Moragahakanda Project: Reformulate to provide clean drinking water to people in the dry zone
Posted on December 30th, 2016

By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri Courtesy The Island

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What is difficult to understand is the fact that while the reservoir is expected to be impounded next year, work on the proposed canal to dispatch water to the NCP has not even started. Bids for its construction were called in April 2016 and the project was inaugurated ceremonially in July 2016. An inquiry made from the project office revealed that the contracts were awarded and the actual ground work would commence soon. According to the EIA Report, work on the canal will take at least 7 years to complete. This means that no water will be available to the NCP from the MGK reservoir till about 2024!

The Moragahakanda Project was one of the five reservoirs included in the original Accelerated MahaweliProgramme launched in the seventies, the other four being Kotmale, Victoria, Randenigala and Madura Oya. The main objectives of the project were to provide additional irrigation facilities to the dry zone, generate hydro-power and supply potable and industrial water for the Districts of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala and Trincomalee. Feasibility studies were carried out during 1978-79 and the project was planned for commencement in 1981 andcompletion by 1985. However, these plans did not materialize and the project was set aside for nearly 4 decadesfor various reasons.

The current project

The project was again taken up in 2007 and the activities commenced with downstream development work. In the new project, in addition to the Moragahakanda (MGK) reservoir to be built across Amban Ganga, a second reservoir was included to be built across adjoining Kalu Ganga (KG).The MGK reservoir was estimated to hold 570 million cubic metres (MCM) of water covering an extent of 2,950 ha, while the KG reservoir was estimated tohold 266 MCM of water covering an extent of 840 ha.

The two reservoirs are separated by a mountain range and they are to be linked by a7 km tunnel dug through the mountain and a 2 km open canal. The KG reservoir is expected to provide water to irrigate about 3,600 ha of new land fed by two canals from the reservoir.The ground work on the two reservoirs, MGK and KG, commenced in 2012 and 2014, respectively, and due for completion in 2017 and 2018, respectively, as given in the Progress Report 2015 of Mahaweli Development Ministry.

According to the current plan, water will be taken along a new canal from the MGK reservoir up to the North Central Province (NCP). An ancient canal taking water from the Elahera Anicut on the Amban Ganga to the Minneriya Tank called Elahera-Minneriya Yoda Ela (EMYE) already exits. Work on this canal was started by King Vasabha (65-109 AD) and completed by King Mahasen (276-303 AD) and it follows the natural contour. The new canal flows at a slightly higher elevation than the ancient canal and hence it is referred to as the Upper Elahera Canal (UEC). There is provision to extend this canal to the Northern Province (NP) also.

The project is expected to be implemented in two phases. Under Phase I, building of the following structures are planned.

a) Canal fromKG reservoir toMGK reservoir

b) Canal from MGK reservoir to Mannakkattiya Tank past Huruluwewa(UEC)

c) Canal from Bowatenna reservoir to tanks in the Kurunegala District

Under Phase II, building of the following will be undertaken:

a) Develop natural waterway from Mannakkattiya Tank to Eruwewa

b) Canal from Eruwewa to Mahakandarawa Tank

c) Canal from UEC at Yakalla to Chemamadukulam reservoir (NCP Canal)

c) Canal from Randenigala reservoir toKG reservoir

d) Canal lifting Mahaweli water at Kalinganuwara and feeding to EMYE through pumping.

The implementation of the NCP Canal Project is expected to provide potable water to around 1,000,000 people and provide irrigation water to over 90,000 ha off arm land. However, whether it is possible to meet the objective of providing clean drinking water to people with water diverted from the Mahaweli River is questionable.

The canal traces

The Upper Elahera Canal (UEC) commences at the MGK dam which is about 2 km upstream from the ancient Elahera Anicut from where the EMYEcommences, and 5 m above the ancient canal. The UEC which is estimated to convey 974 MCM of water a year, comprises three segments;

a)First segmentcomprising a 22.5 km long open canalrunningnorthwards more or less parallel totheEMYEand separated by a few kilometres.

b) Second segment taking water in the north-western direction through a 26 km long tunnel constructed under theforest and nature reserves which are athigh ground having an elevation in the range 150 – 170 m above sea level (asl), and

c) Third segment comprises an open canal for most part of length of about 17 km from the tunnel outlet up to Mannakkattiya Tank feeding Huruluwewaen-route.

From Mannakkattiya Tank, a natural waterway to the West will take water to Eruwewa first and from there to Nachchaduwa Tank. From Eruwewa, a new canal will take water northwards to Mahakandarawa Tank. Nachchaduwa Tank feeds TissaWewa in Anuradhapura.

