Kalabagh Dam Project: Sifting Fact from Fiction

Kalabagh Dam (KBD) would not produce as much electricity as claimed- the opponents of KBD claim that WAPDA has falsely shown power generation from the dam to be initially at 2400 MW which was to be ultimately enhanced to the level of 3600 MW. They claim that actually it is 350 MW as reported by Dr.Pieter Lieftinckin Volume-I of his report. It is also claimed that the basic reasons for low power generation are the mid-level sluicing design and the unsuitable site for the dam with the poorest Capacity-Inflow (CI) ratio. The adoption of a wrong sluicing design requires emptying and refilling of the reservoir every year that takes about four months in a vague attempt to de-silt the reservoir. It is concluded by them that it would reduce power generation even at an advanced stage by one-third, bringing it down to 1600 MW. By reducing the water level in the reservoir by 10 feet, in a so-called attempt to avoid backwater flow and flooding in the Kabul River, the generation would further reduce to 1350 MW only.

To set the record straight, let me quote a letter by Mr. A.P. Fraser, Project Manager of the KBD. While submitting the Project Report to WAPDA, he stated in Para-2 which is reproduced here;

“The Kalabagh Dam project is a major multipurpose project. Its initial 2400 MW installed capacity will generate 11413 GWh of energy annually and allow generation of an additional 336 GWh of annual energy and up to 600 MW of peak power at Tarbela”.

It may also be mentioned that the quoted Dr. Pieter Lieftinck’s estimation of energy generation was done in 1967. At that time even the site of the dam was yet to be finalized. Detailed engineering design was not even started and efficiency of the later day’s improvements in technology could not be taken into account.

However, Dr. Pieter Lieftinck’s report (published in 1969) at page 294 gives the capacity of Kalabagh Dam as 1125 MW and not 350 MW. That was calculated on account of the then identified site along with available power generating turbines with much lower efficiency which has increased substantially in present times. Moreover, the site of the dam has been changed to another location in Kalabagh area which could potentially generate more electricity.

Kalabagh Dam has been designed by internationally known technical experts. The effects of drawing down the reservoir were studied by examining three basic modes of sluicing; nominal sluicing, mid-level sluicing and low-level sluicing. Comparison of the three modes showed that low level sluicing was very uneconomic and did not give a significant advantage in reducing the sedimentation. However, mid-level sluicing showed significant advantages in retaining reservoir’s live storage compared with the nominal sluicing. Kalabagh Dam Consultants adopted mid-level sluicing design, for the project. Sluicing at Elevation of 825 feet for a fifty days period from the beginning of June as part of the project operation has the effect of greatly reducing the rate of depletion of the Kalabagh live storage. After 100 years, 3.2 MAF of the initial live storage of 6.1 MAF will still be available. Moreover, this will not reduce the power generation capacity of the Project.

Another impression in the minds of some writers, pertains to the functioning of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) which was created to implement the Water Apportionment Accord. They sincerely believe that IRSA does not attend to issues of smaller provinces as there is a Punjabi dominance in all water related decision making institutions.

Under the Water Apportionment Accord, IRSA was created to implement the Accord. This body was created with equal representation of all provinces. Also a dispute settlement mechanism was provided. Any Province aggrieved by the decision of IRSA can approach Council of Common Interests (CCI). And in case it does not perceive to get justice from CCI, the matter can be referred to the Joint Sitting of the Parliament. If one goes through the grievances narrated by water experts as found in the newspaper columns, pamphlets and books, we find a plethora of complaints against IRSA. On the other hand the record surprisingly shows that in the last 24 years since IRSA started its operations, not a single complaint has been sent to CCI by any Province.

What could be the reason? These experts are certainly not ill-informed. They do know that no such complaint has been filed but perhaps through highlighting these real or imagined grievances, want to portray their own ability to defend the rights of their Province. Their political posturing to act as champion of the cause against the high handedness of Federation and majority Province certainly appeal to those who are their willing listeners.

WAPDA officials do not allow monitoring of Indus River flows by representatives of Sindh, where another fallacy widely propagated is that WAPDA officials are not allowing officials from Sindh to oversee the Indus water flows at various barrages and monitoring points. World over, lower riparians are skeptical of the intentions of the upper riparians. This is true of all lower riparian nations, provinces, regions or the users situated at the lower echelon of a water channel. Any agriculturist whose land is situated at the tail end of a canal or a distributary would spend many sleepless nights apprehending water theft by the upstream users, with or without the connivance of irrigation officials. In Sindh the common perception of upper riparian stealing water of the lower riparian is embedded in the experiences of more than 150 years.

The famous writer Richard F. Burton who was employed by Napier’s government of Sindh in 1850 to study the Sindh irrigation system writes extensively on the issue. The practice of stealing water by making cuts or blocking the flows of flood inundation canals was very common at that time. Based on this experience, lower riparians develop a collective mindset of fear and apprehension. That is why even when sub-continent was ruled by the British and WAPDA was not on the horizon, on the request of Sindh, which was part of Bombay Presidency, the British government in 1929, allowed Sindh officials to monitor the flow of rivers at the head-works located in Punjab. This perception based on embedded fears finds easy believability and ordinary Sindhi farmers are prone to reject the data prepared by upper riparian. However, through the help of new technology, which resulted in development of telemetry system, we can remove this perception effectively. The said system which is in use since 2003 allows live monitoring of water flows on designated measurement stations across Pakistan. The said data is also available on websites of IRSA and Irrigation Departments. However, the lack of trust in the conduct of upper riparian is so strong that one comes across stories of how the Inspectors of Sindh are made to run away from the monitoring assignments in Punjab.

Anyone who is familiar with the work environment and perks of the officials of irrigation department would readily understand the extreme reluctance of irrigation department of Sindh officials to be employed in dull work of measuring water flows and that too, away from their home in a different province.

To get out of this quagmire, technology is the only solution. Investments need to be made in installing telemetry system at all stations where it is considered necessary and monitors should be installed to provide full and continuous information not only in the offices of concerned government departments but also other stakeholders like Sindh Abadgar Board and farmers associations of stakeholders located in all provinces.

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