The Sunday Leader

Water Sources Of Hill Country Going Waste Day By Day

  • Uma Oya Project:

by  Ifham Nizam

Damaged houses

Masses of Bandarawela and surrounding villages organized a harthal last Wednesday in opposition to the ongoing Uma Oya Project. Interestingly, unlike in the previous dozens of protests, the latest protest has reached the highest office in the country.

Environmentalists expressed confidence that President Maithripala Sirisena would come out with the positive suggestion for the betterment of the country and affected people, especially in Bandarawella.

The protesters involved in the harthal said the walls of over 7,000 houses have cracked while the wells in the area and water bodies have dried up.

President Maithripala Sirisena said international assistance will be obtained to continue the project after solving the issues faced by area residents.

Environmentalists stressed that due to construction of Uma Oya project the water sources of hill country is wasting day by day and it has made mega damage to the environment and society of Sri Lanka.

The underground tunnel goes through Bandarawela city and there are massive damages occurred twice due to the construction of this project.

Now, people of the area are without water. Bandarawela AG office provides 180,000 water liters per day to Bandarawela city for drinking, but many others are remaining with lack of water.

For the second time, it happened recently and waste is 3.6 million water liters per hour.

Centre for Environment and Natural Studies National Coordinator Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam says as the project related literature highlights, 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. 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%, says Dr. Kariyawasam.

He added, “I explained in my research finding what Government literature said about the project and what is happening now in the area.”

For the other costs, including Down Stream Development Works in the Kirindi Oya Basin, the government is providing Rs.15,474 million. The project is to be completed within five years.

Uma Oya is a major tributary of Mahaweli Ganga, which has its headwaters in the Pidurutalagala range, Nuwara Eliya, flows through Welimada and Kandeketiya in the Badulla District and the confluence with the Mahaweli River is just above the Rantabe reservoir (Uma Oya falls).

The basin covers a drainage area of 720 square kilometers out of which 65% is in Uva Province while 35% is in Central Province. The watershed area above Uma Oya project is 350 sq.km. As indicated above, the project has two main components, power generation and water supply for irrigation. For these purposes, reservoirs, tunnels and irrigation canals are constructed.

According to the information collected, in summary, the project envisages the construction of two 30-meter and a 40-meter high dams across the Dalgolla Oya and the Mahatotila Oya (two main tributaries of the Uma Oya at Puhulpola and Dyraaba – close to Atampitiya and Welimada). A link tunnel four kilometers long between the reservoirs will also be constructed.

From Dyraaba near Welimada a 3.29-meter wide and a 24-kilometer long trans basin tunnel will be constructed to an underground power station at Randeniya close to Wellawaya on the right bank of Kirindi Oya.

It is envisaged that the installed capacity of the power house at Randeniya (Alikota Ara) will be 90 MW to produce 312 GWh of electricity (recent figure is 231 GWh). Electricity generated will be supplied to the national grid.

It is proposed to divert 192 MCM of water annually to the Kirindi Oya. For this purpose, a tank will be constructed at Alikota Ara. After power generation at Alikota Ara, water will be diverted to Kirindi Oya reservoir.

Water from Alikota Ara RB canal diverted to Kuda Oya tank will augment the Handapangala, Lunugamwehera and Weheragala reservoirs by feeder channels in the lowlands.

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.

More than 4,625 houses and agricultural land held by 128 households in Welimada and Uva Paranagama submerges due to the construction of Puhulpola reservoir and Tunnel trough Bandarawela city.

The people in Divikotawara, Puhulpola villages in RB system and in Ihalakotawara Pahala Kotawara and Welimada town area in LB system of Puhulpola reservoir will be displaced due to the project. Welimada – Badulla road at three km post and access road to Ihala and Pahala Kotawara villages too will be submerged when the project is completed.

Crops such as paddy, vegetables and potatoes are cultivated in the area submerged due to the construction of Phulpola reservoir. There will be a loss of 87.4 MT of paddy and income of Rs. 2.62 annually due to loss of paddy cultivation. Around 8 ha of land under potato and vegetable cultivation will also be submerged causing crop losses amounting to 48 MT. Income losses due to these crop losses are estimated as Rs. 2.16 million.

Due to the construction of Dyraaba reservoir, agricultural land owned by 69 households submerges incurring a loss of 65.44 MT of paddy and income of 1.96 million therefrom. Extent of 14.51 ha of upland and home garden under potato and vegetable cultivation submerges causing a loss of 87 tons of potato and vegetables. Loss of income due to this is around Rs. 3.91 million.

The people in a large number of villages (Weheragalatenne Heeloya, Makulella Village etc.) report drying up of wells, cracks in buildings and houses due to the construction of tunnels. Their lives and livelihoods have been shortened. People are likely to be displaced due to the project.

It is also reported that ground is cracked and landslides are occurring in villages (Welimada, Udaperuwa, Palleperuwa, Ampitiya, Karagahawela, Boralanda, Rajakatuwa, Puhulpola, Dikpitiya, Ihala Kotawara, Pahala Kotawara, Maduwe Gedara, Ambadandagama, Abayapura, and Kandekatiya). The government has accepted that these negative impacts are due to Uma Oya project construction activities.

Studies on the project

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, none 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.

According to the technical guidelines given by the CEA they had prepared an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) which was carried out by the Sri Jayewardenepura University. There are criticisms that sufficient environmental impact assessments have not been carried out. The risk of landslides due to projects like these can occur in other areas on the opposite direction. They have seen such an incident taking place recently.

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.

The landslides in Koslanda could in fact be a result of the Uma Oya project as well. 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,” he said.

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

An interesting research paper by Dr. Zanar Tokmechi of the Islamic Azad University Mahabad titled ‘Land Slide: A Key Problem in Uma Oya Project Risk Controlling’ published in World Applied Science Journal 12 (9) 1512 -1516 in 2011 had identified risky landslide zones and recommended the ‘best possible places to arrange buildings and equipment found in the Uma Oya project’.

In another research paper by Dr. Zaniar Tokmechi of the Department of Civil Engineering of Islamic – Dr. Zaniar Tokmechi of the Department of Civil Engineering of Islamic Azad University, Mahabad, Iran titled ‘Finding Risky Environmental Zones Due To Flooding In the Uma Oya Project’ published in Advances in Environmental Biology 5(9):2950-2955 in 2011, flood risk zones have been identified in the project area.

Uma Oya project is witnessing large scale land grabbing by politicians in areas demarcated for construction of canal network with the anticipation of using canal water for irrigation.

At the same time politicians have plans to build hotel complexes in lands near the proposed Handapangala reservoir. The chairman of Wellawaya Pradesheeya Sabha, who is a supporter of the former Chief Minister of Uva Province, is building a hotel in the Handapanagala tank reservation, grabbing government land illegally.

It is very unfair of the politicians to make profit out of this situation while people in the area encountering serious problems like displacement and loss of livelihood.

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