Another new canal will branch off from the UEC at Yakalla after passing Huruluwewa taking water to the Chemamadukulam reservoir in the Northern Province(NP) which is to be extended up to Iranamadu Tank. This will be realization of a proposal made by Eng. S. Arumugam, a former Deputy Director of the Irrigation Department over five decades ago to build a River for Jaffna (Mendis. 2015. Water heritage in Sri Lanka).

Impact on the forest and nature reserves

In its second segment which is a tunnel, the UEC traverses under several environmentally sensitive areas including Minneriya-Giritale Nature Reserve, border of Minneriya National Park, Elahera – Girithale Sanctuary, Hurulu Forest Reserve and the Huruluwewa Man and Biosphere Reserve. Generally, no unauthorized person is permitted even to enter a forest sanctuary or a nature reserve, let alone allowed to carry out any construction work within them. Nevertheless, the Forest Conservation Department and the Wild Life Department under whose jurisdiction these reserves and sanctuaries operate, have given their consent for the project, subject to several conditions being fulfilled, in view of the national importance of the project.

Among these measures are those undertaken to minimize the impact on the movement of wildlife, restoration of the forest cover and closure of access roads once the project is completed, making the canal slopes low on the forest side at selected places and steep on the village side allowing animals to have access to water but not encroach into villages andminimizing damage during construction period, particularly during tunneling. One positive aspect of the project is that animals will have access to water even during prolonged drought periods.

Moragahakanda Project:

Taking the water through a tunnel will have the benefit of making little impact on the forest reserves on the surface.However, transporting of heavy machinery into the reserve, including the tunnel-boring machine, is bound to cause much damage to the environment. The initial segment running parallel to the EMYE will have little impact on the animal movement as they have already got accustomed to the existence of the ancient canal in close proximity to it. The last 17 km length comprises an open canal running through mostly chena cultivations. Its environment is already degraded, and hence construction of a canal will have little impact on it. However, the canal is a new barrier for the animals to cross for which special provisions have to be made.

The EIA Study

An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report on the UEC project was first published in June 2014and after making certain alterations to the design to avoid adverse impacts as recommended, an updated report was published in June 2015. The Report is accessible on:

http://www.ejustice.lk/EIA/eia/Moragahakanda%20and%20Kaluganga/UECFinal_AnnexReEn.pdf. The report has received the approval of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) in March 2016, subject to certain conditions, I believe.

According to these reports, “Construction work in the sanctuary will create loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitats from canal itself, creation of access roads and also adverse impacts on air, water and soil quality, and high levels of disturbance through noise, vibration and release of exhaust fumes, particulate matter, and sometimes hazardous materials.

For all protected areas traversed by the UEC, whether, forest reserve, sanctuary, nature reserve, increased access by humans and vehicles during the construction, and operation and maintenance phases can lead to low to high adverse impacts- increased disturbance to wildlife especially elephants, other large mammals, illegal removal of non-timber forest products and introduction of alien invasive species”.

On human-elephant conflict, the report says, “the area around Elahera-Giritale sanctuary where much of the open canals will be located is also frequented by elephants and the establishment of the canal can change their movement patterns that may intensify the human-elephant conflicts that exist in this area at present. A detailed technical investigation on the Human-Elephant Conflict is to be commenced soon, by the project proponent in the near future. This report is expected to be completed before the commencement of constructions on this project”.

The EIA Report also finds that long term impacts of the proposed project on physical archaeological, historical and physical cultural resources, socio-economic aspects, are not very significant. The Report also says that no flora or fauna of endemic nature will get affected by the project. The activities to be undertaken under Phase II of the project are not covered in the report.

Project approval and funding

In October 2012, the Cabinet of Ministers approved building the UEC, and on several subsequent occasions approved various aspects of the project such as compensation payable to resettled people, building downstream infrastructure, allocation of funds for the project and seeking foreign funds, which were sourced from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Kuwait Fund, Saudi Fund and the OPEC Fund.

Funds amounting to USD 453 million for the UEC project is to be secured as a loan from the ADB and the agreement for the first instalment was signed in September 2016. The government is expected to contribute USD 108 million making the total cost of the canal construction USD 675 million. In addition, the MGK reservoir construction is estimated to cost USD 252 million and 85% to be met from a loan from the China Development Bank with the balance met by the government. The cost of the construction of KG reservoir amounting to USD 113.5 million is to be met by funds from Saudi, Kuwait and OPEC. Thus, the cost of the entire project will exceed USD 1,000 million or LKR 150 billion.

