The New Indian Express published a most remarkable report on Aug 24, 2019[i]. It said, among other things: “The district administration of Uttara Kannada will seek an inquiry report from the managing director of Karnataka Power Corporation Limited on untimely release of water from Kadra dam to Kali River, which caused flood in Kadra, Mallapur, Kaiga township, Hanakon, Kharge Jooga island, Kinnar, Siddar, Vailawada and many villages in Karwar taluk in the first week of August. 5,000 people from these villages were shifted to rehabilitation centres in Karwar and other villages. Half of the Kaiga township was inundated and employees of Kaiga Atomic Power Station had to use boats to reach the nuclear power plants… The district administration was not informed about the increasing inflow into Kadra dam and outflow into the river. Finally, DC Harish Kumar K, ZP CEO M Roshan and then SP Vinayak Patil camped in Kadra and took over the control of the dam due to the failure of dam officials. They managed the outflow of the dam for a couple of days. Deputy Commissioner Harish Kumar K said the district administration will write to KPCL MD seeking an inquiry on water released from dams to Kali river.”
Unprecedented situation This is totally unprecedented. District administration taking “over control of the dam due to the failure fo the dam officials” is something that has never known to happen. There is clear allegation here that due to the failure of proper operation of the dam, the uncontrolled release of water from the KADRA dam of KPCL (Karnataka Power Corporation Limited) on Kali River lead to massive, avoidable floods. Another personal account of this situation published on Aug 8, 2019[ii] seems to support the role of Kadra and Kodasalli dams of KPCL in creating flood situation.
According to one report[iii], the total damage due to floods in Uttara Kannada district in Aug 2019 is Rs 418 cr, with 3257 houses damaged, 77 cattle losing lives, among other losses. At peak, 11300 people were displaced and staying in rehabilitation centres. More reports on this:
- July 13: Kadra threatens water releases One news report[iv] said that the KPCL engineer had on July 13, 2019 warned that due to heavy inflows into the Kadra dam, the dam is nearly full (33.3 m, with FRL or Full Reservoir Level at 34.5 m) and may have to release water at any hour. The question arises, why was the dam already near full on July 13, when the monsoon has just begun?
- Indian Navy brought in Over 300 people who were stranded near Kadra dam area in Mallapur Kurnipet, Kaiga village owing to incessant rains were rescued by an Indian Navy team on Aug 6, 2019. A rescue team of the Indian Navy stationed at Karwar Naval Base swung into action following a request from Superintendent of Police, Uttara Kannada district.[v]
- Aug 4: Kadra is full Heavy rain continued to pound Uttara Kannada district and Kadra dam across River Kali is full. As much as 31,000 cusec of water was released into the river from the reservoir on Sunday, Aug 4, 2019. The inflow into Supa dam too has gone up.[vi]
- Aug 5 Till Monday (Aug 5) evening, more than 1 tmc ft of water was released from Kodasalli and Kadra dams on the Kali river basin. The dam authorities have issued a letter stating that they will release one lakh cusecs of water from both the dams and the people living on the banks of Kali river should be moved to safer places. The Kali river basin at Joida (Supa) taluk has been receiving heavy rainfall and both Kadra and Kodasalli dams have been getting a huge inflow for the last two days. As many as 10,500 cusecs of water was released from Kadra dam on Sunday and it has increased outflow to one lakh cusecs to ensure safety of the dam which has reached a water level of 34.5 metres (FRL). Meanwhile, the released water gushed into seven houses at Kadra village and the district administration has shifted 23 members of seven families to a rehabilitation centre at Kadra Government Primary School.[vii]
- Aug 6: Gates of Kadra gates “opened without warning” Virje, Gotegali and Hattogi are quaint little villages located on either side of the Kadra Dam. On the morning of August 6, the residents these villages located along the Kali River in Uttara Kannada district, say they were caught unawares when the gates of the Kadra Dam were thrown open without warning. Asha says that the officials had initially opened only four gates on August 6. However, just a day later, 10 gates of the dam were opened up and the residents of Virje, Gotegali and Hattogi say the officials had not issued a flood alert.[viii]
- 75 lakh cusecs on Aug 6, Coast Guard too deployed About 1.75 lakh cusecs of water was let out from the Kadra reservoir on Tuesday (Aug 6). The Indian Navy diving teams along with their boats helped people shift to safer places in villages near Kadra dam[ix]. Similarly the Coast Guard too assisted people in Kumta and Kadra.[x]
- Aug 7: Kaiga Nuclear Plant employees evacuated The rescue operations commenced at 7 am on Wednesday and over 100 Kaiga employees were evacuated.[xi]
Kali River Basin The 184 Kilometer long Kali River has basin area of 4850 sq km[xii]. A SANDRP basin map[xiii] prepared some years ago provides location of four of them. It has at least six BIG dams built and operated by KPCL for hydropower generation. Supa, with catchment area of 1057 sq km is the biggest of them with 3758 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of live and 4178 MCM gross storage. Upper Kanari Dam on a tributary intercepts 96 sq km catchment. Tattihalla dam, on another tributary, with live storage of 249 MCM and gross storage of 264 MCM intercepts 150 sq km catchment. Bomanhalli Pick up dam with live storage of 85 and gross storage of 97 MCM intercepts independent catchment downstream of Supa dam, of 636 sq km. Further downstream, Kodasali Dam with live storage of 179 MCM and gross storage of 286 MCM intercepts additional independent catchment of 1049 sq km. The last dam, the Kadra Dam with live storage capacity of 209 MCM and gross storage of 389 MCM intercepts further about 400 sq km catchment. Thus a total of about 3375 sq km catchment is intercepted by the six dams listed here, leaving about 1475 sq km of free catchment downstream of Kadra dam, if these figures were correct.
