Indus Water Treaty - IV

Impact on our Hydro Power Development

Iftikhar A Drabu
Srinagar, Publish Date: Feb 20 2019 11:17PM | Updated Date: Feb 20 2019 11:17PM
Indus Water Treaty - IVRepresentational pic

As I mentioned in my introductory write up on IWT, it is being  argued for a long time now that since the IWT has put limitation on the storage capacity that can be constructed on the three Western Rivers (Chenab, Jhelum and Indus) the state of Jammu and Kashmir has not been able to fully exploit its hydro power potential.  

Let us have a look at the hydro power related features of these three basins and see for ourselves whether IWT has had an impact on their hydro power potential. 

Chenab Basin 

The Chenab basin is estimated to have a hydro potential of over 13,000 MW out of which about 2,200MW is in Himachal Pradesh and the balance nearly 11,000 MW is in Jammu & Kashmir. Incidentally, IWT should have had an impact on the hydro power development in Himachal Pradesh but strangely enough one never hears Himachalis complaining about the Treaty. 

As it stands today a series of hydro power projects, in cascade, have been identified along the length it flows in the State. On main Chenab and its major tributary, Murusudar, a total of 15 large hydro power projects aggregating nearly 10,600MW have been identified for development of which projects (1980MW) are already operational. The cascade development of these project has been planned in such a manner that the end of the upstream project is the start of downstream one - not even a metre of head (read hydro power potential) has been left unexploited while fixing the layout parameters of the projects identified in the basin. All this has been done with the objective of maximizing the hydro power potential of these basin. 

All the dams, structures required to divert (and store) water from the river, whether constructed or planned fall within the category of large dams. In fact, some of these dams that are planned are so large that they figure in the list of the world’s 100 highest dams with the one planned for Bursar Dam figuring among the world’s 15th highest dam. 

Looking at the topography of the Chenab valley one can see it has steep gradient and passes through deep gorges and narrow valleys all along its course. Both these factors, the steep gradient and the narrow valleys, adversely impact the storage capacities of the dams in the basin. High gradient in the reservoir / storage area means shorter length of impounding and narrower width of the river also limits the reservoir / storage capacity. 

Except for Bursar HEP (with a planned storage of 0.5 Million Acre Feet) none of these projects have any storage potential of any significance. With or without Indus Water Treaty these schemes could not have been developed as large storage schemes like say Tehri HEP or Bhakra Nangal Project. All these projects have limited storage capacity potential and would operate as peaking or diurnal stations. 

Incidentally, IWT permits 1.2 MAF storage on Chenab and its tributaries. So even after availing of storage on the Bursar HEP, whenever that happens, we will still have 0.7 MAF storage provision left, unutilized and we have nothing even in planning stage to utilize this storage volume.   

Jhelum Basin 

Jhelum basin has an estimated potential of 2,700MW out of which nearly 1,350 MW have already been developed and commissioned. Right from nearly its source in Verinag to Khadanyar in Baramulla, Jhelum flows through a very plain area with a very wide expanse of the valley on either side thereby making any kind of storage scheme in that stretch inconceivable. It is only downstream of Khadanyar that its narrows and takes the shape of a gorge. In the reach below Khadanyar on the Jhelum (main) we already have three operational projects (Lower Jhelum HEP, Uri I HEP and Uri II HEP) in cascade after which it flows into PAK. 

On the tributaries of Jhelum we have a few projects like Upper Sindh Stage I & II HEP and Kishanganga HEP and a number of micro and mini hydro schemes. Except for Kishanganga HEP (and possibly Sonamarg HEP) none of the projects have had potential for decent storage. In case of Kishanganga HEP the change of proposal from storage scheme to run of the river one was made because of the environmental and other concerns and not necessarily only on account of the provision of IWT since there is provision (0.25MAF) for power storage on tributaries of Jhelum river which has not been availed till date.  

Thus, given this topography of the valley there is no way we can have major or even an average storage scheme on Jhelum – unless we intend to submerge the Valley itself – something akin to what we were taught in the school about the valley being a large lake when Kashyap Rishi removed the blockage (what we call a dam today) near Khadanyar and drained the valley.  And interestingly the Treaty has not permitted any storage provision on Jhelum (main) – whether it is a coincidence or the drafters were aware that none could be constructed on Jhelum (Main), we will never be known. The only possibility of some storage exists if we use the Wular lake for providing some storage but then it is on the Jhelum Main and thus not available for power storage.  

However, we can have storages on the tributaries of Jhelum and the Treaty has ample provision (0.25 MAF) for such storages on the tributaries. These storages would be small, because the gradient of these tributaries is high and they are narrow in width, thereby requiring construction of a number of such storages. Such storages could be gainfully used during low flow periods.    

Indus Basin

Indus has a hydro potential of 2,300MW out of which a little over 100MW has been developed. After entering J&K the river passes through very high altitude, very cold area. It has very low discharge in winter and there are periods in extreme winter when the river is virtually frozen. 

Data on potential of constructing storage schemes is not readily available but one could imagine, given the gradient and topography in such basins, the potential for storage schemes would, as seen above in case of Chenab, would be limited. The Treaty though provides for 0.15 MAF of power storage. 

Given the remote location of these projects the cost of construction would be exorbitant, the construction period would be long, running and operating and maintaining these plants would be expensive and very difficult, the power evacuation costs would be high and given the hydrology of the river the annual energy generation would be low - very similar issues as were faced on Nimo Bazgao HEP and Chutak HEP, constructed on tributaries of Indus. To conclude the schemes would not be economically viable  

Conclusion

So, when the topography of all the three river basins is such that they have very limited potential for large storage schemes, it is no wonder that even after nearly 60 years of signing the Treaty we have not utilised even an acre feet of the 1.6 MAF provided for power storage under the Treaty. As a matter of fact, out of the 3.6 MAF of the various storage provision under the Treaty, till date we have not utilized any - none whatsoever. 

In light of the above one wonders how one can argue that the Treaty has adversely impacted the hydro power potential of the State.   

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