The environmental clearances for KG and MGK reservoir projects were granted by the CEA previously and these reservoirs are under construction now and work is progressing as scheduled.At the Cabinetmeeting held on 06.12.2016, the MGK Project was again taken up and a decision was made to approve “construction of the canal across Girithale and Minneriya sanctuaries as a tunnel to minimize its effect to the environment” (http://www.news.lk/cabinet-decusions). However, according to the EIA Report, tunneling is the only trans-basin diversion route available for transfer of Mahaweli water through MGK reservoir to river basins in NCP and NP.

Original proposal to take water to Minneriya

As mentioned at the beginning, the project was initially planned for completion in mid-eighties. In the original Accelerated Mahaweli Programme (AMP) formulated in the seventies, the MGK reservoir was planned to dispatch water to Minneriya Tank first with a spur to Giritale Tank and thereafter to Kaudulla Tank and Kantale Tank. Even after the MGK project was commenced in 2007, a pre-feasibility study undertaken by JICA in 2008 shows the UEC connected directly to Minneriya Tank. With the UEC inlet raised by 5 m above the EMYE and with cuts-and-fills and concrete lining, it is expected to deliver water to Minneriya faster than by the ancient canal which followed the natural contour.

Eng. D.L.O Mendis, in a write up which appeared in the Island of 12.06.2002, elaborated in detail the adverse environmental and ecological consequences of the proposed project (http://www.island.lk/2002/05/12/featur02.html). He has referred to the EMYE as an ingenious work comparable to that of the ancient Kalawewa-Tissawewa Yoda Ela (KTYE). Even in this case, with the development of the AMP, a new canal was built parallel to the ancient KTYE canal with cuts and fills probably to make the water flow faster. Regrettably, the ancient canal has gone into disuse and neglect since then, with people encroaching into it and cultivating crops as reported in media with no one caring against such activities. Had the EMYE was allowed to proceed as planned originally, it would have suffered the same fate as the KTYE which would have been worse than what Eng. Mendishas feared.

Delay in the dispatch of water to NCP

According to Ministry Progress Reports, work on the MGK reservoir is expected to be completed in 2017 and the work is reported to be progressing as scheduled. However, what is difficult to understand is the fact that while the reservoir is expected to be impounded next year, work on the proposed canal to dispatch water to the NCP has not even started. Bids for its construction were called in April 2016 and the project was inaugurated ceremonially in July 2016. An inquiry made from the project office revealed that the contracts were awarded and the actual ground work would commence in January 2017. According to the EIA Report, work on the UEC will take at least 7 years to complete. This means that no water will be available to the NCP from the MGK reservoir till about 2024!

The project however could provide water for generation of hydropower from its 25 MW plant meeting baseload requirements. The CEB’s Long Term Generation Expansion Plan 2015-34 quotes that the Moragahakanda hydropower plant will be added to the system, with generation capacities of 10 MW, 7.5 MW and 7.5 MW by 2017, 2020 and 2022, respectively.It could also provide water to new land of extent about 3,600 ha below the KG reservoir using the new right-bank and left-bank canals which are under construction now.

Tracing the history of the project, it appears that the deviation of the UEC to take water to Huruluwewa across the forest reserves instead of Minneriya Tank, and then to provide water to the North,is an afterthought. It is not known who got this idea first – professionals, administrators, foreign consultants or politicians, as no one has claimed credit to it.It was indeed a wise decision, whoever thought about it. The cessation of hostilities in the North in 2009 may haveprompted this course of action.

Probably, the change of plans to shift the destination of the canal from the Minneriya Tank to Huruluwewa, the delay in getting environment clearance for the new trace across the environmentally sensitive areas and the delay in securing fundswould have caused this long delay. The lack of political-will may also have been a crucial factor. Planners may not have realized the urgency of this project in view of the erratic behaviour of weather as experienced now which deprives water to people in the NCP from time to time.

Providing water to the North and East

This is an important aspect of the modified project. The original plan could provide water only to the Eastern Province while the modified plan could provide water to the Northern Provinceas well,with the UEC ending up in the Iranamadu Tank, satisfying the needs of people in the North. In seeking recent approval of the Cabinet for the new trace incorporating the tunnel, it would have been desirable if the fact that the new trace could provide water to the North was highlighted.

