Floods · Ganga · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand Hydropower: No lessons learnt from June 2013 disaster

Uttarakhand is another hotbed for the setting up of dams in order to utilize its claimed potential of about 27,000 MW. The government is overlooking the damage these will cause to the already fragile environment. This article tries to provide an overview of developments in Uttarakhand Hydropower sector over the last one year. (To see the list of all the existing and proposed projects in Uttarakhand, see https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/.)

A study done by the National University of Singapore (NUS) predicted that dam related activity in the Himalayas will submerge and destroy 17,000 ha of land. The Himalayas have a dam density which is 62 times greater than the current global average[i]. The trouble is that Professor Maharaj K Pandit, who led the NUS study, has deep entrenched interests in hydropower business, having led seriously problematic Environmental Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment studies that have never said NO to any project, never raised the issues he is raising in NUS study in any of the EIA or CIA study he has led. Several of his EIAs have been found to be seriously inadequate, incomplete and supporting hydropower lobby.

In 2010, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had stated that more than 40 hydro projects in the region was a serious threat to nature and bio-diversity of the region[ii]. The impact these dams have on the environment and people has been clearly seen in the light of the 2013 floods which wrecked havoc in the state. There are constant delays and faulty constructions due to lack of strict supervision which then endanger the lives and livelihoods of the local population. Despite this, the government pushes on for more and more projects.

American Met Society confirms role of Climate Change in Uttarakhand floods In an annual extreme-weather report of September 2014, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has[iii] listed the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 as among the 16 extreme weather events of 2013 where role of climate change is undeniable. Unfortunately, Indian government is neither clearly acknowledging this reality, nor identifying the victims and demanding justice for them. While Uttarakhand disaster was a clear warning in this regard, the Sept 2014 floods of Jammu and Kashmir is another one showing how vulnerable the Himalayas are to the climate change.

American Meteorology Society confirms role of Climate Change in Uttarakhand Disaster of June 2013 (climatecentral.org)
American Meteorology Society confirms role of Climate Change in Uttarakhand Disaster of June 2013 (climatecentral.org)

Post-flood scenario: In the 2013 floods, about 19 projects were completely washed away resulting in affecting 35 % of the state generation capacity[iv].

Estimated losses from damage to hydropower projects on the Ganga
Project Location Capacity Estimated Loss
Dhauli Ganga Pithoragarh  280 MW Rs 30 crore (project completely submerged)
Kaliganga I Rudraprayag 4 MW Rs 18-19 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Kaliganga II Rudraprayag 6 MW Rs 16 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Sobla Pithoragarh 8 MW Rs 14 crore (completely washed away)
Kanchauti Pithoragarh 2 MW Rs 12 crore (totally washed away)
Chirkila Pithoragarh 1.5 MW Rs 20 crore (part of the project washed away)
Maneri Bhali I & II Uttarkashi 304+90 MW Rs 2 crore + Rs 5 crore (walls collapsed, silt in barrages)

Source: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/hydropower-projects-suffer-severe-damage

Following the orders of the Supreme Court on Aug 13, 2013[v] in the after math of the June 2013 flood disaster, an Expert Body (EB) was formed under Dr. Ravi Chopra to assess the role of dams in the flood disaster. In its report it was recommended that 23 projects be dropped altogether in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin and studies be initiated in all other basins. The court had stayed work on 24 out of 39 projects last year after the floods[vi] and had also stayed clearance to any more projects in the state. (To know more about the recommendations of the EB read SANDRP’s blog: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/.)

The major reasons for amplification of floods according to the report were the mountains of silt, sand, and boulders that “construction crews excavated to make room for at least 30 big and small hydropower projects, and left unmanaged along the riverbanks. The rushing high water scoured the banks, dissolved the mountains of construction spoils, and pushed the mud and boulders downstream, burying low lying communities”[vii]. SANDRP has been continuously demanding an assessment of the hydropower projects and the potential danger they cause, even before the Supreme Court order (see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/uttarakhand-disaster-moef-should-suspect-clearances-to-hydropower-projects-and-institute-enquiry-in-the-role-of-heps/).

