dam because of the inability to store water due to construction work, which is underway on the Tunnel-5 project and the provinces would be asked to place their new water withdrawal plans seeking more water with it.

“The provinces will be directed to consume the water at the maximum for irrigation of seedlings of rice in Sindh after irrigating cotton and sowing of cotton that is going to start in Punjab. We are expecting that in the late Kharif season, IRSA would release 10-15 million acres of feet (MAF) of water downstream Kotri to keep sea intrusion away from eating up the fertile land of the Sindh province.”

As per the available latest water data showing inflows and outflows, total inflows in the system stand at 249,900 cusecs and water outflows stand at 213,100 cusecs. The system currently has stored water of 4.630 MAF. However, the water level in Tarbela stands at 1,470 feet where inflows stand at 59,700 cusecs, while outflows stand at 49,900 cusecs. In Kabul river, water flows have increased to 87,100 cusecs, which has caused an increase in level of water in Chashma Barrage to 645 feet with live storage of 0.125 MAF. The inflows in Chashma have risen to 95,000 cusecs, whereas outflows stand at 90,000 cusecs. In Mangla Dam, the water level stands at 1,171.55 feet with live storage of 2.664 MAF water. In Mangla at Jhelum, inflows have increased to 69,000 cusecs while outflows stand at 42,000 cusecs.

Responding to queries sent by The News, the Wapda spokesperson said as per normal practice every year Wapda informs IRSA about operational constraints of projects before every cropping season. Similarly, he said, for the current year, on IRSA’s requirement, Wapda conveyed about operational constraints of Tarbela for Kharif 2024 (In March Advisory Committee Meeting).

The spokesperson said IRSA was also informed about construction activities of T5 Project at intake site located within reservoir and requested to maintain the Tarbela reservoir at 1,470 ft up to July 20, 2024.

“Due to unprecedented hydrology in River Kabul, IRSA outflow from Tarbela reservoir remained less as compared to previous year and reservoir level rapidly rose to 1,470 ft in the first ten days of May. Keeping the current flow situation in view, IRSA acceded to the request of Wapda and maintained the reservoir at 1,470 ft for the time being with a prerequisite of review of system inflows necessitating any changes in outflow. It is pertinent to mention here that Tarbela filling starts from 20th June and attains its maximum conservation level 1,550 ft every year by 20th of August with abundant water of snow melt available in July and August each year. So ample time and capacity in reservoir will be available to fill reservoir to its maximum by 20th August,” he concluded.