Devoid of any proper sources of fresh water other than the little precipitation they get, people in the North used to depend heavily on ground water for their day-to-day needs as well as for cultivating crops. But these sources are subject to two problems, one being the depletion and the other contamination. Hence, providing fresh water to people in the North is fulfilling one of their basic human rights, which in fact should have been given priority.

In order to compensate for the loss of water to the Minneriya Tank resulting from the deviation of the new canal away from it, it is proposed to pump water from the Mahaweli River at Kalinganuwara to feed the EMYE near the Elaheraanicut. This will increase the supply of water to the Minneriya Tank as well as to Kaudulla Tank and Kantale Tank, meeting the needs of the Eastern province.

The only issue here is the cost of such operations which may be minimized by limiting the pumping to early hours when the demand on the power system is a minimum offering low tariff. Adequate funds also need to be allocated and pumping stations kept in charge of committed staff to keep them in proper working condition without any breakdown.

Randenigala – Kalu Ganga Canal

The project also envisages building under Phase II,a canal from Randenigala(RDG) reservoir to KG reservoir to divert 555 MCM of water annually. On its way, the canal will be fed with water from two tributaries of Mahaweli Ganga, the HasalakaOya and Heen Ganga which will enhance the water delivered to KG reservoir to 660 MCM annually. The Amban Ganga and Kalu Ganga receive water from precipitation during North East (NE) monsoon in January and February and during inter-monsoon months of November and December, while upstream of Mahaweli Ganga receives water during South West Monsoon from May to October and from inter-monsoon rains. Hence, this diversion will ensure year-round water for the MGK reservoir to feed the UEC.

While transferring of additional Mahaweli water from RDG reservoir to KG reservoir has the positive aspect of ensuring year-round availability of water to UEC, it also has a negative aspect. Kalu Ganga originates from the eastern slopes of the Knuckles Range little affected by human presence. Hence, supplying such clean water from this source to people in the NCP suffering from the kidney disease is certainly a boon to them. However, this may not be so as the RDG reservoir water sent to the MGK reservoir is likely to be polluted.

Possible failure to meet objectives

One of the main objectives of the project is to provide clean drinking water to people in the NCP and other areas as a preventive measure against the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). The EIA Report says in this respect “Rapid spread of the Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) partially attributed to poor quality drinking water by policy makers, scientists, health sector professionals and community level organizations is another more recent and urgent reason to improve the supply of water to the target provinces of this project”. However, it may not be possible to meet this objective if water from the RDG reservoir itself is contaminated.

It is known that fertilizer and agro-chemical run off from tea and vegetable cultivations in the up country could introduce toxic heavy metals to the Mahaweli waters and these will ultimately end up in the irrigation systems in the NCP.Most people in the NCP, particularly those living in farmlands, obtain their drinking water direct from irrigation canals or village tanks fed with irrigation water.

There have been several findings by scientists that transfer of Mahaweli water to NCP could be a causal factor for the prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) among the farmers in the NCP.In one such study, Bandara et.al. (2011) (Env. Geochem. and Health, 33, pp. 439-453) says that”Chronic renal failure (CRF) associated with elevated dietary cadmium (Cd) among farming communities in the irrigated agricultural area under the River Mahaweli diversion scheme has reached a significantly higher level of 9,000 patients. Cadmium, derived from contaminated phosphate fertilizer, in irrigation water finds its way into reservoirs, and finally to food, causing chronic renal failure among consumers”.

At a seminar held in 2013 at the Department of Agriculture and attended by senior agricultural scientists and academics, it was reported that (The Island, 26.10.2013):

National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) found that Nachchaduwa Wewa, Tissawewa, Nuwara Wewa, Kala Wewa, Parakrama Samudra, Minneriya Wewa were among the major reservoirs that contain high levels of phosphorusprobably caused by excessive fertilizer application on the vegetable farms of the up-country which enter the streams feeding Mahaweli River through erosion and runoff.

A survey conducted by the Institute of Fundamental Studies found that algal growth (caused by excessive phosphates) was observed in 61 reservoirs and that many of the algae identified had the capability of secreting toxins which were highly poisonous to humans.

Some of those toxins could damage the livers and kidneys of humans.

The report also said that the general consensus among the participants of the seminar was that the government must act swiftly to avoid a further catastrophe in the North Central Province.

(http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=90856).

Alternative plan to provide drinking water through pipelines

When it is clearly known that Mahaweli waters taken to the NCP after diversion at Polgolla cause pollution in water tanks in the NCP, diverting more of Mahaweli water from Randenigala reservoir to the NCP and elsewherewill undoubtedly worsen the situation.

