Power Project To Dam White Water Rafting

By Nirmala Kannangara

The lustre of the white water rafting in Kithulgala is to be damned for the sake of a 35MW power plant.

The proposed Broadlands Hydropower Project, which is to generate 35MW to the national grid, is to dry a 5km-6km stretch of Kelani River due to blocking its two main tributaries, the Maskeli Oya, Kehelgamu Oya and even the water that is discharged from the Polpitiya power station.

It has been proposed to build a dam blocking the Kehelgamu Oya and to take the water to Maskeli Oya. A main dam is to be built blocking the Maskeli Oya and the water is to be taken to Kalukohutenna in Kithulgala through pipes. Once the water is used it would be released to Kataran Oya in close proximity to the power station. As a result the 5km- 6km stretch of the Kelani Ganga from the main dam to the Kalukohutenna main bridge is to go dry completely.

In the event the proposed project goes ahead, not only the site of the world famous Bridge on the River Kwai will become insignificant but also the tourist attractions for adventure sports – white water rafting, waterfall trekking, sliding and confidence jump, canoeing, white water kayaking, river expeditions, waterfall absailing, hiking, trekking, bird watching, camping, etc. will come to a completely disappear.

Meanwhile, Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi has submitted a cabinet paper on August 30 seeking to give powers to the Land Commissioner to acquire 13 hectares of forest land to construct a power house, switch yard and a surge tank for the project.

According to the cabinet paper, the government has signed an agreement with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Hatton National Bank to obtain US$ 82.5 million for the project and the tender for the construction work has already been granted in 2010. Although the Cabinet Paper has not disclosed to whom the contract was given, General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) said that the contract for the construction work has been given to a Chinese firm.

CEB sources meanwhile said on condition of anonymity that the fate of the proposed Broadlands Project would be the same as Norochcholai.

“Without learning a lesson from Norochcholai, once again the Chinese have been awarded the contract,” said the sources.

However, reliable sources at the Environment Ministry said that although Minister Wanniarachchi wanted to get the cabinet approval to grant powers to the Land Commissioner to acquire forest land, she was not able to get the approval since Environment Minister Susil Premjayantha disagreed to the proposal.

“The Forest Department is objecting as they have allotted this land for the proposed Kelani Valley Forest Reserve,” said the sources.

Meanwhile, Priyantha Pushpakumara, Secretary of the White Water Rafting Association Kithulgala said that nearly half a million tourists – local and foreign – visit Kithulgala every year and the country would lose foreign exchange in the event the water ways for adventure sports go dry because of the proposed power project.

“Last year alone the tourism industry in Kithulgala was able to generate US $ 17.5 million and we hope to attract more foreign tourists by 2017 and generate more foreign exchange to the country. If the power project hampers adventure sport activities and if tourists are ‘kicked out’ from Kithulgala, not only it will affect the tourism industry but also the livelihoods of over 1500 families,” said Pushpakumara.

Elaborating on the importance of safeguarding adventure sports activities in Kithulgala, as Kithulagala has been highlighted even in tourism broachers, Pushpakumara said the destination had received a prominent place in tourist itineraries.

Pushpakumara also said as to how Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi wanted White Water Rafting Association members to walk out of her room when they went to discuss the issue with ministry officials.

“Minister Wanniarachchi wanted us to walk out of the room if we were going to make requests to stop the power project. When we were told that the water that is released from the power project would be brought back to the upper stream and will be released to the river, we asked them to tell how they are going to do it.

Instead of giving a fitting answer we were told that they would use the additional power generated in Norochcholai power plant and make some arrangements to take back the water from power plant to release to the river in close proximity to the main dam,” said Pushpakumara.

“Speaking to these ‘higher officials’ we understood how incompetent they are. They have not studied the project well to tell us how it will work out,” he added.

However there is a ray of hope for Pushpakumara and the people in Kithulgala as President Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed Chief Minister Sabaragamuwa Province Maheepala Herath to take immediate steps to stop the project.

“We can rely on the President and we hope he will look into our grievances. Despite the assurance given by the President, what made Minister Wanniarachchi to present a cabinet paper to acquire forest lands for the project,” queried Pushpakumara. This was confirmed by Maheepala Herath.