Despite the report of the Expert Body, the Central Electricity Authority and the Central Water Commission, working like a lobby for big dams and hydropower projects, do not agree that dams had a role to play in the 2013 disaster[viii]. This led the CWC to even cause violations of the order which it thought it could hide under the register (to know more about this visit SANDRP’s blog https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/cwcs-national-dam-register-violates-laws-and-sc-orders-on-uttarakhand-dams/’)

Also, despite the stay on clearances, the 300 MW Lakhwar Project in the Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun District has been given a green signal by the MoEF[ix].

Creation of eco-sensitive zones:

5 km stretch between Gomukh and Uttarkashi was declared as an eco-sensitive zone which has led to the shutting down of various projects in that stretch. The bigger projects which have been affected are the 600 MW Loharinag-Pala under the NTPC, which is still appealing to receive its reimbursement to the tune of Rs. 536.30 crore. Apart from this, the 480 MW Maneri project under UJVNL and the 380 MW Bhaironghati project have been scrapped[x].

The collapsed basin walls of desilting basin of Srinagar HEP  (Matu Jan Sangathan)
The collapsed basin walls of desilting basin of Srinagar HEP (Matu Jan Sangathan)

Damages:

The Srinagar Hydro Electric Project on the Alaknanda River has increased installed capacity from 200 to 330 MW which was already a cause for concern for the people of the area and other experts who say that the land is too unstable to hold such a big project. Previously, the project faced problems due to damage to its coffer dam. The GVK company owned project was also the centre of controversy due to the Dhari Devi temple which was ultimately relocated in undue hurry just before the Uttarakhand floods.

Damaged Vishnuprayag Dam filled with boulders after the June 2013 floods. Source: MATU Jansangathan
Damaged Vishnuprayag Dam filled with boulders after the June 2013 floods. Source: MATU Jansangathan

In July 2014, it faced another disruption due to the collapse of the 19 metre high and 100 metre long wall of its de-silting basin during a test run of the project[xi]. The heavy rainfall and raging waters in the Alaknanda led to the breaking of the walls which caused flooding and inundation of land and houses. The earlier complaints of the residents of nearby villages regarding the leakage from the power channel canal of the project were not taken seriously by the authorities[xii].

The 171 MW Lata Tapovan project was overrun by floodwaters that damaged concrete work and forced at least a year-long delay in its commissioning. The delay could grow longer because of the badly damaged highway which makes transportation unsafe.

Another affected project is the 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad  HEP in the Chamoli district. The project was already under scrutiny because of the unfavourable geographical characteristics of the area it is in. The added damage was done during the floods which led to damages in the power channel and the approach road to chormi adit. This could lead to a 12 month delay. Its diversion dyke was also washed away and in June 2014, BHEL refused to start work. Even the head race tunnel (HRT) contractors L&T and Alpine Mayreder Bau Gmbh (AM) have terminated their contract leaving NTPC searching for new contractors[xiii].

The 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP in the Chamoli district was also affected in the floods as muck and debris filled its reservoir, causing electricity generation to stop. It was also under controversy for being responsible for causing floods downstream as it did not open one of its gates to let the water out, resulting in water finally being left under great pressure causing flooding and destruction of downstream area, people and properties.

Apart from this, the project authorities are also engaging in the disposal of muck and debris on the Alaknanda river bed and not in a safe site. The Jaypee group has been asked to to file a comprehensive affidavit on disposal of river bed material lying in the Vishnupryag HEP on Alakhnanda River, Joshimath by a bench of five judges of the National Green Tribunal. After the floods in 2013, a huge amount of muck and debris were deposited in the reservoir. To clean this and restart electricity generation, the company removed it from the reservoir but dumped it in the Alaknanda river bed, hoping that in the next monsoon it would open its gates enough to let the debris flow downstream. But this is highly dangerous for the downstream areas and population as pointed out by Vimal bhai, founder of the Matu Jansangathan, an NGO[xiv]. The NGT, however, has not taken necessary punitive measures against the company.

