What does it mean when landscapes, riverscapes, ways of life are altered forever? When a mighty, flowing river is plugged and made to stop, flow in tunnel and released as per our whims? For most of us, life and environment are so fundamentally modified that we would hardly question it. But as our worldview and our politics is set to dam some of the last free flowing rivers in the North East India into Hydro-Electricity Banks, what is at stake? Continue reading “India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat”
Hydro fast loosing sheen in renewable energy basket and the share of hydro is likely to decline further as through the past three years, the installed capacity of hydropower projects has remained around 40,000 Mw. While the report superficially may appear as a sigh of relief nevertheless on ground Indian Govt. is still in a hurry to push many big hydro power projects particularly in North-Eastern States. Last month only Piyush Goyal Power Minister cleared the Teesta-III and spoke of clearing Subansiri too. In Siang basin Pauk, Heo, Tato-I are recently approved by MoEF Panel. Protest against 780 Nyamjang Chhu HEP is going on. Similarly several projects in Ganga, Barhamputra and Satluj basin are being cleared and constructed in plain violation of stipulated green norms. Public and private developers are repeatedly ignoring environmental concerns and not addressing the issues raised by local people.
Water has become a closely guarded resource in Latur city which receives municipal supply only once every 15 days. The Dhanegaon dam which supplies water here has been at “dead storage level” for the last four years because of the meagre rains. But this year the water crisis is much worse: the arid Marathwada belt where Latur is located has reported the highest rain deficit in the entire country.
JAMMU & KASHMIR: Eco concerns over Baglihar hydel project worry experts, locals The 900-MW Baglihar hydroelectric project continues to increase the worries of experts and inhabitants in the erstwhile Doda district comprising Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts as the region faces a major threat of severe climate change, courtesy successive regimes which have ignored all environmental concerns attached to the project. Torrential rain, cloudbursts and massive landslides are said to be new dangers confronting the people of the erstwhile Doda district which are mostly due to creation of the reservoir of between 30 km and 35 km in length. The region falls in Seismic Zone IV. In another interesting development referring to the All India Power Survey findings, the J&K government’s report—State Action Plan on Climate Change—states that climate change would have drastic impact on hydropower generation capacity in J&K in three possible ways. Firstly, the available discharge of a river may change since hydrology is usually related to local weather conditions, such as temperature and precipitation in the catchment area. Secondly, an unexpected increase in climate variability may trigger extreme climate events, i.e. floods and droughts, and thirdly, changing hydrology and possible extreme events may increase sediment risks. It further reveals that more sediment, along with other factors such as changed composition of water, raises the probability that a hydropower project suffers greater exposure to turbine erosion. Moreover, an unexpected amount of sediment will also lower turbine and generator efficiency, resulting in a decline in energy generated. Since the majority of power is generated from hydropower sources, there are high chances that Jammu and Kashmir may face power crisis if the projected impact of climate change happens. Higher demand of energy due to climatic variability and lower generation due to projected impact of climate change would widen the power supply-demand deficit in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the last week of June 2015, there were widespread rains in Uttarakhand, accompanied by warning by the Dehradun Met Department. The pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath was affected with massive landslides damaging roads and bridges. But strangely there was little news about the hydropower projects. It was only when Vimalbhai informed me y’day that power generation at Vishnuprayag hydropower project has stopped that I decided to dig deeper into this issue. Continue reading “Why Vishnuprayag and other Uttarakhand Hydro Projects continue to affect two years after the June 2013 disaster”