“When I met President Rajapaksa two weeks ago at the President’s House in Kandy, the President inquired about this issue and wanted me to take immediate action to stop the project,” said Chief Minister Herath.

Meanwhile Acting Secretary Environment and Renewable Energy Ministry R. R. R. Rupasinghe said that the ministry is yet to decide as to what action they are going to take.
“The Ministry is in receipt of a cabinet paper requesting 13 hectares of forest land for the proposed project. We have called for a meeting with t he Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and Department of Forest Conservation (DFC) officials this week to get their observation in this regard.

Anyway, a new power project can generate power to the national grid and it will benefit the country. In the meantime we have to minimize the environmental impact as well. Anyhow the decision whether to give the requested land or not, have to be taken after the meeting with the CEA and DFC officials,” added Rupasinghe.

When the Chairman of the Central Environment Authority (CEA) Wimal Rubasinghe was contacted to find out as to when the EIA was approved for the proposed project, he said that he was not aware of the year and wanted to contact Director EIA Section Kanthi de Silva. According to De Silva, the EIA approval had been given in 2004.

“The approval was given in 2004 and since they were not able to implement the project within three years, it was renewed later and once again we renewed the EIA in 2012,” added De Silva.
When asked as to why the CEA renewed the approval when there have been many environment changes since the first report, De Silva said that there are no such changes as stated and that was why she renewed the EIA last year.

“There may be slight changes to the environment which cannot be considered as a big issue. We are not considering about the effect to the tourism industry but only to the environment.

Although the Forest Department is now reluctant to release the required 13 hectares for the power project, at the initiation there was no such objection from them. Hence we do not consider their agitation. As a country we need more and more power plants to solve the power crisis.

Whether this project will impact the tourism industry or whether it would affect the livelihood is not my concern and I do not have any authority over that matter,” she added.

Meanwhile General Manager CEB, Mr. Mohideen said that the proposed project will not hamper the adventure sports along the Kelani Ganga.

“There are three power stations in the upper stream and has that affected the water sports in Kitulgala? Even though there are power stations we have not blocked the water in the Kelani Ganga. In this instance as well although people assume we will completely block the waterways and take them to the proposed power station downstream, we will bring the water back closer to the proposed main damn through pipes and release them to the river,” said Mohideen.

According to him, power would be generated only during the night but not during the daytime.
“It is the same system that happens in Upper Kotmale. Those who are in Colombo were up in arms against the project claiming that St Clair’s will go dry due to the project.

Has it gone dry now? We generate the power during the night and release the water back to the stream by 5am and St Clare’s Fall never goes dry. In the same way we will release the water back to the upper stream and enough of water would be there for all water sports along the Kelani Ganga,” he added.

Although Mohideen once said that water that is to be released from the power project would be brought back upstream in pipes and would be released a few yards down the main damn, Mohideen later contradicted his own statement.

“Although we take the water from the main dam to the power plant, another pipe would be fixed to the damn to send part of the collected water along the Kelani Ganga. We only take part of the water and the rest would be put to the river through a subway,” said Mohideen.

According to Mohideen, the project tender has been awarded to a Chinese Company of which he (Mohideen) did not know the name and added that the Chinese are now in the process of designing the project from China.

“The project designing work is done from China and the project work will start in one year’s time,” he further claimed

Meanwhile Jagath Gunawardena Attorney-at-Law specializing in environmental studies said that he is happy that the Forest Department is asserting their rights by objecting to give the requested land.

“Kelani Valley reservation is one of the oldest reservations in Sri Lanka. If the government wants to take a part of the reserve they have to go through the whole process of re-demarcating the sanctuary boundary,” added Gunawardena.

According to Gunawardena, unique and endangered species of plants and animals are found in the Kelani Valley forest reservation.

“If they want to acquire they have to do a new EIA to cover the bio diversity of the forest area and to take suitable mitigation steps. The FD is very correct by opposing this because this reserve was enacted not only for conservation of manageable diversity but to ensure the stability and the watershed of the Kelani River.

We are happy the FD is asserting their rights,” he added.

All attempts to contact Conservator General Forest K. P. Ariyadasa for a comment failed as he was not available in his office.

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