Kalabagh Dam Project: Sifting Fact from Fiction

The Kalabagh Dam (KBD) planners were oblivious to the needs of ecology beyond the Kotri Barrage-another fiction which is widely believed in the lower Sindh, one that pertains to the adverse impact of KBD on the ecology beyond Kotri Barrage. It is claimed that KBD planners were oblivious and ignorant of the environmental and domestic needs of the people beyond Kotri. The barrage at Kotri is the last irrigation head works on river Indus. After that the river merges into the Sea. From this point onwards the remaining water in the bed of Indus is not used for canal irrigation or industrial purposes, but it sustains the flora, fauna and aquatic life of the delta. It also caters for municipal needs of the people living downstream and most importantly helps in checking sea water intrusion into the land. As the flow pattern in this segment of river is highly erratic, the estimation of minimum requirement of water which may be released below Kotri has remained an issue. In fact when the KBD Project was first presented to the Cabinet in November 1984, one of the issues raised by the Governor Sindh was its impact on downstream river water flows.

While the then Federal Cabinet formed a High Powered Ministerial Committee to look into all the raised issues, it was in July 1986 when WAPDA formally requested the Sindh Government to provide data to evaluate the effect of Kalabagh Dam on the Sailaba area to prepare working paper for the Cabinet Committee on Major Dams. The Government of Sindh while providing the requisite data also raised the issue of sea water intrusion.

The KBD Consultants accordingly visited and carried out field investigation in the respective areas in Sindh and prepared an initial working paper. The said paper titled as “Working paper on probable impact on Sailaba Cultivation in Sindh and Sea water intrusion into the Indus Estuary” was circulated to the concerned including the Sindh Government in January 1988. In regard to sea water intrusion, the exact words in the paper are as follows:

“As regards Sea Water Intrusion in the Indus Estuary, it is apparent from available data that the tidal effect in the Indus estuary is dissipated downstream of Aghimani (Aghimani is 3 miles downstream of the Thatta – Sijawal Road Bridge and 87 miles downstream of Kotri). This is so, even in winter when river flows downstream of Kotri are negligible. In 1953-54, aerial surveys showed salt deposits and general absence of cultivation nearly up to Sijawal despite the complete absence of impounding reservoirs (approximately 26 MAF total capacity in Indus Basin now) and the full flushing effect of summer flows.

Kalabagh will not adversely affect winter flows. During summer, wet and average year flood peaks will continue to flow through the estuary as before. In dry years only, there may be a slight reduction in peak discharge.”

The Government of Sindh, however, in its preliminary comments on the said working paper, showed its dissatisfaction to the findings of the KBD Consultants. Paragraph 7 of the letter by Irrigation & Power Department, Government of Sindh, dated February 9, 1988, states as below:

“The conclusion drawn on the effect of intrusion of sea salinity is also not realistic. In the past, flows have been escaping downstream Kotri Barrage in the flood season which have checked the intrusion of sea salinity. As the flows downstream Kotri Barrage continue to reduce over the period of time, the effect of intrusion of sea salinity will become more evident. The proper thing to do in this situation is that the intrusion of sea salinity should not be completely ruled out. A programme for collection of relevant data on the scientific basis should be chalked out and when it is established that there is intrusion of sea salinity, a salinity control structure across the Indus River at a suitable location should be constructed at the expense of the Federal Government.”

WAPDA, in response to the preliminary comments of the Sindh Government, reiterated its view that the tidal regime in the Indus estuary was well established. The official response mentioned that “the existing dams in the upper catchment have not altered the situation depicted in the 1953 photographic survey done under the Colombo Plan. The high tides are a diurnal feature. During winter with no water downstream Kotri, the high tides are dissipated in the reach downstream of Aghimani.”

WAPDA, nonetheless, agreed with Irrigation & Power Department, Government of Sindh, that a programme of scientific observations may be initiated to monitor any long term environmental changes in the deltaic region including the adjacent coastline.

The Government of Sindh, however, did not find that explanation plausible and contended that “when there is no flow downstream of the Kotri Barrage the sea tide obviously covers a longer distance in the estuary as compared to situation when there is flow from the up-stream.”

The KBD Consultants while not agreeing with the contention of the Sindh Government explained that “no flow condition downstream Kotri barrage for more than 6 months in a year has persisted for many years yet the Aghimani gauge has not indicated any water level variation attributable to any increased intrusion of high tides.“According to them, “the available gauge data of high tide and low tide at Chowgazo and Garho supplied by Irrigation and Power Department, Government of Sindh, provides the basis for our broad conclusion reached regarding the saline intrusion in the estuary.”

Meanwhile KBD Consultants submitted a detailed Report on “Probable impact on Sailaba Cultivation in Sindh and Sea water intrusion in to the Indus Estuary” in June, 1988 to WAPDA.

During the discussion of KBD Project at PC-II stage at CDWP/ECNEC in 1989, the Sindh Government asked for additional studies, inter alia, to revalidate the findings of the KBD Consultants. Accordingly, a Technical Committee was formed to assess the need of further studies.

Before the first meeting of the Technical Committee which took place in March 1990, the Government of Sindh conveyed its nine points to Chairman WAPDA who was heading the said Committee. The last point (number ix) mentioned the following:

“A realistic assessment of the outflow to sea for maintaining river regime from view point of flood protection in Sindh and impact on environment below Kotri.”

The Technical Committee, however, concluded that further studies were not in its purview and accordingly, in June 1990, in its letter addressed to Chairman WAPDA, the Secretary Department of Irrigation & Power, Government of Sindh, wrote, “Meeting of the Technical Committee formed under the direction of the ECNEC did not deliberate on the studies already conducted and scope for additional studies to be conducted….Field of such studies already identified i.e. environment effects on mangrove forest, fisheries, erosion by sea and other aspects….”

Few months later, the Water Apportionment Accord signed in March 1991 duly recognized the need of regulated water flow to maintain the environment below Kotri. Paragraph 7 of the Accord states, “The need for certain minimum escapage to sea, below Kotri, to check sea intrusion was recognized. Sindh held the view, that the optimum level was 10 M.A.F., which was discussed at length, while other studies indicated lower/higher figures. It was, therefore, decided that further studies would be undertaken to establish the minimal escapage needs downstream Kotri.”

Dear Readers, I have narrated in detail various correspondence exchanged between WAPDA and Government of Sindh which show that the issue of environmental impact downstream Kotri was very much discussed and debated till the historic Water Accord finally established the need for additional studies to establish minimum downstream flow requirements beyond Kotri. The matter therefore, was never out of sight for the KBD planners though the issue remained under discussion with the Government of Sindh on how best to address it.

It is therefore obvious that if we may agree to develop a consensus on water issues, the problem relating to Indus delta would have to be addressed in a practical manner.

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