Delays:

Contract for construction of the Koteshwar dam was awarded to PCL Intertech Lenhydro Consortium JV in 2002 for a contract value of Rs 334.52 crore. The scheduled completion was specified for May 2006, but project was delayed due to non handling of project and quarry land by the owner to the contractor. Only Rs 99 crore worth work was done upto March 2007[xv].

Another case for delay is the Tehri Pumped Storage Plant (PSP) under the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC). The contract was given to Alstom-HCC Consortium which had only completed 10% work even after 25 months had elapsed since its commencement and until October 2013[xvi]. Even till April 2014, only 16% of the work was done while only 37 months are left to complete the rest[xvii]. Various problems pointed out by the THDC were that the consortium did not employ sufficient people or deploy enough machinery on site.

The 444 MW Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project under the THDC also faced delays in obtaining the clearances from the forest department to divert 80.507 ha of forest land for the project. The delay was caused in obtaining the stage II forest clearance which was in the hands of the State Wildlife Board, which finally gave its clearance in March 2013. But the surprise is that the World Bank approved the project even before it got its clearances but claimed that work would begin only after all clearances are obtained. But like a lot of other projects, work had already begun for the power house near Harsari village, affecting the villagers. Unfortunately, the inspection panel of the World Bank that was looking into the complaints against the project have completely failed to understand or show the courage to point out the failures of the project and the Bank right from impact assessment to consultations to violations in clearance procedures. The joint statement of the Inspection panel and the World Bank Management on Oct 2, 2014 exposes both the parties. The World Bank, while funding destruction of Alaknanda River, one of the two major head sources of the Ganga, is claiming to fund river rejuvenation efforts in the downstream!

Even one year after the floods, there is no comprehensive report about the disaster that would give a blow by blow account and fix accountability. The villagers are still awaiting resettlement[xviii].

Residents of 29 villages in Tehri district who already faced danger from landslides are now in a worse situation as the landslide occurrence has increased since the 2013 floods. But the villagers say that the state has made no efforts into their relocation and they live in fear of their life. The government had claimed that these villages would be relocated for their safety but due to the laxity of the authorities, work has not started on that yet.[xix]

To know more about the situation of hydropower dams in Uttarakhand in the context of June 2013 disaster, read SANDRP’s blogs:

  1. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/uttarakhand-deluge-how-human-actions-and-neglect-converted-a-natural-phenomenon-into-a-massive-disaster/
  2. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/uttarakhand-floods-disaster-lessons-for-himalayan-states/.
  3. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/
  4. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/lakhwar-dam-project-why-the-project-should-not-go-ahead/
  5. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-of-june-2013-lest-we-forget-the-experience-and-its-lessons/

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, padmakshi.b@gmail.com

 

END NOTES:

[i] http://www.eco-business.com/features/india-urged-to-re-think-huge-dam-projects/

[ii]   http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/uttarakhand-gears-up-for-eco-sensitive-zones-113062400735_1.html

[iii] http://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-changes-india-floods-18116

[iv] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/hydropower-projects-suffer-severe-damage

[v] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/

[vi] http://www.deccanherald.com/content/425148/sc-balance-development-environment.html.

[vii] http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2014/world/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-made-worse-existing-hydropower-projects-expert-commission-says/

[viii] www.energylineindia.com 30th april 2014.

[ix] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/lakhwar-project-in-uttarakhand-gets-environmental-clearance/article5649388.ece

[x] www.energyline.com 8th jan 2013

[xi] http://www.dailypioneer.com/nation/alaknanda-power-projects-basin-wall-collapses.html

[xii] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/srinagar-hydroelectric-project-walls-desilting-basin-collapse

[xiii]  www.energylineindia.com june 16, 2014.