HIMACHAL: Himachal Pradesh engineers blames untrained engineers and human errors responsible for growing numbers of hydro power project mishaps (15 June 2015) HP engineers say that the board was suffering these losses as they lacked the trained engineers. The limited staff is under pressure to perform technical duties and pressure mount on them as the government was not serious about filling the posts, said Lokesh Thakur, general secretary, HP Power Engineers’ Association, expressing anguish over the death of three engineers, two of whom worked in the HPSEBL.http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/lack-of-trained-engineers-to-blame/94204.html Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, June 22, 2015”
Guest Blog by विमलभाई (firstname.lastname@example.org)
उत्तराखंड में अलकनंदा नदी पर 330 मेगावाट की श्रीनगर जलविद्युत परियोजना बनाने वाली जी0वी0के0 बांध कम्पनी द्वारा लापरवाही से श्रीनगर बांध की मिट्टी डंप नहीं कि गई होती तो जून 2013 में नदी का पानी केवल घरों एंव अन्य जगहों पर आता किन्तु मलबा नहीं आता। लोग अभी तक दो सालों के बाद भी मानसिक, शारीरिक एवं आर्थिक रूप से परेशान एवं अस्त-व्यस्त ना होते।
वैसे श्रीनगर बांध निर्माण में पूर्व से ही काफी कमियां रही हैं तथा इसके पर्यावरणीय पहलुओं पर लोग इलेक्ट्रोनिक व प्रिंट मीडिया के माध्यम से कहते रहे हैं। जी0वी0के0 कम्पनी पर मुकदमें भी हुये, जिनमें से कुछ अभी भी चल रहे हैं। जी0वी0के0 कम्पनी की लापरवाही मीडिया व कई व्यक्तियों द्वारा प्रश्न उठाये गये जो लगातार सच साबित हुये हैं। आज स्थिति यह है कि बांध के खिलाफ केस भी चालू है और बांध कंपनी ने विद्युत उत्पादन भी करना आरंभ कर दिया है।
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been saying to Nepal and others that Bhutan is a good example to show how a country can prosper from hydropower generation and export. During his trip to Bhutan in June 2014, soon after taking over as Prime Minister of India, he said, “Our Hydropower cooperation with Bhutan is a classic example of win-win cooperation and a model for the entire region.”
However, this hydropower import by India from Bhutan is not a new development. Central Electricity Authority under Union Ministry of Power provides, in its monthly reports, power import from Bhutan, these figures are available since 2005-06. Continue reading “Changing profile of India’s Hydro Power Import from Bhutan”
“We want sacred rivers of Tawang to flow freely, not inside Tunnels!” What makes the assertion on this banner more remarkable is the fact that the people holding it up are not fiery activists, but peace-loving Buddhist monks of the Monpa community, from the farthest corner of Arunachal Pradesh: Tawang (photo by Urmi Bhattacharjee). About 13 hydropower projects are slated to come up on main river stem and tributaries of Tawang Chhu (River) in Tawang in a distance of just 160 kms.
Tawang is a tiny district of Arunachal Pradesh nestled between Tibet and Bhutan. The region has had a troubled past and is home to Monpa Buddhists who practice an ancient form of Buddhism. Monpa culture itself is unique and fragile, with less than 50,000 Monpas in Tawang and less than one lakh globally. The region is famed for Tawang Monastery, Galden Namgey Lhatse (which literally means Celestial Paradise on a Clear Night), which is the 2nd largest monastery in the world. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tawang Basin: Highlights from the NEHU Study”
SANDRP has just published a new report: “Headwater Extinctions- Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems”, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus. The report[i] was released at the India Rivers Week held during Nov 24-27, 2014.
Headwater Extinctions deals with impacts of hydropower projects in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh and Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basins in Uttarakhand on river ecosystem and its components, mainly fish. While the harrowing impacts of hydropower projects on local livelihoods and social systems are being realized gradually, we are yet unclear about the extent of impacts of these so-called green projects have on fish and aquatic biodiversity.
Environmental Impact Assessments of large hydropower projects (> 25 MW as per EIA Notification 2006) are supposed to assess ecological impacts of such projects, but we are yet to come across any comprehensive effort in this direction from EIA reports that we have assessed so far.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) which is entrusted with appraising these projects and their EIAs has paid very little attention to this issue. Since over a decade, the EAC has had expert members from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI). Both these institutes are supposed to have expertise on fish and aquatic biodiversity. But sadly, their presence has not helped fill the serious lacunae in appraisal and EIAs of the hydropower projects.
