Hydropower at the Cost of Drinking Water?

Even as the state faces one of the most severe droughts in recent history, the irrigation department continues to divert water from the water-deficient Krishna valley to the water-surplus region of Konkan. Around 50 thousand million cubic feet of water (TMC) is annually diverted for three private hydro electricity plants in the Bhima sub-basin, which ultimately flows into the Konkan region.

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While engineers of the water resources department claim that the diversion is necessary for production of hydro electricity, water experts say drinking water should be given more importance in a drought year.

Located in the upper Krishna Basin, Koyna Dam has the largest live water reservoir (2,836 TMC) in Maharashtra. The dam also houses five powerhouses with a total capacity of 1,956 MW. Of this, 1,920 MW installed capacity takes out water from the Krishna basin that flows into the water-surplus region and only the smallest 36 MW powerhouse at the dam toe allows the water to flow into the Krishna basin in Maharashtra. Krishna basin also houses some of the worst drought-hit areas of the state, such as the taluka of Maan and districts of Sangli and Solapur.

The diversions are taking place from the dams of Shirawantha, Walwhan, Lonavala, Kundli, Thokewadi and Bhira for the three privately operated hydro-electric projects. The total power generation capacity of these three plants is around 300 MW. However, the water so used in generation of hydro-electricity flows to the westward flowing rivers, which drain ultimately in Konkan.

As per the latest available storage position of the reservoirs, Koyna dam has a live storage of 68.78 TMC, while the dams catering to the private hydro-electric stations have a live storage of around 18.75 TMC of water.

This stock, say experts, can cater to the drinking water and domestic requirements of 7 crore people for an entire year.

Water expert and South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) founder says post the usage in the privately owned dams, the water flows into the rivers of Vashisthi, Kundalika, Patalganga and Savitri, which flow via Konkan and drain into the Arabian Sea. “The rivers pass through chemical hubs and thus get polluted and become unsuitable for human consumption,” he says.

Making a strong case for stopping this diversion, Thakkar says the water, if not diverted, would be sufficient to meet the water needs of Sangli and Satara immediately. “In neighbouring Karnataka, the government has stopped five hydro power generation stations, to preserve the water for drinking purposes for Bangalore city. In Maharashtra, we need to initiate a dialogue and take a decision to stop the diversion in the worst drought year for the state,” he adds.

Engineers associated with the project, however, point out that the proposal, though feasible, can’t be executed for technical and other reasons. To start with, they say, since the canal distribution system to carry water downstream is not ready, and due to the gradient difference, lifting water would be difficult.

D N Modak, chief engineer of the Koyna project, says it is the power generated from these projects that is required for the state. “There is sufficient water available in the Koyna dam,” he claims.

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