[xiv]  matuganga.blogspot.in press note 23-06-14.

[xv] www.energylineindia.com june 4th 2013

[xvi] www.energylineindia.com oct 7th , 2013

[xvii] www.energylineindia.com april 23rd  2014

[xviii] Note: to know more about the damage caused by floods in Uttarakhand, view SANDRP’s film https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/uttarakhand-flood-ravage-and-the-dams-short-film-english/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/uttarakhand-flood-ravage-and-the-dams-short-film-hindi/

[xix] http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/fear-of-landslides-haunts-tehri-villagers-awaiting-resettlement.html .

brahmaputra · Climate Change · Indus

IWMI report on Glaciers and Snow cover in Himalayas in Changing Climate: Significant Impact on Seasonal flow of the Rivers in India

International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has recently published a study named  Glacier Systems and Seasonal Snow Cover in Six Major Asian River Basins: Hydrological Role under Changing Climate, authored by Oxana S. Savoskul and Vladimir Smakhtin which claims that the hydrological role of the melt-water resources in six major rivers e.g. Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Syr Darya, Amu Darya and Mekong of the Hindukush-Himalayan region (HKH) has been comprehensively assessed for the first time on a basin scale. Reviewing already published studies, this report draws some interesting conclusions regarding the role of glacier and snow meting for six river basins which includes three major rivers basins of India.

The map below shows area of the river basins included in this study. In this report, the term ‘melt-water resources’ has been used to cover glacier systems and seasonal snow cover. This report uses 1961-1990 status of melt-water resources as the baseline and compares with the 2001-2010 using the following characteristics: specific glacier runoff (average depth of annual discharge from glacier-covered area), basin total glacier runoff, shares of renewable and nonrenewable components in glacier runoff, total seasonal surface snowmelt from non-glaciated areas, portion of seasonal snowmelt lost for the recharge of groundwater aquifers, the contribution of glacier runoff and seasonal snowmelt to mean annual flow (MAF).

Map from the report showing the boundaries of the study basins (red line), state borders (light yellow line) and snow-covered high-altitude belts where glaciers are located (white spots
Map from the report showing the boundaries of the study basins (red line), state borders (light yellow line) and snow-covered high-altitude belts where glaciers are located (white spots)

The authors have used Glacier mass budget-based methods and hydrograph separation techniques which they stated as suitable for basin-scale assessments instead of the temperature-index methods. They say that application of these two methods in semi-distributed models can give the highest currently possible accuracy of +30%. The authors opine that many of the studies done previously had confused between the ‘snowmelt’ and ‘glacier-melt’ because these studies have not dealt with terminologies and methodologies in detail. The report states that there is a scarcity of glacier runoff estimates in peer-reviewed papers, “An analysis of publications on modeling runoff from large- and medium-scale glaciated catchments….. indicates that not many of these dealt with modeling glacier runoff per se. Even fewer report their evaluations of glacier runoff separately from snowmelt, if at all.”

For the three of the six river basins studies and which flow through India, i.e. Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra the total annual glacier runoff for the period of 1961-1990 was 41 km3,16 km3 and 17 km3 respectively. But in the recent periods of 2001-2010, total glacier runoff was reduced to 36 km3, 15 km3 and 16 km3 respectively for the three basins, see Table 1 for details.

It is clear from the table that while Indus and Brahmaputra basins have similar percentage of  area under glaciers and snowmelt, the reduction in the glacier and snow cover area are more pronounced in Indus basin. Besides, in all the three basins the reduction in glacier area is more pronounced that the snow cover area. However, the contribution of glacier melt and also snow melt to run-off is much higher in Indus basin compared to Brahmaputra basin, showing the greater role of precipitation in Brahmaputra basin. Within the Indus basin even though seasonal snow covers 28% of the total area, much than the 2.6% occupied by glaciers during 1961-90, the contribution of two sources to Mean Annual Flow is almost same. But a question arises, has the contribution of glacier melt to the runoff increased in any of the basins in the recent decade? The answer is surprisingly, no.