One possible solution for this problemis to adopt the following alternative scheme:

Provide separate means of channeling water for irrigation and for drinking. According to the EIA Report, annual drinking water requirement of Anuradhapura District is 56 MCM and that of other areas served by the NCP canal is 80 MCM, making a total of 136 MCM. This is relatively small compared to the capacity of the UEC which is 974 MCM.

Since the Kalu Ganga reservoir has unpolluted water, use that water solely for drinking purposes by taking its water direct to the NCP and other areas by pipelines. From the KG reservoir, a pipeline could be laid northwards up to a suitable location past Minneriya Tank and then have branches to the West, East, North-East and to North, serving the needs of people in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Jaffna Districts. There is no need to traverse through forest reserves and sanctuaries as water will travel in pipelines against the gradient as long as the two ends have elevation difference.

Stop the transfer of water from the KG reservoir to the MGK reservoir as planned and stop the release of its water for downstream irrigation. The latter could be served with water transferred from the MGK reservoir. Apparently, work on this transfer canal between the two reservoirs has not commenced yet which is a blessing in disguise.

Divert the canal to be built from the RDG reservoir direct to the MGK reservoir instead of taking it first to the KG reservoir as planned to avoid polluting the KG reservoir.

Divert unpolluted water from the Hasalaka Oya and Heen Ganga direct to the KG reservoir without feeding it to the canal from RDG reservoir to MGK reservoir.

Need to reformulate the project

The laying of pipelines may cause extra expenditure, but the extra expenditure is worth it as it is the only way to meet the key objective of providing clean drinking water to the people in the dry zone affected by the CKDu. There is general consensus among all, that providing clean drinking water is an essential pre-requisite to prevent occurrence of this disease though the actual mechanism is still debated.

Transferring polluted Mahaweli waters to the NCP will not serve this purpose and also drinking water is not generally conveyed along open canals as it is vulnerable to pollution by so many sources. Hence, it is essential to reformulate the entire project as stated above if the original objective of providing drinking water is to be met and if the policy makers sincerely want to help the people in the dry zone.

Such a measure is also in keeping with the precautionary principle which states that preventive measures should be taken as a precaution against any calamity without waiting for scientific evidence for its cause.

In view of the urgency to provide clean drinking water to people in the dry zone as a precautionary measure against the CKDu, priority has to be given to the drinking water supply project comprising laying of pipelines from the KG reservoir to the NCP, over the proposed UEC project which is yet to commence.

Meeting the shortfall during SW monsoon months

There is however one problem that could arise with the proposed scheme and that is the low precipitation received within the watersheds of Kalu Ganga, Hasalaka Oya and Heen Ganga during the SW monsoon periodwhen most of the precipitation is in the Western slopes of the central hills. One solution is to transfer any surplus water received in the Western slopes during the SW monsoon to the upstream of the Kalu Ganga reservoir.

The only unpolluted and untapped waterway having its watershed in the Western slopes is the Seethawaka Ganga, a tributary of Kelani River, having its origin in the Adam’s Peak. It may be possible to find a suitable location on this river where a reservoir could be built at an elevation above that of Kalu Ganga enabling transfer of water to the KG reservoir along a tunnel dug through the central hills. It will be then possible to maintain a regular supply of clean drinking water throughout the year to the dry zonefrom the KG reservoir. If there is an adequate head, it may be possible to generate some hydropower also.

Impact of Climate Change

The EIA Report has referred to the issue of climate change quoting findings of local studies that rainfall during NE Monsoon in Sri Lanka has decreased by 19% in recent past, while the rainfall during SW Monsoon has increased by about 9%. However, the EIA Report has disregarded these findings saying “whether these changes will continue to the future is not clear”. The report also says that “future impacts of climate change on this investment needs to be investigated in greater detail”.

According to the 4th Assessment report of the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average precipitation over Sri Lanka is likely to increase during the months of June, July and August by 2090-2099 within 10-20% relative to average precipitation during the same months in 1980-1999. On the other hand, precipitation during the months of December, January and February is likely to decrease by 10-20% over the corresponding periods.

Both the Amban Ganga and Kalu Ganga watersheds receive precipitation during NE monsoon and inter-monsoon months and these will likely to get reduced, while the upstream of Mahaweli River receives precipitation during SW monsoon and inter-monsoon months and these will likely to increase. Hence, there will be a surplus of water received in Mahaweli River during June to August while there will be a deficit of water in both Amban Ganga and Kalu Ganga during December to February months when they receive their regular supply. Hence, climate change will have a significant adverse impact on the project, which needs to be taken note of in its long term planning.

