The Sunday Leader

Uma Oya Project: More Damage Than Benefit!

By Camelia Nathaniel

Work on the Rs.76,316 million Uma Oya project has been temporarily suspended due to numerous complaints by the residents in the area and the concerns raised by the environmentalists, claiming that there was a connection between the project and the wells in the area drying up and several houses in the area being badly damaged.

The key objective of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project was to transfer water from Uma Oya and Mahatotila Oya to the Handapanagala and Lunugamwehera Reservoirs. Through these reservoirs, water will be provided for irrigation, drinking and provision of water for industrial activities. Accordingly, it is expected to irrigate 25,000 acres of paddy land both in Uva Wellassa and Ruhuna during the Yala and Maha seasons.

It is planned to cultivate 12,000 acre of new land with paddy. It is further expected that this project could provide water to the Hambantota Harbour and the Oil Refinery at the Mattala International Airport and Hambantota Industrial Zone.

Another major objective of the project is to construct a 60 MW power house which can be connected to the national grid.
Of the total cost of Rs.76,316 million, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) is providing Rs.51,175 million, with a grace period of five years, repayment period of 10 years and interest at the rate of LIBOR + 0% . For the other costs, including Down Stream Development Works in the Kirindi Oya Basin, the government is providing Rs.15,474 million.

With the involvement of the Government of Iran, an agreement was reached between the two existing bovernments of the countries, Sri Lanka and Iran realizing the project through funds granted by the Export Development Bank of Iran. As a result, the foundation stone of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Developmental Project was laid in Wellawaya, Alikota Ara (Oya). However this foundation stone was laid without carrying out a feasibility study and without obtaining Environmental Clearance for the project. The Export Development Bank of Iran had offered to extend financial support to this project with no search or concern about the feasibility of the project.

The three-volumes of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Developmental Project prepared by the University of Sri Jayawardhanapura for the project proponent, Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management, was submitted in November 2010. The Central Environmental Authority acted as the Project Approving Agency. The EIA Report was open to the public for review and comments for a period of 30 working days during which a plethora of letters were received by the Central Environmental Authority from many Environmental Organizations, Farmer Organizations, Community Organizations and groups adversely affected by the project objecting its inception. Although the EIA Report prepared by the Sri Jayawardhanapura University was hopelessly inadequate, the Central Environmental Authority granted Environmental Clearance for the project, subject to conditions.

A team of environmentalists from the Sri Lanka Nature group, comprising Prof. K. N. J. Katupotha, Thilak Kariyawasam and S. Visvalingam, who recently engaged in a fact finding and investigation mission, said that due to the construction of the Uma Oya Project they had observed the following incidents in the villages.

The main features of the project are:
• 45m high RCC (Roller-Compacted Concrete) dam across Dalgolla (Uma) Oya at Puhulpola Link tunnel of 3,975m between Puhulpola and Dyraba reservoirs (dammed at Puhulpola area building a 25-acre reservoir).

The areas which will be submerged from the Puhulpola and Dyaraba reservoirs include villages such as Kotawra Udagama and Pahalagama, Puhulpola, Hagiliella, Kebilladowa, Pahala Mirahawatta, Matetilla and Malitta. These villages are situated in an area where steep slopes are situated and paddy cultivation is conducted according to terraced cultivation.

• 30m high RCC dam across Mahatotila Oya at Dyraba. Headrace tunnel 15,150m long from Dyraba reservoir (10 acre reservoir will be built there) to the surge tank.

• 100m high surge shaft. 700m high vertical shaft.

• Underground powerhouse with two Pelton turbines having 60MW installed capacity each. 3,335m long tailrace tunnel in Karandagolla.

The tail race will discharge water to the Alikota Ara which is a tributary of Kirindi Oya. A regulating reservoir will be constructed across Alikota Ara  and then water will be transferred to a new reservoir at Kuda Oya which will regulate and distribute water for irrigation works in the right bank of Kirindi Oya.

Losses of Construction of Uma Oya project
Due to construction of Umaoya project the team observed the following incidents in the villages.

Weheragalatenne Heeloya

In this village from 26th of December 2014 onward the following incidents occurred, said Tilak Kariyawasam.

• At present 60 wells had completely dried up, which had never dried for the past 50 years.

• At present 05 wells have reduced water levels compared to the past 50 years.