Table 1: Recent changes in the glaciers and seasonal snow and their contributions to MAF

Basin Part of basin area(%) covered by Contribution to MAF (%)
Glaciers Seasonal Snow Glacier runoff Seasonal Snowmelt

1961-1990

INDUS

2.6

28 18

19

GANGES

1.2

6 4

2

BRAHMAPUTRA

2.7 27 2

2

2001 -2010

INDUS

1.8 25 15 16
GANGES

0.9

6 3

1

BRAHMAPUTRA

2.2 26 2

2

For the Ganges basin, the report says that heavy summer precipitation almost solely determines MAF volume for the basin. Maximum seasonal snow area in the Ganges basin makes just 6% of the entire basin area. Similar situation were reported for the Brahmaputra basin, where the lower parts of the basin i.e.  Southeastern Tibet and Eastern Himalayas where nearly 75% of the basin’s glaciers are located, witness heavy summer monsoon rains. Regarding Indus basin the report says, “Precipitation in the IndusBasin is more evenly distributed between the seasons, but is highly variable spatially – similar to Brahmaputra and Amu Darya, where annual precipitation in some catchments is tenfold (3,000 mm) of that in the other glacier-covered parts of the basin (300 mm).”

Reviewing already published documents the report states “it appears that the research in High Asia is concerned much more with CC impacts than with objects of the impact. Yet, understanding of the expected basin-scale changes in glacier runoff in response to climate change remains largely unclear.”

The report does an analysis of assessments done on impact of climate change on water availability in Himalayas and concludes that many assessments rely on poorly verified sources. The report refers to the statement made by Cruz et al. (2007) “The current trends of glacier-melts suggest that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain could likely become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change…,” This statement was admitted as a typing error after publication but even then this has been reiterated as an apocalyptic vision in NGO reports.

Using the Table 2 given below, the report states that glacier contribution is a minor item in the annual river water budgets in the Ganges and Brahmaputra basins. The report says “The impact of climate change was found to be more prominent on seasonal rather than annual water availability.” It is clear from the table that, in the recent decades non-renewable component in all three basins have gone up while renewable and total volume of water from glacier melt have come down. It is also noteworthy that, even though Brahmaputra basin has more area under glacier cover than the Ganges basin (see Table 1), the volume of water from non renewable glacier flow was more in both periods in the Ganges basin. Besides, the percentage of increase in nonrenewable glacier runoff components during 2001-10 is highest among all three basins, signifying that glaciers are melting fastest in Ganga basin.

Table 2: Contribution of renewable and non-renewable components to glacial runoff

Basin Glacier runoff components Total Glacier runoff (km3) Total Glacier runoff contribution to MAF (%)
Renewable (km3) Nonrenewable (km3)

1961-1990

INDUS

33.0

8.14 41.2

18

GANGES

11.0

4.74 15.7

4

BRAHMAPUTRA

12.7

4.29 17.0

2

2001 -2010

INDUS

24.5

11.62 36.1

15

GANGES

8.1

6.95 15.0

3

BRAHMAPUTRA

10.6

5.05 15.7

2

The reports also states, “Glaciers and seasonal snow in CC-impact assessments should be perceived as natural water reservoirs with gradually diminishing storage and flow regulation capacity, both on intra-annual and inter-annual scale. Potential changes of precipitation regime coupled with effects of temperature rise on evapo-transpiration will impact future hydrological regimes of the major rivers much more significantly, affecting both MAF and flow seasonality.”

The authors of this report clear some fog around climate change and Himalayan glacier system and snow-melt. One lacuna of the report is that even though the report discusses glacier run-off it makes no mentions of glacier lakes and glacier lakes induced floods. There are several incidents of glacier lake induced floods happening in the basins discussed. There is evidence to show that in the recent flood devastation in Uttarakhand in India glacial lakes played significant role.

Parag Jyoti Saikia

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (www.sandrp.in)