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June 18, 2019

Officials prioritise meeting irrigation needs instead of filling Mangla Dam


June 18, 2019

LAHORE: Filling the Mangla Dam has become a challenge for water managers due to below normal river flows, and increased water demand for Kharif crops that are currently being prioritises.

Except inflows of River Jhelum, supplies from all other rivers, including the Indus have nosedived and are far below expectations as well as average levels, an official said on Monday.

River Indus inflow on June 17 was predicted at 154,000 cusecs while it faltered to just 91,500. The official also said Monday’s water inflow of Indus recorded at Tarbela Dam was lowest in the last ten years. The second lowest river inflow at Tarbela was 96,700 cusecs in 2012.

Similarly, water level of Tarbela Dam, which was expected to be 1,427 feet on June 17, was merely 1,394 feet, just about two feet above dead level.

So from tomorrow, outflows from Tarbela Dam would equal inflows as all stored water would be exhausted. Due to low flows, there was no option but to fully utilise stored water of even Mangla to meet the demand for Kharif crops, the official observed.

The present river flow pattern and water levels of dams were far below the planned criteria set with the consultation of Indus River System Authority (IRSA), an official said.

Against the planned outflow of 23,000 cusecs from Mangla Dam, the authorities have been forced to release 85,000 cusecs to meet summer crop demand, especially for ensuring rice sowing.

The fine varieties of Basmati rice, which has a sizable part in exports, was sown from July 1 in the core paddy zone of the province, while coarse varieties were advised to be transplanted from June 20.

“Out of 85,000 cusecs being released from Mangla Dam, up to 15,000 cusecs of water will go to Sindh to meet their irrigation needs,” the official added.

If irrigation requirements of standing Kharif crops were not met, it would damage plants, the official said. They explained that below average flows were being seen in Indus, Kabul and Chenab rivers.

“In this bleak scenario, if we go for filling Mangla Dam to meet needs of the lean period coming winter, we will face huge shortages in the ongoing Kharif season, which was not a wise approach. Our only option is to ensure plantation of both cotton and rice crops this season, and to give second priority to filling the Mangla Dam.”

In this unprecedented situation, water managers have pinned hopes on a flood-like situation to impound water in Mangla lake to fill it to the maximum conservation level of 1,242 ft above mean sea level.

The filling of Mangla Dam remains a major challenge every other year, as its catchment area is smaller than the Indus. By June 30, Mangla lake should be filled to 80 percent of its full capacity.

However, it is just around 20 percent of its maximum conservation level. Water level at Tarbela Dam was at almost rock bottom on Monday, while only about 2MAF of water has been stored at Mangla Dam against its capacity of about 7.4MAF.

Good monsoon rains and high floods in coming days are the only hope for ensuring irrigation needs of Kharif crops as well as filling of Mangla and Tarbela Dam up to their respective full water holding capacity.

Citing estimates about river flows, the official observed that there was projection of high flows in late Kharif season due to record snowfall in the catchment of almost all rivers. However, owing to below normal temperatures in catchment areas in summer, melting of snow might not accelerate.

A shortfall of 50,000 to 60,000 cusecs was being faced in total rivers inflows if compared with the average level of last ten years.

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