SANDRP had been trying to highlight the impact of hydropower on fish and the long standing problems in the so-called mitigation measures being recommended by the EAC. We thought that it may be useful to bring out a first-hand report bring out ground realities of what is happening to our rivers. Emmanuel Theophilus, based in the Dhauliganga Valley and who is an avid mountaineer, storyteller, ecologist and our ally was commissioned by SANDRP to study the impacts of hydropower on fish and ecosystems, review the EIAs as well as mitigation measures recommended by EAC as a part of Environment Management Plans of hydropower projects. We are very glad to publish the report as a first of the hopefully many steps to be taken to understand and address this important issue.
Headwater Extinctions has been written in an eminently readable style that Theo is known for, as could be seen from the earlier blogs he wrote for us! The report has a section on ‘Travelogue’ which records Theo’s travels and thoughts as he visits Bhagirathi and Alaknanda sub basins in Uttarakhand and Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh. The report also brings illuminating photos from these trips. The fact that the travels happened within months of the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 could be seen in his photos and travel reports. It further substantives the role hydropower projects played in increasing the proportions of the disaster.
Travelogue is followed by discussions in two parts: Discussions on the impact of hydropower projects on fish and aquatic habitats along the two sub-basins and the role of EIAs, EMPs, Fisheries Plan and the government approval process. The findings of this report are valid for all Himalayan states & rivers.
Headwater Extinctions ends with some striking insights. Sample this: “We are in the midst of river extinctions in the Himalaya, but are surrounded by a tragic drama of double-speak and equivocation. And a horde of jostling brokers. Ranging from reputed universities, government departments, research institutions, everyday bureaucrats, and of course, politicians and contractors from within ‘the community’ along the developers and regulators. They not only write the script of this drama, they even play all the part”.
The inside covers of the report have detailed maps of the two basins with locations of hydropower projects, with annexures containing lists of hydropower projects in Upper Ganga and Beas basins and also list of fish found in Upper Ganga basin.
Theo has completed this report on a stringent timeline and budget, which meant that all the proposed and implemented fisheries management plans could not be assessed. We hope Headwater Extinctions provides sufficient material and compelling reasons to overhaul the way impacts of hydropower projects on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity are treated by EIAs, EMPs and government committees. We would also urge agencies like WII and CIFRI to do justice to their work inside EAC and beyond. That they are not doing that is apparent.
For EAC and MoEF&CC, we certainly would like them to ensure proper and full impact assessment of projects on aquatic biodiversity in the EIAs. The EAC also needs to stop approving completely ineffective fish hatcheries. They could initiate a credible independent study of the costs, benefits and performance of the fisheries development plans they have been approving in recent projects. It does not only smell fishy, but more like a scam! Here is a relevant quote from the report: “I can’t help see a few things here, as perhaps you do? Bluntly put, I see slush funds being dangled to a whole range of possible collaborators. The kindest term I can find for them is ‘brokers’.”
We look forward to your comments and suggestions on all aspects of Headwater Extinctions. If you would like a hard copy, please write to us.
 We have been saying this for long and this report helps substantiate our contention that the assumption that projects below 25 MW are benign and do not need EIA-EMP or environmental monitoring and public consultations is wrong.
 https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/.
 Caveat, there are honest exceptions, but this is a generalization that describes the predominant phenomenon.
Reliable data and information that is both correct and validated on ground, is a pre requisite to understand any feature or activity. And for a river, a constantly evolving and truly complex entity, it becomes even more crucial. The wellness quotient of rivers, their present health status, all these and more can only be understood, once we have the rudimentary knowledge of the river and the basins that they form.
