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Traditional Water Sources

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Friday, 23 July 2010

By: Shital Babu Regmee
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Nepal has sufficient water in a lump sum model. During the wet season, there are floods and inundation in the lowlands and landslides on the unstable slopes. But water is a scarce commodity in almost all the areas during the dry season. Therefore, to ensure regular supply of water, some sort of storage and water saving approach has become essential.

A common question the general public asks is, “Why are we facing load-shedding despite our huge water resources potential?” Our planners, leaders and system seem to be unable to address the situation and work with a common goal. The present perception that first we finalise our political course and then we move on to development of hydropower is not an acceptable alternative. We may face another round of instability due to an energy crisis if the present trend continues.
The domestic water supply scenario is also not satisfactory. Though coverage is increasing, water availability in urban areas has been diminishing and a lot of time and resource is being consumed for management of water for domestic purposes. Over pumping is resulting in drying up of perched aquifer or lowering of the water table in general. The urban population is compelled to use unsafe or expensive water for their daily needs. A basement water tank of sufficient capacity has become a must in all new houses for storage of water supplied by private water tankers at a price 10 times higher than the public supply.
The Himalaya, called the water towers of Asia, and the low-lying areas in the Tarai have water as snow or groundwater. Annual rainfall, averaging about 1,500 mm, is also a substantial amount if managed properly. What we need is proper planning, implementation and management. Our rivers pour 225 billion m3 of water into the River Ganges annually, but we are facing hardships related to water availability and energy deficit. The water is flowing on continuously inviting our attention to utilize it.
We cope with an excess flow of water during the four months of the monsoon, but it is a scarce commodity during other months. It, therefore, clearly leads us to hoard water when there is an excess and distribute it when we have a deficit. However, there is the problem of our limited storage capacity. So, to solve the problems related to water and energy, Nepal has no choice but to create water storage schemes at appropriate locations.
Consumption of fossil fuel is increasing at an unsustainable pace. In the present unstable political and economic scenario, it seems that the trend of increasing demand will not slow down for quite a long time to come. The trend shows that in five years from now, all our export earnings will be consumed in importing fossil fuels. So Nepal should take immediate steps to replace fossil fuels with other sustainable resources. For Nepal, the only alternative is to go for water storage projects for electricity production and other uses.
There are always a large number of activists who start screaming at the development of large storage projects. It is to be noted that the developed world that has already tapped all its potential and constructed huge reservoirs both in number and size plead for cautious development in the sector. Both our neighbours are investing heavily in the development of mega multipurpose storage projects. The proposal for development of the 38,000 MW Motuo Dam on the upper reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo (the Bramhaputra) by China as part of a huge expansion plan to save 200 million tons of carbon dioxide has become a common subject of interest. Similarly, in Arunachal Pradesh of India, the 3,000 MW Dibang multipurpose project is being initiated. Nepal has many suitable sites for multipurpose reservoir projects, and we, too, should not hesitate to utilize our resources.
Once we decide on construction of storage multipurpose projects, we have to prioritize them and choose from many possible sites. The options are very big storage projects near the Tarai foothills (Sapta Koshi, Karnali Chisapani), big storage projects in the mid-hills (Pancheswor, Budhi Gandaki, West Seti) and storage projects at high altitudes (Kali Gandaki Kobang, Marsyangdi Manang, Nausalgu Gad). Where to construct the first reservoir may be a very crucial decision as it may decide the future course of action.
Selecting very big storage projects in large and populated areas may be very difficult to implement. Huge investment, resettlement and rehabilitation issues, submergence of very important sites and hazards and risks due to the project can be very critical; and implementation may be extremely difficult under the present circumstances. Selecting medium range storage projects in the mid-mountains may be a good option. Lack of detailed study and selection and preparation of suitable projects is the most important issue for starting such projects. The main problem in the area may be resettlement and rehabilitation issues. A high head and relatively smaller reservoir area may be a suitable option.
Selecting projects in the high hills may also be a suitable option. We may select a storage project in the upper reaches of the rivers where roads have already been constructed. The Tila River in Jumla, the Kali Gandaki River in Myagdi and Mustang, the Marsyangdi River in Manang, the Budhi Gandaki River in Gorkha and the upper reaches of the Arun River may be suitable locations. These storage projects, if constructed, would provide multiple benefits due to the cascading effect on all the downstream projects. Such upper reaches have lesser complexity due to lesser rehabilitation and resettlement issues. Road, geology and availability of water may be the crucial factor for selecting such sites.
At present, funding for such storage projects is an important issue. Due to its poor financial state, the Nepal Electricity Authority is unable to invest in such projects. We cannot expect the private sector to come forward when the country is in such a fluid situation, and donor agencies also seem reluctant to invest in such basic infrastructure development. The only option remaining is mobilizing internal resources, mostly from the public sector, for the development of such storage projects. Help from donor agencies should always be welcomed in such a priority sector. It seems that the sector cannot move forward in a healthy way unless a run-of-the-river hydropower project of at least 100 MW capacity is launched every year or a storage project of about 1,000 MW is started in the near future. It should be noted that a storage project started now can be operational only after a decade or so. Each day delayed is an increase in load-shedding and electricity crisis in the country.
We are a country where water is in excess in the rainy season and deficit in the dry season. So it is a natural process to store it when we have more and utilize it in times of shortage. There is no other way to address the issue. Nepal needs at least a few reservoirs to solve the problems of energy crisis and water shortage. All the developed nations have already done so, and we should not be reluctant to move forward in this direction.

(The author is a water expert and a secretary, Government of Nepal)

Source: The Kathmandu Post, July 23, 2010

 
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