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Sri Lanka to expand dam safety program
08 Feb, 2011 18:04:38
By Ashanthi Ratnasingham
Feb 08, 2011 (LBO) - Sri Lanka will expand its dam safety program to cover more large reservoirs and will ask for additional funding from the World Bank following recent floods, officials said.

D C S Alakanda, who heads Sri Lanka's Dam Safety and Water Resources Planning Project said the talks with World Bank to expand the project will begin next week.

The current project funded with a 7,500 million rupee interest free credit from the World Bank covers 32 out of 80 large reservoirs deemed to be most in need of rebuilding or having their safety improved.

Irrigation minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said most of the large dams in the country except for some built in the last three decades were made out of packed earth and they had a life of around 50 years.

Most of Sri Lanka's reservoirs called 'tanks' date from a 2,000 year old irrigation based civilization.

"Some have leaks, cracks, parts of the bunds have sunk, and spill gates and other safety mechanics had to be re-habilitated," he said.

As part of the project some dams were lined with granite rocks to stop wave action from washing the dams away. With almost all reservoirs now at spill level erosion from wave action had increased, he said.

Alakanda said while the current dam safety project covered 32 water bodies safety equipment, boats, emergency communications and power facilities have been provided to other dams as well.

Sri Lanka's large reservoirs are managed by the department of irrigation (59 large and 155 medium dams) and also the Mahaweli authority (12 large dams and 286 smaller ones) which built a series of multi-purpose irrigation projects in the 1970s and 80s.

Smaller dams come under the country's department of agrarian services. During the rains in January none of the larger reservoirs were breached though emergency action was taken by engineers at several locations, officials said.

Rohan Samarajiwa, head of LirneAsia, a regional think tank which produced a report soon after the 2004 tsunami on Sri Lanka's ageing dams says the irrigation system's fragmented management can be dangerous.

Sri Lanka's irrigation tanks are cascading systems which means water released from one reservoir goes to another and another downstream.

"Cascaded systems should be seen in a holistic sense," says Samarajiwa, whose report was also used by the World Bank in the early stages of the project.

"Their safety and maintenance should be integrated. While it is commendable that the additional funding is being sought, there has to be a sustainable source of funds based on user fees for safety."

Irrigation chief G G A Goddaliyada said some dams did not have spill gates while others needed alternative canals to prevent excess water from flowing into townships.

Minister de Silva said almost all reservoirs needed larger canals to evacuate excess water and a study is now underway to find out what changes needed to be done in the long term.

Canals of three new irrigation projects may also need to be re-designed in the light of recent experience, he said.

Dam safety officials were also planning to make inundation maps for all reservoirs and publish them to help resident know what areas would go under water if a dam was breached.

Minister de Silva said houses of more than 2,000 families who had illegally settled in catchment and reserved land had been washed away.

They will be provided with alternative land and the state hoped to prevent such areas being settled again, he said.

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READER COMMENT(S)
1. cj Feb 09
In order to make the canals and bunds sustainable,it may be worthwhile toconsider an ectensive program to plant Bamboo along the banks. This will reduce erosion,filling up with debri and also provide a livelyhood for those who maintain them.