A step in this direction has been taken up by the India WRIS (Water Resources Information System) project (A joint venture between Central Water Commission and Indian Space Research Organisation), that aims “to provide a ‘Single Window Solution’ for water resources data & information in a standardized national GIS framework”[i]. This project has generated 20 basin level reports that share important information on the salient features of the basin, their division into sub basins, the river systems that flow through it and the water resource structures, such as irrigation & hydro electric projects in the basin. Another crucial inclusion is the length of major rivers in each basin, which have been GIS calculated (Geographic information system)[ii] and in a few reports the place of origin of the rivers too is mentioned. (Ganga Basin Report). This is an improvement over the earlier documented river lengths that included the canal length along with the river lengths, in earlier CWC documents (e.g. water and related statistics)!
The Basin reports include basin level maps which also show the proposed inter basin transfer links and the major water resource structures & projects. Individual maps at the sub basin level mark the rivers & their watersheds. The report gives details on the topography, climate, the land use / land cover area , and also the information on hydro meteorological stations like groundwater observation cells, flood forecasting sites and even water tourism sites.
These reports can be downloaded from the WRIS site.[iii]
The reports are an attempt to document the water resources data & information for a better and more integrated planning, at the basin level. A table below tabulates some important parameters from the 20 basin reports.
Missing Dams! It can be seen from table on next page that total number of dams in all the 20 basins come to 4572. Assuming that this includes all the completed large dams in India by Dec 2013 (WRIS report is dated March 2014), if we look at the number of large dams in India as in Dec 2013 in the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), the figure is 4845. This leaves a difference of 273 large dams, which are missing from the WRIS list! This seems like a big descripancy. Unfortunately, since NRLD gives only statewise list and does not provide river basin wise list and since WRIS list provides only river basin wise list and does not provide the names of districts and states, it is not possible to check which are the missing dams, but WRIS need to answer that.
Sub Basins These 20 basins have been further delineated into a number of sub basins. The sub basins details include the geographical extent of the sub basin, the rivers flowing in it, the states that they travel through, number and size range of watersheds and also the details of dams, weirs, barrages, anicuts, lifts & power houses, accompanied by maps at this level. The irrigation and hydro electric projects in the area are detailed and mapped for greater convenience. The sub basin list is given here to get a detailed picure.
Indus Basin Sub-basins:
- Beas Sub Basin
- Chenab Sub Basin
- Ghaghar and others Sub Basin
- Gilgit Sub Basin
- Jhelum Sub Basin
- Lower Indus Sub Basin
- Ravi Sub Basin
- Shyok Sub Basin
- Satluj Lower Sub Basin
- Satluj Upper Sub Basin
- Upper Indus Sub Basin
|S. No||River Basin||Major river||No. of sub basins||No. of watersheds||No. of water resource structures||No. of water resource projects|
|1||Indus (Upto border)||Indus (India)||11||497||39||13||18||0||45||59||30||40||21||55|
|c||Barak & others basin||Barak||3||77||4||3||0||0||0||3||0||6||3||3|
|6||Subernarekha||Subernarekha & Burhabalang||1||45||38||4||12||0||0||3||5||34||0||1|
|7||Brahmani & Baitarni||Brahmani & Baitarni||2||79||61||5||4||1||0||1||8||35||4||1|
|14||WFR Tapi to Tadri||Many independent rivers flowing||2||96||219||0||3||0||1||18||13||15||1||12|
|15||WFR Tadri to Kanyakumari||3||92||69||6||6||4||0||29||19||12||7||21|
|16||EFR Mahanadi_ Pennar||4||132||64||5||12||12||0||0||12||46||10||0|
|17||EFR Pennar _ Kanyakumari||4||165||61||2||2||11||0||6||13||33||4||5|
|18||WFR Kutch _ Saurashtra||Luni||6||268||408||1||10||0||0||0||8||100||4||15|
|19||Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan||Many independent rivers flowing||–||–||1||0||0||0||48||0||11||1||1||0|
|20||Minor rivers draining into Myanmar(Burma) & Bangladesh||Many independent rivers flowing||4||54||3||5||0||0||3||–||3||4||1||–|
* Extension, Renovation and Modernization ** Data has been accumulated from the individual Basin Reports from India WRIS[iv]
- Yamuna Lower
- Yamuna Middle
- Yamuna Upper
- Chambal Upper
- Chambal Lower
- Ghaghara confluence to Gomti confluence
- Gandak & others
- Above Ramganaga Confluence
- Bhagirathi & others ( Ganga Lower)
- Upstream of Gomti confluence to Muzaffarnagar
- Kali Sindh and others up to Confluence with Parbati
Brahmaputra Basin It is strange to see that the profile divides this huge basin into just two sub basins, when it could have easily divided into many others like: Lohit, Kameng, Siang, Subansiri, Tawang, Pare, Teesta, Manas, Sankosh, among others.