In addition, the ambient temperature could also increase by about 1.5-2.0 oC by the end of the century which will make the temperature in the dry zone higher than elsewhere. This could make loss of surface water by evapo-transpiration, which already exceeds annual rainfall in the dry zone, further enhanced. Under these scenario, crop yield could decline with time and the return from the project would be below what was forecasted.

Trans-basin canals as an adaptation measure

Under normal conditions, theAmban Ganga and Kalu Ganga receive little precipitation during SW monsoon months and under climate change conditions, will receive lesser precipitation in NE monsoon months than what it receives now. Hence, towards the latter part of the century, the performance of the project could fall short of the projected levels specified in the original proposal, in view of the inadequate amount of water being collected in the two reservoirs.

Thus, diverting surplus water from RDG Reservoir during SW monsoon months to KG reservoir having low supply of water during these months will even-out the situation and could be considered as an adaptation process. Similarly, the proposed tunnel carrying water from the Seethawaka Ganga to the KG reservoir could also be considered as an adaptation measure.

During the Paris Summit on Climate Change held in 2015, funding was promised to developing countries to meet adverse impacts of climate change and for meeting expenditure for implementing adaptation measures. A separate funding mechanism – Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for this purpose. Since the RDG – KG canal and also the Seethawaka Ganga to KG reservoir tunnel serve as adaptation measures, the government could request funding from the GCF to meet the cost of their construction

Mahaweli project in retrospect

When the Mahaweli water was first diverted to NCP, farmers there were assured that water for year-round cultivation of rice would be available. But this was not to be, because in several years, adequate water was not available in Mahaweli River for diversion to NCP due to vagaries of weather. In fact, the current year is such a year when no water was issued to NCP for any cultivation in the Maha season putting people into great hardship.

One shortcoming of the AMP is the absence ofanystorage facility upstream of Polgolla to collect surplus water coming down the main Mahaweli River during high precipitation days. As a result, water diverted at Polgolla for irrigation is limited as priority seems to be given for power generation. Only the Lower Kotmale reservoir water is available for storage, but it serves only the Kotmale Oya.

One solution is to build a high volume storage facility at the confluence of Mahaweli River and the Kotmale Oya enabling a higher amount of water to be diverted from Polgolla to the NCP without any restriction. Currently, a small pond with 4.2 MCM capacity is planned at Moragolla downstream of this location for arun-of-the-river hydropower plant, but it is not adequate for this purpose.

In some districts like Polonnaruwa, new settlers find it extremely difficult to grow crops due to poor soil conditions and lack of water, whatever grown gets destroyed by elephants and what remains do not fetch a decent price. Hence, women with no other source of income, seek employment in the Middle East leaving grown up daughters behind with no one to look after them.

With no proper schooling, they go stray and often get pregnant and become mothers even below the marriageable age. This was highlighted both in electronic and print media recently saying that the occurrence of such low-age pregnancy is high among new settler communities in Mahaweli area. Perhaps, such social impacts were not considered in the initial planning reports.

In addition, the high environmental damage caused by clearance of hundreds of thousands of virgin forests converting them to farmland and depriving the elephants their habitats creating human-elephant conflicts resulting in high casualties of both species annually, are some of the issues that were totally ignored during the planning process. Incidentally, the EIA process was not in force during that time. A detailed study on the adverse impacts on both the environment and the society resulting from the Mahaweli development project and its sustainability is worthy of pursuing. Lessons learnt from past mistakes could be used to prevent recurring them in the future.

Conclusion

After a long gestation period, the MGK project took off in 2007, but there had been a long lag in developing different components of the project. While the two reservoirs are being built as scheduled and due for completion in 2017 and 2018, work on the canal expected to take water to the NCP from the MGK reservoir is yet to commence. Hence, people in the NCP and beyond will not benefit from the project for another 7-8 years.

The project is also subject to two risks; one is the impact of climate change causing a decline of precipitation in the water sheds feeding the project reservoirs. The other is the possible contamination of water in the Randenigala reservoir due to run-off of agro-chemicals into upstream Mahaweli River which could make water fed to the UEC unsuitable for drinking.

The latter issue could be overcome by taking water for drinking separately in pipelines from unpolluted Kalu Ganga reservoir and to supplement this reservoir with water from the Seethawaka Ganga. Thus the entire project needs reformulation to meet these changes with priority given to the drinking water supply component in view of its urgency.

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