There was a big jubilation among the people, government officials and Asian Development Bank officials after a breakthrough was made on the largest section of Melamchi Tunnel.
The jubilation among the residents of Kathmandu valley is understandable, as they have been dreaming to see the completion of Melamchi Water project for almost over three decades.
As the excavation of Melamchi Tunnel is taking its speed, there is a rush of digging the road to bury the water pipeline to deliver the water to each household. In its history of modernization, Melamchi Project is placing over 600 kilometers pipeline in Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
Although modern drinking water system was introduced in Kathmandu almost 150 years ago during the tenure of Bir Sumsher, followed by various rulers then after, this is the first time the pipes are laid down following scientific method and central command.
As everything is running with speed, the speed of excavation of the tunnel coming down in the recent weeks indicates uncertainty. In the last month, the speed of excavation slowed from over 900 meters a month to just over 400 meters.
Although government officials are pressing the Italian contractor to complete the tunnel before July, nobody knows how the contractor will respond. In every project in Nepal, the project cost goes higher due to delay in the final stage.
Although the key section of Melamchi Tunnel — 9.5 km from Sundarijal-Sindhu section — has been completed, there are two other sites, which are reportedly difficult because of geology.
Along with completion of this section, 22km of the total of 27.5km tunnel of the Melamchi Water Supply Project has been completed as the tunnel construction has been carried out from Gyalthum-Ambathan and Gyalthum-Sindhu.
“The tunnel construction will be completed by July and it will take another three months to supply water to Kathmandu Valley.”
"Some 99 per cent work of the water treatment plant in Sundarijal has been completed so far,” said Ghanashyam Bhattarai, executive director, Melamchi Water Supply Development Board.
When completed, the Melamchi tunnel will carry 170 million litres of water per day to Kathmandu Valley from the Melamchi River and another 340 million litres from the Yangri and Larke rivers by 2021.
“We are literally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” said Kenichi Yokoyama, country director of ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission. “We have been committed to this crucial project through thick and thin and are glad that water will soon start flowing.”
ADB has provided a total of $145 million in loans for the $355.4 million Melamchi Water Supply Project and has been working since 2000 with the government to build the tunnel, 29km of access roads, and with financing from Japan International Cooperation Agency, a water treatment plant. The April 2015 earthquake and subsequent difficulties in getting construction materials were the latest setbacks to the project.
Along with water to Kathmandu, the project is also providing social development support to families in the Melamchi valley such as health, education, and income generation programs, according to ADB.
“I don’t have any doubt that the construction of tunnel will be delayed now. The contractor has already made it clear that they will complete the construction of tunnel to bring the water by October,” said Bhattarai, chief of Melamachi Drinking Water Board.
“We consider this achievement a major milestone towards completing the construction of one of the longest water diversion tunnels. We appreciate the support and cooperation provided by people of the Melamchi Valley,” said Bhattarai.
The construction of diversion tunnel, approximately 26.3 km long, excavated by drill and blast method, will divert 170 MLD of raw water from Melamchi River to Sundarijal outlet, where the raw water is treated before sending it to Bulk Distribution System (BDS).
The contract for construction of head works and tunnel was awarded on 19 February 2009 with intended completion date of 2 September 2013. Actual physical works started in April 2010. But due to the unsatisfactory performance of the contractor it was terminated on 25 September 2012. The new contract agreement was signed with the Italian company.
Other component include, with financing from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a water treatment plant, which is under construction.
Out of 27.58km tunnel, 22.096.9km has already been completed, that includes 6.417 kilometers completed by Chinese company. The Italian company has so far excavated 15.612km by December 25.
As there remain just over five kilometers to be built, the dream of the residents of Kathmandu valley to get water from Melamchi is coming closer. The completion of the project will be a great achievement for the country as well.