- Brahmaputra Lower
- Brahmaputra Upper
Barak & Others Basin
- Barak and Others
- Kynchiang & Other south flowing rivers
- Naochchara & Others
- Godavari Lower
- Godavari Middle
- Godavari Upper
- Pranhita and others
- Bhima Lower Sub-basin
- Bhima Upper Sub-basin
- Krishna Lower Sub-basin
- Krishna Middle Sub-basin
- Krishna Upper Sub-basin
- Tungabhadra Lower Sub-basin
- Tungabhadra upper Sub-basin
- Cauvery upper
- Cauvery middle
- Cauvery lower
Subernarekha Basin No sub-basins.
Brahmani & Baitarani Basin
- Mahanadi Upper Sub- basin
- Mahanadi Middle Sub- basin
- Mahanadi Lower Sub- basin
- Pennar Upper Sub-basin
- Pennar Lower Sub-basin
- Mahi Upper Sub-basin
- Mahi Lower Sub-basin
- Sabarmati Upper Sub- basin
- Sabarmati Lower Sub-basin
- Narmada Upper Sub-basin
- Narmada Middle Sub-basin
- Narmada Lower Sub-basin
- Upper Tapi Sub- Basin
- Middle Tapi Sub- Basin
- Lower Tapi Sub- Basin
West flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri Basin
- Bhastol & other Sub- basin
- Vasisthi & other Sub- basin
West flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari Basin
- Netravati and others Sub- basin
- Varrar and others Sub- basin
- Periyar and others Sub- basin
East flowing rivers between Mahanadi & Pennar Basin
- Vamsadhara & other Sub- basin
- Nagvati & other Sub- basin
- East Flowing River between Godavari and Krishna Sub- basin
- East flowing River between Krishna and Pennar Sub- basin
East flowing rivers between Pennar and Kanyakumari Basin
- Palar and other Sub-basin
- Ponnaiyar and other Sub-basin
- Vaippar and other Sub-basin
- Pamba and other Sub-basin
West Flowing Rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni Basin
- Luni Upper Sub-basin
- Luni Lower Sub-basin
- Saraswati Sub-basin
- Drainage of Rann Sub-basin
- Bhadar and other West Flowing Rivers
- Shetrunji and other East Flowing Rivers Sub-basin
Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan Due to very flat terrain and non-existence of permanent drainage network, this basin has not been further sub divided.
Minor rivers draining into Myanmar and Bangladesh
- Imphal and Others sub basin
- Karnaphuli and Others sub basin
- Mangpui Lui and Others sub basin
- Muhury and Others sub basin
Narmada Basin: Some details To understand the compiled information at the basin level, we take a look at the one of the basin level reports, the Narmada Basin Report[v] (dated March 2014) as an illustrative example. An overview of the basin area right at the beginning, gives its geographical location, shape, size, topography, climate & population. This basic relevant information is tabulated in a concise table for easy access, as given below:
River information The major river flowing in the basin, the Narmada River (also called Rewa) that flows through the 3 states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra & Gujarat, its length (1333 km) and the length of its 19 major tributaries out of a total of 41 is given, based on GIS calculations. There is also a clear river network map of the Narmada basin that demarcates the 3 sub basins along with the watersheds, and shows the dams / weirs /barrages and the rivers in the basin.