• At present 10 wells had no indication of any change and these were located in the hills. This is due to the formation of highly weathered metamorphic bed rock layers

• At present 309 houses were seen with small cracks (day to day these cracks are increasing and expanding), but 08 houses showed severe cracks. In this village, 03 houses were not affected.

• The residents were also unable to cultivate paddy and vegetable due to the drying of water springs (ex; H. A. Bodipala had two water springs on his land of which he cultivated his 15 acres of paddy and vegetable lands for the past several years with irrigated water from these springs. Since the 26t h of December 2014 however he was unable to cultivate such land due to the drying up of the springs.

Makulella Village
Makulella Vidiyalaya

School buildings walls and floor were cracked (6°50’0.19”N, 81° 2’14.59”E; about 1,200 high)

One toilet pit had caved in.
Sandya Puspakumara

• The well of her family has not dried-up

• Heavy cracks on the wall and outside of the house ceiling and some walls were with severe cracks (6°49’47.16”N, 81° 1’50.63”E).

• Further the DS of Bandarawela DSD had asked Sandya to leave the house without giving any alternative facilities. The family members are living during the night at an Aramaya with a handicapped child (the house is about 60 years old)

Jinadasa Watthegedara – Makulella

• Four Years back, the Tunnel Line point was established (6°49’46.08”N, 81° 1’51.73”E; about 1,225m high). About 100m from their house, after digging the tunnel point, their well had dried completely. After 4 months the water filled again but they are unable to use the water for drinking due to pollution (colour changed). However, to date no one has tested the water, and although the PHI was informed he had not responded.

• In Pallewela Medhakowatha Wehatale a landslide occurred on 27th of December 2014, and the length of the landslide was nearly 100m and the other was nearly 700-800 m while one house and tea land were damaged

• Bambaragama: a land slide occurred at the top of the mountain in the Dyrabha Karandagolla tunnel digging area

• Also the team noted 3 stone quarries braking stones at the top of the Karandagolla mountain and Maga level BELSFA stone quarry which is to be used for tile production by former MP Ananda Kumarasiri.

Further speaking to Environmentalist Tilak Kariyawasam said that in 1991 there was a feasibility study done by the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) to be given to the Asian Development Bank. “This study failed and the ADB rejected that feasibility study and the project was shelved. Due to the past experiences with regard to river diversification, non of the big banks were willing to fund this project. Then having no other option the previous government turned to the Chinese and the Iranians.

The Iranian Exim Bank initially agreed to fund the project on the recommendation of President Ahmedijad. But this bank had not had any previous funding experience on these type of dam projects. Even the Iranian company that is doing the construction of the project were given different technical guidelines for this project. According to the technical guidelines given by the CEA they had prepared an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) which was carried out by the Sri Jayawardenapura University. However from that time we were criticising the project as insufficient environmental impact assessments were carried out. According to environmentalists the risk of landslides due to projects like these can occur in other areas on the opposite direction. In fact we have seen such an incident taking place recently.

“Moreover, the blasting, etc. can disturb the environment as well. Previously Professor Withanage had done a study on the landslide risks in the central hills and nearby areas. According to that study, he advised against having big reservoirs in the central hills as the soil and rock formation is unsuited for this purpose. According to him there is a risk of landslides in other adjacent areas,” he said adding that we have experienced such a situation recently in Beragala.

Kariyawasam says that the recent landslides in Koslanda could in fact be a result of the Uma Oya project as well.
He further stated that it was also calculated that nearly 40% of the water to the Mahaweli came from the Uma Oya which was used for agriculture. “However now due to this project the Mahaweli River will be deprived of that water which will also have a negative effect on the farming.

This will cause a problem to the farmers in the future. Again in the Welimada, Mathetilla, Dheyaraba and specially in the Soranathota and Bathmedilla areas it is a vast paddy cultivation areas which are mainly fed by the Uma Oya. Further the Viyaluwa area soilely depends on the water from the Uma Oya and due to this diversion, the people of those areas will face severe consequences.

This was highlighted in the EIA report which was submitted in 2010,” said Kariyawasam adding that the Bandarawela area is acutely threatened due to the excavation of the tunnel for the Uma Oya Project. Students from Makulu Ella Vidyalaya have been evacuated due to the threat to their lives.

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