It had been recently reported in local newspapers that our government is going to grant license to a Chinese company to build the West Seti high dam project completely ignoring the vast benefits to accrue from the export of the water stored in the reservoir after the completion of the project , Banke district submergence problems associated with that project, and matters related to safety of the cfrd type dam proposed in the feasibility report of the project. This type of dam, that can be built at relatively low cost, has been considered vulnerable in very high seismic areas like our Himalayan region even by the chairman and the vice-chairman of the seismic aspect committee of the international Commission of the Large Dams (ICOLD).
The natural resources committee of our parliament has now taken highly commendable decision by ordering the concerned ministry not to take any further action until the completion of full investigation covering all aspects of this extremely vital project. It is hoped that the Parliamentary Committee will consult on this matter with competent local as well as leading foreign experts.
West Seti project impounds a vast reservoir about 1,600 million cubic meters in volume. It is a very big storage volume. This storage volume is more than 10 times the storage volume of the reservoir impounded by our country’s Kulekhani high dam, which was on the verge of collapse due to oversight of the geological study some years back. It is frightening even to think of the horrors of the West Seti dam failure. Needless to say that the collapse of the West Seti dam would be accompanied with widespread damages. A complete safety of the West Seti dam must be guaranteed at all costs.
Martin Wieland, Chairman ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects and Chen Houqun, Vice-Chairman, ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects, Academician, China Academy of Engineering, have jointly published in the journal International Water Power and Dam Construction in September, 2009 the final conclusion of the joint ICOLD-CHINCOLD mission in the aftermath of the China’s Wenchaun earthquake of May 12, 2008 that the concrete face rockfill dams ( CFRD ) are vulnerable to strong ground shaking mainly due to large in-plane forces.
Submergence of Banke District
Submergence of Banke district is quite appalling another serious problem. The eastern Banke district has started to come in the grip of prolonged widespread submergence in monsoon seasons after the construction of the Laxmanpur barrage and embankments which are going to be the direct extension of the West Seti storage dam project. The submergence problems would get worse once the West Seti storage reservoir comes into operation. Quite a few Nepalese are already saying that the Laxmanpur barrage must be demolished. Their voices raised against the West Seti dam would certainly be louder once the project actually comes under construction.
The Laxmanpur barrage and embankment related submergence problems should be fully resolved before taking the final decision to implement the West Seti project.
Anybody can find out going through the feasibility reports prepared by SOGREAH of France and the Himalayan Power Consultants under the assistances of the World Bank that the total irrigation benefit accruing to India from the use of regulated West Seti water would be exceeding the total power benefit of the West Seti project. The downstream benefit sharing agreement between Nepal and India must precede the decision to construct the West Seti project if a fair share in downstream irrigation benefit to accrue to our country is not to be ignored.
Recently even the Africa’s most backward landlocked country Lesotho was able to recover 56% share in benefit accruing to the South Africa from the use of regulated water flowing into the territory of the latter after power generation in Lesotho. Recently India too has recognized our country’s right to recover a certain percentage of downstream benefits. It had already expressed its willingness to pay it in royalty.
India Willing to Buy
In India the demand for agricultural water dominates the total demand for water. India has the second largest population in the world. There are plentiful rains over most of the country but they are concentrated in a few months. As a result, India is already experiencing water scarcity.
India is showing a great deal of interest in development of Nepal’s storage dam projects that would help to increase virtually by four times the sustainable flow of our major rivers. The information provided in the Indian news media clearly indicates that few years back the Government of India was engaged in developing a policy to obtain the consent of Nepal through revenue sharing agreements in respect of the regulated waters discharged from the storage reservoirs to be built inside our country. A special high level commission had been constituted by the last Bajpee Government of India. The commission had even started to function.
Price of Exported Water
Experience of other countries tells us that a formal agreement must be signed between the water exporting and purchasing countries even before the start of the construction of the storage dam project to ensure in perpetuity the unhindered recovery of water export benefits. Since the last forty years Canada is receiving from the USA according to the treaty signed between them 50% share in net benefit accruing to the latter from the use of the regulated water. Canada is entitled to receive in perpetuity such benefit from the USA for the water exported to the latter after hydroelectricity generation in its own territory.
As said before even the landlocked Lesotho has started very recently to receive 56% share in net benefit accruing to the South Africa from the use of regulated water exported to the latter after power generation in its own territory. Lesotho will be receiving such benefit in perpetuity.
There is a great need for caution, prudence and also sincerity in handling our water resources or else it would be a curse instead of a boon to the people of our country.