Nepal, India mull downsizing planned Saptakoshi high damLocal residents have been obstructing the works of the joint project office fearing the dam could cause large-scale inundation of Nepali lands.
Nepal and India have agreed on potential reduction in the height of the proposed Saptakoshi High Dam amid concerns that if built, the gigantic structure could inundate large swathes of area on Nepal’s side.
During a meeting of the Joint Commission on Water Resources (JCWR), a secretary-level joint mechanism, held on September 21-23, the two sides agreed to review the project considering the inundation area, various hydropower and irrigation projects upstream of the proposed Saptakoshi dam and social and technical aspects.
“An additional study will be carried out to review project parameters and the project will then move forward accordingly,” the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation said in a statement on Friday.
The proposed project has been facing public backlash with charges that the project will potentially inundate large areas of Nepali lands.
According to the Feasibility Study of Saptakoshi High Dam Project undertaken by Central Water Commission of India in 1981, a 269-metre tall dam—to be built above the level of foundation rock across the river about 1.6 km upstream of Barahkshetra—will inundate 194.2 square kilometres of lands.
Citing the potential loss upon construction of the high dam, residents of the area are up in arms about the project. As a result, the joint project office set up in Biratnagar has not been able to carry out any field work such as drilling, hydrological study and environment impact assessment to build the high dam.
In the last meeting of the JCWR in New Delhi, the Nepali side had even proposed closing down the joint project office considering the difficulty of carrying out the fieldwork. India opposed the proposal, according to the officials at the energy ministry.
“With two sides agreeing to review the existing project parameters including the size of the high dam, the deadline of the joint project office has also been extended by two years,” said Krishna Prasad Nepal, spokesperson for Department of Water Resources and Irrigation, who was a member of the Nepali delegation to the meeting.
With the joint project office remaining idle, the Nepali side had proposed downsizing the entire Sapta Koshi High Dam Multi-purpose Project, which also aims at producing electricity and irrigating large areas of land in Nepal and India.
The project aims to irrigate 546,00 hectares in Nepal and 976,000 hectares in India. The multi-purpose project also aims to produce 3000MW of electricity. The project also aims to control floods and manage sediment.
“As large storage hydropower projects have been planned in the tributaries of Saptakoshi—Tamor, Sunkoshi and Dudh Koshi, we proposed downsizing the Sapta High Dam project,” a senior official at the Water Resources Ministry said on condition of anonymity. “As large storage projects upstream of the proposed high dam will regulate water and sedimentation, the proposed size of the project, including the height of the dam, can be reduced.”
A 756MW Tamor Storage Hydro-electric Project has been planned on Tamor river while 635MW Dudhkoshi Hydropower Project is also on the pipeline. Nepal and Bangladesh have agreed in principle to develop the 683MW Sunkoshi 3 Hydropower Project.
“Besides these hydel projects, Sunkoshi Marin Diversion Multi-Purpose Project, upstream of the proposed dam site, will also reduce the flow of water in the Saptakoshi river and higher dams may not be required,” the senior official told the Post. “We will have to get the size right for the proposed generation of hydropower and irrigation capacity of the Saptakoshi High Dam project.”
Officials said that with people protesting against the project, generating political support for this project could be a daunting task even if the height of the dam is reduced. “National political consensus will be required to build this project,” the official said.