- Narmada Upper Sub-Basin, with 16 watersheds
- Narmada Middle Sub-Basin, having 63 watersheds
- Narmada Lower Sub-Basin, with 71 watersheds
The surface water bodies details include the size (less than 25 ha to more than 2500 ha) and type (Tanks, lakes, reservoirs, abandoned quarries or ponds) of existing bodies. Nearly 91.8% of these are tanks.
Irrigation Projects The water resource projects in the basin are as follows:
- 21 Major Irrigation Projects
- 23 Medium Irrigation Projects
- 1 ERM Project
- 6 Hydro-Electric Projects
Interestingly description is only of the major and medium irrigation projects, information on minor projects is completely absent. An attempt to include the details of minor irrigation projects would have made the report more useful. The reports seem to not understand the significance of the smaller projects and their importance for the people and in the conext of the River Basin too.
Water resource structures The number and type of big manmade structures in the basin is given. These are a total of 277 dams, 2 barrages, 2 weirs and 4 lifts, of which again the major structures are marked on a map, and details given as in table below. Dams are classified on the basis of storage and purpose they are used for, and the dam numbers are available at sub basin level.
The report gives tabulated data for each of the dams, which is supposed to have name of the river, height, length, purpose, year of commissioning, etc. Since GIS is the strength of ISRO, they could have easily given latitude and longitudes of each dam, but they have not. Shockingly, in case of 186 of the dams, name of the river on which it is built is given as ‘Local Nallah’, and in case of 10 they have left the column blank. This means for nearly 71% (196 out of 277) of the dams they do not even know the name of the river they are build on. This is actually an improvement over the performance of CWC. The CWC’s National Register of Large Dams[vi], we just checked, mentions Narmada only 13 times (for 12 dams of Gujarat and 1 dam of Madhya Pradesh).[vii]
It is well known that Narmada Basin is the theatre of India’s longest and most famous anti dam movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan. The movement involves opposition to Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Jobat dams, among others. Such social aspects should also form part of any river basin report.
Surface water quality There are 19 surface water quality observation sites in the basin, that collect water data and the report spells out , “As compared to the other rivers, the quality of Narmada water is quite good. Even near the point of origin, the quality of river water was in class ‘C’ in the year 2001 while it was in class ‘B’ in earlier years. As was observed for most other rivers, in case of Narmada also, BOD and Total Coliform are critical parameters.” This shows that even in Narmada Basin, water quality is deteriorating. The statement also remains vague in absence of specifics.
Inter basin transfer links Details of the Par-Tapi-Narmada Link, which is a 401 km long gravity canal and its proposal to transfer 1,350 MCM (Million Cubic metre) of water from ‘surplus rivers’ to ‘water deficit’ areas is given, along with a map. How has the conclusion of surplus or deficit been reached? Does the assessment exhaust all the options including rainwater harvesting, watershed development, groundwater recharge, better cropping patterns and methods, demand side management, optimising use of existing infrastructure, etc? Is this is the least cost option? Does the water balance include groundwater? Who all will be affected by this or even how much land area will be affected by this proposal, there is absolutely no talk of this? No answers in the report.
There’s more to a river There is no information in basin reports on the regulating or statutory bodies that have a say in the basin in the report. However, some information on the existing organisations and inter-state agreements at the various basin level is given at another WRIS location.[viii]
The Basin reports for 20 basins are clearly an asset for understanding and analysing water resource situation. However, there is no mention of the numerous ecological, social and environmental services these rivers provide us with. The demographic details of the basin are available, but there is no information on the flora and fauna, who also need and thrive on the river waters. A good navigation tool for water resource information and river management projects at basin level, nevertheless, for a broader and more comprehensive outlook these reports should have included the following essential aspects too:
- River status: The present water quality & pollution level of the major rivers as well as their tributaries
- River governance: The local committees, civil bodies and institutions that play a role in river basin development
- River safety measures: Effect of the existing and planned river management projects on the state of the river, people and society.
- River ecology: Status of biodiversity, and other ecological aspects of the rivers
Sabita Kausal, SANDRP (email@example.com)
[vii] For more details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/how-much-do-we-know-about-our-dams-and-rivers/