Indus Water Treaty - Part III

Indus Water Treaty - Part III

The Provision for Development of Storages in Jhelum Basin

Interestingly, not to talk of the provision under the Treaty which allows us to construct millions of acre feet of storage on Jhelum, till date we have not utilised a single acre feet of this provision.

In my two recent write up on Indus Water Treaty (IWT), published in GK, I had discussed the Indus Water Treaty – the origin of the water dispute, mediation by World Bank, highlights of the Treaty and briefly mentioned the reasons that have brought this 60 years old Treaty, which has withstood the test of times, again into discussion. 

In this write up we shall briefly discuss the storage provision in the Treaty for Jhelum basin and assess, as is being claimed, whether these provisions are inadequate so as to adversely impact or restrict development of water storages in the basin.  

In the Treaty Jhelum is categorized as one of the three Western rivers and as per the allocation of rivers in it Pakistan has been allowed unrestricted use of its waters. While specifying the permissible storage on the three Western rivers the Treaty differentiates between the ‘main’ river and its tributaries. In case of Jhelum the Treaty does not allow any General or Power storage on the ‘main’ river. However, the Treaty has recognized the need for flood storage on Jhelum Main and permitted it though it has not specified a fixed storage volume as it has done for other rivers. The relevant text reads like a provision for unrestricted storage volume provided the storages comply with specified and related provisions (location, design and operation of these storages.  The import of the wording implies that India should not unduly use the Flood Storage classification for storing water in Jhelum basin. On the tributaries of Jhelum the Treaty provides for 0.75 million acre feet (MAF) ‘Flood Storage Capacity’, 0.50 MAF of General storage and 0.25 MAF of Power Storage.

Looking at Jhelum (Main) one can observe that given the topography of the valley, there is limited potential for constructing very large storages of any type, whether general or flood storages, on it. In fact, the only area for some potential storage on Jhelum is in and around the Wular lake.  

However, there is very good potential for constructing a number of not large but smaller storages, possibly in cascade, on its tributaries. These can be general storages or storages for flood attenuation / flood storages.  Theoretically, we could have any number of such storage structure on the tributaries provided the overall storage figure provided in the Treaty is not exceeded.

For now, let us understand more about the Flood Storage provisions, because since Sep 14 floods in the valley are a matter of serious concern and constant worry. And for that the best way to understand the scale of this permissible flood storage is to calculate the (time) duration of relief this volume of permissible storage could have provided us had we had such storage(s) in place during Sep 14 floods. 

The official peak discharge of Jhelum in Srinagar during floods of Sep 14 was estimated to be 100,000 cusecs. The storage(s) volume of 0.75 MAF (3267 crore cubic feet) could easily have retained the full fury of River Jhelum in that fateful week in Sep 2014 for a full 90 hours (nearly 4 days) period without letting any discharge spill into the river. And if we then alternatively consider that Jhelum has a safe discharge capacity (discharge that it can carry without flooding) of 50,000 cusecs, this storage(s) capacity 0f 0.75 MAF could absorb or mitigate the impact for a full 180 hours (more than 7 days) of such high discharge as was there at peak in Sep 14. 

So, God forbid, even if we had a repeat of the Sep 14 floods and it was to last a week (unlike in Sep 14 when peak discharge lasted 2 days) we would not face a flood like situation in the valley, provided we had this 0.75MAF of storage(s) functional. The storage(s) would absorb (attenuate the flood peak) the flood discharge, for a period of one full week without spilling the flood discharge into the river – we would be seeing a normal September discharge in the river. Do we still think we need more provision for flood storage in Jhelum basin?    

Having satisfied ourselves that under the Treaty we have enough flood storage provision for Jhelum basin let us now look at the tributaries of Jhelum where we have potential storage sites and where we are permitted to construct them. The main tributaries of Jhelum include Lidder, Bringi, Arapat, Rambira, Vishav, Romshi, Doodganga, Sukhnag, Ferozpur, Sindh, Madhumati, Erin, Mawar, Hamal, Pohru, Taller etc.  

Even a high level overview (Google Earth?) of the terrain will show that that there are hundreds of sites on the tributaries of Jhelum, starting upwards from the foothills, where such storages can be built. The gradient in such locations is high and since with the exception of some locations the valleys are generally narrow these storages generally will not have very large storage capacities. This would mean constructing a number of such storages on the various tributaries of Jhelum which   actually is good as it will result in better and more effective flood management.

Once these storages are constructed we can nearly completely moderate the flood peak thereby minimizing the risks of floods to the valley. Alternate flood control proposals, like construction of alternate flood channel (Dogripora channel) etc are all red herring – the proposal will never see the light of the day given its phenomenal cost, huge rehabilitation and resettlement issues and its potentially enormous environmental impact. We have already waited for it since mid 50’s and in the last nearly 70 years we have not even been able to prepare a proper comprehensive report on it. Construction of storages, in various tributaries (sub basins), within the provisions provided for in the Treaty is the only viable solution to our flood woes.   

Interestingly, not to talk of the provision under the Treaty which allows us to construct millions of acre feet of storage on Jhelum, till date we have not utilised a single acre feet of this provision. However, that does not prevent us from moaning about the Treaty and proclaiming that we in J&K are suffering because of it.      

Clearly the Treaty as it stands now, has adequate provision in it for storage(s) on Jhelum, particularly for flood storage. In extreme flood situation the other types of storages provided could also be used to attenuate the flood peak. If we do not avail of these existing storage provisions should we blame or rubbish the Treaty? Is it not our politicians, our policy makers, our planners, our bureaucrats, who should be held responsible for this? They need to explain why they failed in constructing storages, particularly flood storages, thereby putting the whole valley at risk of severe flooding.  

(In the next write-up on Indus water Treaty I intend to cover the hydro power potential of the state in light of the Treaty)