IRSA likely to further slash water shortage amid surging river inflows

The authority convenes an emergency meeting today to review water situation in country

ISLAMABAD   -   The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) is likely to further revise downward the anticipated water shortage for the provinces from 21 percent to 10 to 15 percent during the early Kharif season, owing to a 118 percent increase in inflows in the river system compared to the same period last year.

However, despite the record inflows in the rivers system, no more water will be stored in Tarbella Dam, above the existing level of 1,470 feet, due to the operational constraints of tunnel five (T5) and all the additional water will be released to provinces. IRSA has convened an emergency meeting of the authority today (Monday) to review water situation in the country, review progress on T5 project and operational constraint of Tarbela Dam at 1,470 Ft level, said the IRSA spokesperson Khalid Idrees Rana here Sunday.

General Manager Tarbella, Project Director T5 and all the other concerned have been invited for the meeting to brief the water regulator regarding the progress on T5 and the completion of the task by the deadline of 20 July. The meeting has been convened on the request of Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA).

“Your attention is invited towards Pakistan Metrological Department (PMD), wherein it is forecasted that the day time temperatures are likely to increase due to high pressure in the upper atmosphere in most parts of the country. This rise in temperature is likely to increase the inflows in River Kabul and Indus due to snowmelt which will consequently raise the Tarbela reservoir level above 1,470 feet,” said a letter written by General Manager Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to Chairman IRSA.

The letter available with The Nation said that “WAPDA has already requested IRSA in the IRSA Advisory Committee (IAC) meeting, held on April 2, 2024,  to maintain Tarbela reservoir level below 1,470 ft till 20th July, 2024 for continuation of construction activities on Tarbela 5th extension project at the intake site”.  It is also highlighted that due to appreciable hydrological conditions during the month of April, 2024, Tarbela reservoir has already attained 1,468.78 ft on May, 10, 2024. Furthermore, the outflow capability of reservoir at this level is about 160,000 cusecs and if the inflow exceeds this capability in the coming days then it will not be possible to maintain the reservoir below 1,470 ft, said the letter written to chairman IRSA. This rapid raising of reservoir level will terminate the ongoing activities ultimately causing delay in project completion.

In the light of above, it is requested that IRSA indents for Tarbela reservoir may be adjusted at the earliest, so as to maintain the reservoir level below 1,470 ft as requested in the above referred meeting for the continuation of construction activities on T5 Extension Project, the letter said. The meeting will review the water availability situation for the ongoing Kharif season and will consider the downward revision of the shortages, for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, owing to improvement in the rivers inflows. Owing to operational constraints arises due to construction work on T5, Tarbela Dam cannot be filled above 1,470 ft till July 20.

Now there is no other option other than pushing the provinces to withdraw more water from the system. At this stage the provincial requirements are at minimum, however, the water can be used for early cultivating of rice crop. The water above 1,470 ft will be released and the provinces will be asked to consume it. An official source said that the water requirement of cotton crop has already been provided. The provinces can consume the water for the early rice cultivation. The release of water will result in further reduction of the anticipated water shortage for the early Kharif season. The water inflows and the live water storage is respectively 118 percent and 217 percent higher than the same period last year. The water inflows in rivers system are 249,900 cusecs as compare to 114,400 cusecs during the same period previous Kharif. The live storage is 217 percent higher than the same period last year; the total current live storage is 4.630 MAF, higher than 1.459 MAF available during the same period last year.

The high flows in the rivers system and the release of flows directly, with storing, from Tarbela Dam will help further decline in the anticipated water shortages for the provinces. The authority is likely to further downward revise the anticipated water shortage for the provinces from 21 percent to 10 to 15 percent, said the source.

Notably, on May 8, 2024, IRSA had downward revised the projected water shortage from 30 percent to 21 percent, for the early Kharif season. On April 2, 2024, the IRSA Advisory Committee (IAC) had anticipated that the country would face up to a 30 percent water shortage during the ongoing Kharif season, which started on April 1 and lasts until the end of May, and 7 percent for the subsequent Kharif season (June to September).

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