Cauvery · central water commission · Dams · Disasters · Floods · Karnataka · Tamil Nadu

Cauvery is facing very serious flood risk, but CWC is in slumber

(The figure above is screen shot of CWC Flood forecasting site showing no warning signs even at 5 pm on 230718)

Almost all the big dams in Cauvery Basin are full on the earlier ever monsoon date this year. This includes Krishnaraj Sagar, Mettur, Kabini, Harangi, Hemavathi and Bhavanisagar. They are almost full and have started releasing large flows to the downstream areas. This is when we are past just about six weeks of South West Monsoon, the North East monsoon would come after that. It means that the basin is facing major risk of floods in next 2-5 months. And yet Central Water Commission, India’s flood forecasting agency, seems to be in deep slumber. It has not even bothered to update the flood readings on its designated sites from the 2017 figures. 

Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have shown poor performance in managing dams to avoid flood disaster. The recently released CAG report has clearly said that the wrong operation of dams in Chennai led to avoidable flood disaster in Dec 2015. Karnataka has just last week[i] suddenly released huge quantity of water from Tungabhadra dam, submerging the World Heritage sites at Hampi in the downstream area.

In fact, the way Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has dealt with Cauvery reservoirs so far raises many questions. The massive Krishna Raj Sagar was almost full last week itself and Karnataka could have started releasing excess water much earlier, but the Chief Minister was busy celebrating the filling up of the reservoir. Similarly Tamil Nadu, started releasing water from Mettur just last week, and the dam is already full on July 23, 2018,  possibly the earliest ever during SE monsoon.

CWC’s flood forecasting site[ii] has listed total of 52 sites in Cauvery basin, including 3 Level forecasting sites, 8 inflow forecasting sites (mainly for dams and barrages) and the rest flood monitoring sites. But all of them were non functional till July 23, 2018 evening in terms of flood forecasting.

The three level forecasting sites of CWC in Cauvery basin in Tamil Nadu are: Srirangam (Tiruchirapalli district), Erode (Erode district) and Bhavani (Erode district, on Bhavani river, a tributary of Cauvery. ALL OF THEM WERE IDLE/ DUFUNCT/ NON OPERATING as we can see from the screenshots of the CWC’s flood forecasting website taken in the evening of July 23,2018, the day Tamil Nadu declared that Mettur is filled up for the first time in last five years and 39 times in 85 year old history. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/mettur-dam-at-full-reservoir-level-after-five-years/article24494396.ece)

Annexure 1.1 of CWC’s April 2018 Standard Operating Procedure for flood forecasting[iii], which lists its 166 level forecasting sites, has left the basic information about warning level, Danger level and High Flood level/  HFL date, blank for all three TN Cauvery sites mentioned above, another indication of its callousness.

CWC's Flood Forecasting site at Bhavani Bridge shows Sept 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718
Screen shot of CWC’s flood forecasting site at Bhavani Bridge shows Sept 2017 reading after 5 pm on July 23, 2018.
CWC's Flood Forecasting site at Pallipalayam site in Erode district shows Sept 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718
CWC’s Flood Forecasting site at Pallipalayam site in Erode district shows Sept 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718
CWC's Flood Forecasting site at Sri Rangam site in Thiruchirapalli dist shows Dec 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718
CWC’s Flood Forecasting site at Sri Rangam site in Thiruchirapalli dist shows Dec 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718

The same Annexure in next table lists CWC’s 60 inflow forecasting sites. This in fact has no less than nine sites in Cauvery basin: Four in Karnataka (Harangi, Hemavathy, Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS), Kabini) and Five in Tamil Nadu: (Mettur, Bhavani Sagar, Grand Anicut, Upper Anicut and Kodaganar). Again, for all the nine sites, the table leaves the column containing basic information like Full Reservoir Level and Maximum Water Level BLANK. Another sign of CWC’s callousness.

CWC's Flood Forecasting site at Kodaganar dam site shows Nov 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718
CWC’s Flood Forecasting site at Kodaganar dam site shows Nov 2017 reading after 5pm on 230718

The SOP talks rather high when it mentions in Annex 3.1 “Basin-wise system of Reservoirs for Integrated Operation through Flood Crisis Management Teams for Flood Moderation”. For Cauvery Basin it has four systems: System 1 comprises of Harangi, Hemavathi, KRS and Kabini Dams with Chief Engr CSRO, CWC, Coimbatore as chairman and Superintending Engineer (CSRC), CWC Bengaluru as Member secretary; System 2 comprises of Mettur, Bhavanisagar and Kodaganar Dams, with same chairman and Member Secretary; System 3 comprises of Upper and Grand Anicuts, with same chairman and MS and System 4 inclusive of whole Cauvery Basin with Member (River Management) of CWC as chairman and Chief Engr (CSRO), CWC Coimbatore as MS. One wonders when will these systems will start functioning in any credible, transparent or confidence inspiring way?

At noon on July 24, 2018, the Cauvery water level at Kodumudi site had already reached 125.96, going past the warning level and forecast to reach 126.55 m, past even the danger level by 6 pm in the evening on July 24. Rather shockingly, till the evening of July 23, the website did not even mention name of the river, warning level or dander level!

Kodumudi Cauvery 240718
Flood Hydrograph at Kodamudi in Erode Dist in Tamil Nadu showing sudden steep rise in water level past Warning and Danger level in last 24 hours. The shows the trend line for last 72 hours ending around noon on July 24, 2018.

This is rather scary situation. Considering India’s utterly poor track recording in managing our reservoirs to ensure their operation to minimize downstream flood disasters, and holding the responsible officials accountable, both at central and state level. Ironically, now this scary situation is likely to play out in India’s most celebrated deficit basin: Cauvery. One only hopes we come through without any disaster.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com, https://sandrp.in/)

END NOTES:

[i] http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/andhra-pradesh/2018/jul/20/discharge-of-water-from-tungabhadra-dam-inundates-hampi-monuments-1845912.html

[ii] http://www.india-water.gov.in/ffs/

[iii] http://cwc.gov.in/main/downloads/SOP_Flood_Forecasting_April2018.pdf

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