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May 17, 2021

Water row between Centre and Sindh intensifies

ISLAMABAD: The water row between Sindh and central governments has intensified after the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) opened the Chashma-Jehlum (CJ) and Taunsa-Punjnad (TP) link canals, resulting into 43 percent shortages at the Kotri Barrage owing to which downstream Kotri water releases have squeezed to just 300-400 cusecs.

The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Water is also going to meet in this current week to listen to the provincial government’s apprehensions on water shortages being passed on to Sindh -- the lower riparian federating unit.

The Sindh government spokesman, while talking to The News, said that reduction in water releases have also resulted into water shortages, making the Sindh government unable to provide water to the dwellers of Badin, Thatta, Sajawal and Tharparkar.

In the wake of massive water shortages, the Sindh government spokesman said, the downstream Kotri releases have shrunk to 300-400 cusecs owing to which the water availability crisis for the people living in 45 percent of the province, which has no ground drinking water, has soared. He said that downstream water releases have squeezed to an unbearable limit, which should be at 10 MAF every year and according to the international panel of experts, downstream water releases should stay at 5,000 cusecs every day to avoid sea intrusion.

“So much so, it has become impossible to provide water to Karachiites from Kinjar Lake that also takes the water inflows from the Indus outlet. And in the wake of current water shortages, the water level at Kinjar Lake has now come to 47 feet, which is almost close to dead level.”

He disclosed that the Sindh government had objected to the increase in water shortages to the province and submitted its reservation on opening the CJ and TP link canals.

“However, IRSA closed down the TP link canal but continued to supply water to CJ link canal from Indus River,” he said adding that the Sindh government not only wants reduction in water shortages but aspires required water releases ‘on-time’. Though IRSA has closed down the TP link canal, the dip that appeared due to opening of the two-CJ and TP link canals is still causing water shortages in Sindh, the Sindh government spokesman said.

He said that Sindh farmers have cultivated cotton instead of rice, which consumes more water. “The early watering for the cotton crop has been done, but now the cotton crop direly needs watering as the time of its maturity has arrived. The increase in water shortages by IRSA has virtually jeopardized the cotton crop in Sindh.”

However, IRSA Chairman Rao Irshad Ali Khan denied that the Sindh government was being provided excessive water shortages, claiming that for early crops, water regulator had worked the water shortage of 10 percent for the whole country, however, from April 1 to May 10, the Sindh government has been provided 11 percent water shortages whereas Punjab has been given water shortage of 25 percent. The Sindh province was given more water in the month of April because of sowing of cotton and now the sowing season has begun in Punjab, which is being released more water and this is imperative to assure the water shortages faced by both the provinces on an equal basis.

The IRSA chairman said that the country is getting less water inflows in Indus than IRSA had predicted and in the time to come, the inflows may improve but it all depends upon the temperature in Skardu. If the temperature stays at 24 degree Centigrade, then water inflows can rise to 70,000-80,000 cusecs per day and if mercury goes up to 30 degree in Skardu, then water inflows can rise up to 150,000 cusecs per day. On being asked about the current status of water in dams, the chairman said that the country has about 1 million acre feet of water in dams.

A statement issued by IRSA says that IRSA Advisory Committee (IAC) in its meeting on 08.04.2021 approved the Water Availability Criteria for Kharif 2021 with an average shortage of 16%in early Kharif and 4% in late Kharif 2021.

During the meeting, all the provinces, including Sindh, agreed that the expected shortage was manageable with efficient water application and distribution practices. The distribution of provincial shares was as per the Three Tier formula to which Sindh also agreed.

Unfortunately, due to witnessing excessive variability and historical dips in river flows during April 2021 as a result of regional climate change and almost exhausted storages in Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma Reservoirs, the fluctuations could not be absorbed and regulated. Hence, unavoidable flow variations passed downstream Chashma Barrage. Indus River inflows at Tarbela touched historically lowest level of 15,000 cfs and 13,100 cfs on 26-27th April 2021, respectively. The IRSA tried to cope with the dip by utilizing available storage in Tarbela and subsequently Chashma Reservoir, but because of limited storage at that time, Tarbela Reservoir touched dead level on 27th April, 2021 and Chashma Reservoir on 30th April 2021.