The Kali River catchment area distributed among taluks of Uttara Kannada as follows, going by available figures: Supa Taluk: 1882 sq km, Karwar Taluk: 745 sq km, Halial Taluk: 845 sq km and Yellapur taluk: 657 sq km, total coming to 4329 sq km, which means about 521 sq km of Kali Nadi catchment is distributed among Dharwad and Belgaum districts in the upstream.
Some of this information has been obtained from Water Resources Information System report on West Flowing Rivers from Tapi to Tadri[xiv], which includes Kali River basin and provides some information about the projects here. An Aug 2015 released 24 minute film[xv] on this beautiful river is worth seeing. It says unobstructed natural flow is only for 8 km of the river out of its total length of 184 kms, which needs confirmation. A visit report by SANDRP[xvi] narrates how due to efforts of Kali Bachao Andolan, more dams and hydro projects have not been built in the basin. A power point presentation from IIT Delhi[xvii] provided some useful information.
Rainfall figures in Uttara Kannada Fortunately, the website of Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre[xviii] provides excellent weekly and daily rainfall information on its website for each district, and within it, the taluk wise and Hobli (each Taluk is divided into 2-4 Hoblis) wise rainfall. When one goes through these figures, one notices that during the week July 30-Aug5, Supa Taluk received 567 mm rain, which was 212% above normal rain and following week, it received 858 m rain, which was 413% above normal rains. Within Supa Taluk, Kasalrock Hobli received 1134 mm rain (609% above normal) durng Aug 6-12 week, with 229 mm rain on Aug 6 alone. Similarly, Yellapur Hobli received 981 mm rainfall during Aug 6-12 week, with 225 mm on single day on Aug 6. Uttara Kannada district itself received 363 mm (93% above normal) rains during July 30-Aug 5 week and massive 700 mm rainfall during Aug 6-12 week (322% above normal).
Interestingly, the weekly Uttara Kannda report from KSNDMC for the week ending on July 29 and also Aug 5 and Aug 12 had already forecast HEAVY TO VERY HEAVY RAINS during the respective following weeks. So neither KPCL nor Uttara Kannada district administration can claim that they did not have warning about the heavy rains.
Power generation figures The Power Generation figures for the four hydropower stations in Kali Basin (Supa: 100 MW, Nagjhari: 900 MW as per KPCL and 855 MW as per NPP, Kodasali: 120 MW and Kadra: 150 MW) during Aug 1-10, 2019 as per National Power Portal[xix], we find that indeed, these stations generated highest power during Aug 4-7, 2019, coinciding with the flood dates. For example, power generation at Kadra HEP jumped to highest 3.71 MU (Million Units) on Aug 4, 3.54 MU on Aug 5, 3.05 MU on Aug 6, up from 2.57 MU on Aug 3. AT Nagjhari HEP, power generation multiplied to 10.45 MU on Aug 5, 9.71 MU each on Aug 6 & 7, up from 0.78 MU each on Aug 1-2 and 2.36 MU on Aug 4.
How much water released from dams? KPCL provides this information on daily basis[xx], but is not archived for previous dates. Not having downloaded this on daily basis, this information is not available in public domain now, but KPCL has it and hope it makes this pubic for each of the monsoon dates so that people can check how the dams were operated during those flood days and weeks. KSNDMC also provides daily inflow and outflow figures for some dams and fortunately, that information is archived, so one can download for previous dates. However, this is only for eleven dams and that includes only SUPA dam fro Kali Basin, the figures are given below.
Supa dam was not yet full till those flood days and hence did not release too much water, but it is now 97% full and even as Uttara Kannada had another heavy rain day on Aug 30 (73.5 mm rain in day), it could create disaster in the downstream area. Unfortunately this means that as far Kadra and Kodasali dams are concerned, we do not have daily water storage, inflow and outflow information for the pre flood and flood days of Uttara Kannada.
