Kathmandu, December 30
What if the 35-year-old dream of drinking water from the Melamchi valley takes a few more years but comes with a bonus of electricity and irrigation?
A group of optimist infrastructure developers have a concept of transforming the old Melamchi project into a multipurpose one. They believe that it would increase the project cost but would be incredibly cost-effective in terms of the additional benefits.
According to the concept, water from Melamchi, Yangri, Larke as well as Balephi rivers will be tapped and used to generate electricity in different phases. The same water will then be brought into the capital to be used as drinking water as well as to add volume to Bagmati river. When it flows into the Tarai plains, it will be used for irrigation.
The water volume of Melamchi will be added to the other rivers from the adjoining valleys — Yangri, Larke and Balephi. The first two rivers flow into Indrawati river and the third into Sunkoshi. To join the rivers tunnels will be constructed between them — 18-km between Balephi and Larke, 4.5 km between Larke and Yangri, and 6.6 km between Yangri and Melamchi. Also an additional 26 km tunnel between Melamchi and Sundarijal has been proposed.
Thus the water from Melamchi will generate 35 MW electricity. Also a dam could be constructed 900 metres down the valley on the Bagmati river, which will generate 190 MW.
This would solve the problem of load shedding. Nepal now faces a power deficit of 80 MW.
The promoters believe the responsibility of constructing the tunnels would lie on companies that get the licence to generate electricity. The first power plant will be built before the tunnel reaches Sundarijal. The second 140 MW power plant is designed for the valley, for which an 18 km tunnel will be constructed. The third 50 MW powerhouse will be constructed after digging another 8 km tunnel.
Technically, the present design of 26 km tunnel to be constructed from the Melamchi valley to Kathmandu, will be insufficient to bear the additional velocity from other rivers. So, it has been suggested that the tunnel’s diameter be increased to 5 metres from the proposed 3.5 metres. Technicians believe that it will not cost much and will be completed in a shorter period big-scale excavators will be used.
Economist Ratna Sansar Shrestha said the project seems to be an ambiguous one but it is not going to cost a lot. “It’s all about resource management. If the project draws people’s participation and support, the locals will also benefit,” he said.
He also said banks would not object to funding it if the project moves forward smoothly and is implemented on time.
Traditional water sources in the valley are drying up due to the government’s negligence and changing lifestyle. In this situation, bringing in 1.12 billion litres of water per day would make any resident happy.
The existing $500-million Melamchi project has promised providing a mere 170 million litres per day after its completion. The officials concerned admit that they do not know when this project would be complete, though they have set a target for 2012. Development workers say that by the time this project is complete the water demand will be so high that it will again be insufficient.
So, instead of completing the present project and writing another proposal for a bigger project, it will be better to have a long-term vision.
[Vice] Chairman of NGO Forum for Urban Water and Sanitation, Padma Sundar Joshi, said that there is no alternative but to expand this project because the demand for water will surely increase.
Environmentalist Bhushan Tuladhar added the Bagmati river is waiting for a large flow of water even to clean itself.
“The volume of water will not only save the riverbed from encroachment but will also generate a natural power to cleanse itself,” he said.
The water from the powerhouse will again be used to irrigate the plains of Tarai. It will be used to irrigate fields in Rautahat and Sarlahi — 13,000 hectares for rice or 30,000 hectares for other cash crops.
“After production of electricity, the water should be channelled out. If this is done properly, it is going to be a boon for agricultural production in some Tarai districts,” Tuladhar said.
However, the process of turning this dream into reality isn’t easy. In the present political scenario, investors may be difficult to find. More importantly, since development projects are guided by party politics and the possibility of winning a big commission, this mega project will have to pass through many iron gates.
Also, as Asian Development Bank is in the process of sanctioning another term of loan, the people “concerned” may not want to let go of the opportunity.
The consumers have one concern that Nepal’s bureaucracy would stall this project and make fools of them yet again.
Member of National Planning Commission Ramakanta Gauro said: “There is no doubt the concept is wonderful. But the question remains — when will it be completed?”
Parliamentarian Lokendra Bista has the answer. “When we are thinking about a new Nepal, there should be no doubt over our capacity in bringing that about. Better late than never. We must gear up for this if there are advantages,” he stressed.