After observing significant improvement in Indus and Kabul River flows in early May 2021, IRSA decided to implement water sharing afresh by increasing Sindh’s share at Chashma Barrage downstream. This was managed by reducing Punjab canal withdrawals at Taunsa and Panjnad Barrages to facilitate Sindh as much as possible. The withdrawals at these barrages were reduced from 19,161 cfs on 04.05.2021 to 13,876 cfs on 06.05.2021. By implementing the above sharing order, downstream Taunsa flows gradually increased from 33,666 cfs on 04.05.2021 to 63,129 cfs on 11.05.2021, but losses between Taunsa -- Panjnad -- Guddu Reach sprang up simultaneously from 300 cfs to 16,700 cfs in a matter of days, causing less supply at Guddu upstream.

It may also be noted that Sindh’s losses downstream Taunsa to Kotri from May 01-10, 2021 were -39% (against allowance of -30%), while Punjab's losses were -8% (against allowance of -10%) in Jhelum-Chenab Zone and +2% (against allowance of -30%) in Indus Zone during the same period. Looking at the above losses pattern, which was disturbing, it seemed almost an impossible task for IRSA to make judicious distribution unless Sindh reported correct flow data and stopped downstream Kotri escapages amid excessive system shortages. Many Joint Discharge Measurements (JDMs) conducted by IRSA in the past with representation from all concerned have confirmed misreporting of flow data but no corrective measure has been initiated by the concerned Provincial Irrigation Department (PID). Another wastage aspect which merits mentioning is that during Rabi 2020-21 downstream Kotri releases were recorded at 0.556 Million Acre Feet (MAF) and from April 01, 2021 to-date, escapages below Kotri were 0.046 MAF. Releases downstream Kotri have been made despite shortages in the system in violation of IRSA’s instructions.

Regarding Sindh’s objection on reduction of Mangla Reservoir outflows by IRSA, it was apprised that the outflows had been cut immediately to 50,000 cfs on 03.05.2021 to prevent reservoirs drop below the spillway’s crest level. Had the outflows not been reduced from 55,000 cfs to 50,000 cfs, the reservoir would have gone below the spillway crest level, resulting in constraining and passing of outflows only through the power house of around 38,000 cfs. An important point worth mentioning is that about 0.710 MAF water was released from the Mangla Reservoir exclusively during April 06, 2021 to May 02, 2021 to meet with the requirements of Sindh. It was the prime responsibility of IRSA to balance the shortages between Punjab and Sindh by June 10th, 2021, i.e. end of early Kharif period. Full cooperation was assured to all stakeholders in provision of water by remaining within the agreed parameters as decided by the IAC. Referring to the allegations of Chairman Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which recently appeared in the press, it is clarified that IRSA has not cut the water share of Sindh, rather has increased downstream Taunsa supplies by reducing Punjab withdrawals as stated above. The present dip in river flows was unavoidably passed downstream as no regulating storage was available at Tarbela and Chashma Reservoirs.

Also, exceptional water losses in the Indus River have reduced supplies to Sindh. IRSA is endeavouring to distribute available supplies to all the provinces as per the policies of Water Apportionment Accord (WAA) 1991 and as per its functions in IRSA Act of 1992. The Three (3) Tier formula adopted by IRSA has been approved by IRSA’s majority vote and is based on Para 14 (b) of WAA, which specifies the mechanism of sharing shortages. The matter is under consideration of CCI on Sindh’s objection to the formula. The CCI has formulated a technical committee of provincial experts for come-up with recommendations to solve the issue. The report of the Committee is still awaited. IRSA has exempted smaller shareholders of KP and Balochistan from shortages. Regarding provision of water to Balochistan, it is apprised that the province has been enduring chronic shortages since early Seventies as all its canals originate from Sindh and are under control of PID Sindh. Balochistan's canals are facing 61pc shortages as of today.

As regards other allegations of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, it is stated that IRSA has to-date not heard of any plans nor received any NOC request from any quarter for construction of a power house on T-P link Canal. However, the approval of IRSA to construct a power plant on C-J link was with a majority vote as per the provision of IRSA Act. The C-J Canal shall be run solely on provincial irrigation requirements and power production from the plant shall be a by-product of that operation.

The above water situation has been duly informed and adequately elaborated to PID Sindh by IRSA in its letter dated 12.05.2021. The authority is carefully monitoring river inflows and has assigned appropriate preferences to provide supplies to the provinces by keeping minimum balancing storages at Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma Reservoirs. As of today, the share of Sindh, with immediate effect, has been increased from 66,000 cfs to 71,000 cfs.

Operational difficulties in water distribution and regulation are bound to occur in such circumstances; however, IRSA is doing its best to efficiently manage the available water resources under unprecedented conditions with expectations of maximum cooperation from all stakeholders till the water situation gets improved by rising temperatures in upper catchments of the rivers.