Pertinent questions From all the evidence and reports available, as described above, there is little doubt that Kadra and Kodasali Dams were full before the flood event started in early August 2019 in Uttara Kannada. When Uttara Kannada district, particularly Kali basin area was getting heavy rains starting Aug 4 onwards, these dams released large quantities of water and created a disastrous situation upstream and downstream. This could have been avoided had they NOT filled up the dam by Aug 4 or earlier, as about half the monsoon was still to come till then. These dams thus clearly violated the rule curves. They also seems to have suddenly released large quantities of water that added to the downstream disaster and also displaced people and brought damages, which could have been voided if they had followed rule curve and also started releasing water earlier when the downstream river was not yet flooded. There must be an INDEPENDENT inquiry into the operation of the Kali Basin dams during and before these floods and the dam operators must be held accountable, as the district administration has also demanded. This is absolutely necessary so that we also learn lessons for future and the dam operators also know that they will be held accountable for wrong operation of the dams.
What about the responsibility of District Administration? Here questions also arise about the responsibility of the district administration. Why were district administration officials not in constant touch with KPCL and Dam operators as they surely must know that the wrong operation of the dams can add to the flood disaster. It’s not clear from available information as to what did the district officials did in this regard, besides taking over the dam operation after the flood disaster had happened and demanding action against KPCL officials.
Inaptitude of District officials apparent in District Disaster Management Plan If we go through Uttara Kannada’s DDMP available on official district website, we find evidence of inaptitude of district officials in preparing this as they have failed to include basic facts and issues related to dams in the DDMP.
Volume 1 of Uttara Kannada District Disaster Management Plan[xxi] clearly states (para 2.1.2) the threat of dam induced disasters: “Of these, two rivers, Kali and Sharavati have dams constructed for hydroelectric purpose. When the reservoirs reaches the maximum storage level, large quantity of water is released into the rivers thus causing floods inundating into the villages resulting in large scale loss of life, livestock and property.”
The online DDMP[xxii] mentions about just two dams in the district: “There are two major dams in Uttara Kannada district namely Gerusoppa Dam in Sharavati river, and Kadra Dam in Kali river and are operated by Karnataka Power Corporation Limited.”
So while DDMP authors knew that dams can create flood disaster, they have listed only two dams here, while the Kali River Basin alone has at least six dams built by KPCL alone, all in Uttara Kannada districts. Does it mean the authors of the DDMP and the district administration are unaware of even existence of big dams in their district?
This shows such ignorance of the authors of the DDMP and district administrators, they do not seem to know the existence of the Supa dam (the biggest dam in the district), Kodasali dam, the Bomanhalli dam, the Tattiahlla dam, among others.
Moreover, Table 2.4 of the Uttara Kannada DDMP, titled “Flood prone areas in Uttara Kannada district” lists none of the Hoblies of the Kali Basin in the district, except Karwar with affected population listed as just 198. This shows either ignorance, ineptitude or both of the DDMP authors and the district administration.
Similarly, section 5.1.2 of the Uttara Kannada DDMP, listing important pre-actions in flood disaster situation does not even list monitoring dams & dam releases, rainfall forecasts, actual rainfalls or monitoring river levels. In fact, there is no effective role for the dam operators and owners (KPCL in this case) in the DDMP. Section 5.5.4 about Dam bursts do not even mention the possible inundation areas that can be pre determined for specific dam burst situations.
Karnataka Water Resources Department makes an interesting claim[xxiii]: “KPCL has constructed dams across west flowing rivers such as Varahi, Sharavathi & Kali rivers and their tributaries only to generate power and most of the river course runs in the gorge portion of hilly terrain and therefore no habitation is observed on the downstream of the dams except few locations on the downstream of Supa, Kadra and Gerusoppa dams for which demarcation has been done for various spillway design / maximum observed discharges to ensure public safety on the downstream.” There are a lot of questions here, but where were these demarcations and inundation maps, supposed to be for the public safety in the downstream areas during these floods? It’s clear these claims of state Water Resources Department has no real meaning in real life disasters that these dams contributed during this Aug 2019 in Uttara Kannada.
In Conclusion There should be little doubt that KPCL dams in Kali Basin in Uttara Kannada district did contribute to the flood disaster in the district in Aug 2019. KPCL dam operators, KPCL higher officials, Karnataka Water Resources Department and Uttara Kannada district officials and Disaster Management Authorities at various levels have contributed in one way or another in this disaster and contribution of Kali Basin dams. The only way to find out the actual contribution to the damage, and responsible officials is to have a credible, independent enquiry at the earliest, in which current or former Central Water Commission or state govt officials should have no role. That seems the only way forward to ensure that such blunders are not repeated and responsible officials get the signal that accountability will be fixed.
We also need to urgently change information sharing, governance of dams, rivers and disasters, that would help reduce the possibilities of such disasters in future.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org)