The demand for raising the dam height has not been met as the project will submerge 22 more villages and 1.20 lakh acres of land.
Thousands of crores are being spent on flood management techniques, accurate weather prediction systems and better water resource management but at the end of the day nothing has worked with seven districts of North Karnataka bearing the brunt of unprecedented floods owing to abnormal rainfall and the inflow from neighboring Maharashtra in the past one month. Such floods have not been witnessed in the last hundred years with over a lakh people displaced and as many as 500 villages water-logged. The Krishna river and its seven tributaries have wreaked irreparable damage, taking the lives of several villagers. Though dam authorities deny any lapse on their part when it comes to water management and blame it on unusually heavy rains, water experts feel man-made reasons should also be blamed for the colossal tragedy.
Vittal Shastri does an in-depth analysis of what ails water management in the Krishna river basin, spread across Maharashtra and Karnataka and outlines the urgent steps needed to prevent such catastrophes in future.
If it’s a grueling drought one year, it’s a devastating flood in the next. People of North Karnataka are yet to come to terms with the magnitude of the flood damage they had to face this year in August with both the state and Maharashtra receiving unprecedented rainfall.
The mighty Almatti reservoir itself witnessed a record inflow of 6.4 lakh cusecs water, prompting the authorities to release a whopping 700 tmc water downstream of Narayanpur dam in Raichur district within 15-20 days. All the reservoirs touched the brim in 5-6 days due to heavy rainfall in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra in August.
What made things worse was the crucial prediction of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which had forecast a below normal monsoon, prompting the dam authorities in both states to store water to ensure their reservoirs were full to meet any contingency during summer. Later, the upper riparian state, Maharashtra discharged a large quantum of water due to heavy rainfall and the situation went out of control causing floods in Belagavi, Bagalkot and other districts.
"Dam authorities usually discharge water at the beginning of the monsoon and maintain the full reservoir level (FRL) only in September or in the first week of October when the monsoon ends. But this time, based on the IMD predictions, they filled the dams at the start of the monsoon and were unable to manage water from the deluge which followed", said water expert and former irrigation secretary Captain Raja Rao.
Dam engineers claim that the heavy accumulation of silt in the tributaries of the Krishna too led to excess inflow into the dams in Karnataka. Dams were built on the tributaries of the Krishna including Malaprabha and Ghataprabha way back in the 1970s and the accumulated silt has reduced water storage capacity. The capacity of waterways has also become limited owing to construction of a series of barrages across these rivers over the years. For instance, the Hipparagi barrage in Bagalkot was flooded as the small dam could not contain the heavy release of Krishna river water from Rajapur barrage on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border.
"Heavy silt from Benne Halla stream that joins Malaprabha river has been posing a serious problem. We are following the guidelines of the Central Water Commission with regard to regulating water from the dam. We received an inflow of 6.4 lakh cusecs while authorities in Maharashtra claim it was only 3.44 lakh cusecs from their dams which is questionable. We will conduct a detailed survey about the floods soon", said Almatti dam assistant engineer Venkatesh Kulkarni.
Irrigation experts contend that the authorities of various reservoirs also failed to alert villagers living downstream of the dams and backwater areas worsening the damage.
Farmer leaders in the Krishna river basin now want the government to conduct a survey of the original catchment area of the rivers and its tributaries. The waterways have been reduced due to encroachments to grow sugarcane that prevent the easy flow of river water. Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Ltd (KBJNL), which is responsible for execution and maintenance of all irrigation projects coming under Upper Krishna Project, needs to adopt modern technology after studying flood management, says experts who claim that raising the Almatti dam height as per the recommendation of the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal will not only help withstand the floods to some extent, but also enable farmers to combat recurrent droughts. But, the rehabilitation of the displaced people is the big challenge for the government if the dam height is increased.
There are many ways to escape the flood fury—for instance, protective wall or bunds can be built to safeguard people on river banks. This will prevent water from entering their villages. In fact the chief minister, who met flood victims in Ramdurg taluk, has directed officials to prepare a similar proposal for villagers living on the banks of Malaprabha river. "Maharashtra had no option, but to release surplus water from its reservoir when it witnesses unprecedented rainfall. The adverse effect of floods can be minimized by filling tanks in dry land areas. We have sent a proposal to fill over 150 tanks and lakes by lifting water from the rivers. We have commissioned such projects and many of them are in progress", said Krishna Hulakund, retired chief engineer of the Ghataprabha project.
Is a water management authority the solution? Or a higher Almatti dam?
Fifty-nine year old farmer Gundappa Muttaladinni has spent almost four decades fighting for the cause of the displaced who parted with their land for construction of Almatti reservoir across river Krishna in 2005. The resident of Benal village in Nidagundi taluk sacrificed his entire seven acres of farm land for just Rs 2,000 per acre way back in 1980 along with farmers of around 176 villages in Bagalkot and Vijayapur districts that were submerged in the backwaters of the dam. These villagers will suffer another jolt as they will lose more agricultural land if Almatti dam`s height is raised to 524.256 meters from the present 519.60 meters as approved by the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal in 2010.
The demand for raising the dam height has not been met as the project will submerge 22 more villages and 1.20 lakh acres of land. The state government too is helpless as it it requires over Rs 1 lakh crores to implement the increase in height.
But many irrigation experts feel the damage due to natural calamities can be minimized if the dam height is raised to enable storage of 15 lakh cusecs water.
They also express concern over the Upper Krishna Project not materializing decades after the tribunal order as it is yet to be notified in the gazette by the Centre. The gazette notification will facilitate the constitution of a water management authority that will handle the integrated operation of all reservoirs. They claim that the upper riparian state, Maharashtra has released water from its reservoirs unscientifically as per its convenience in the absence of such an authority.
"A water management authority could have monitored the inflow and outflow in the event of floods. I hold the Central government responsible for the devastating flood in North Karnataka as it delayed publishing the Krishna Tribunal Award in its gazette" said Captain Raja Rao.
"Priority should be given to raise the height of Almatti dam to enable the storage of an additional 130 tmc water allocated by the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal. This will help us cultivate crops worth Rs 10,000 crores every year by providing irrigation to over 5 lakh hectares of farm land in the Krishna river basin.
This revenue is ten times the funds being distributed by the government in the form of compensation when flood and drought strike the region", Captain Rao explained.