The struggle for water source | Daily News


Thambuththegama Mega Water Project

The struggle for water source

Konwewa water tower
Konwewa water tower

The Anuradhapura District is the largest district in Sri Lanka where the availability of safe drinking water is a huge controversial burning problem for centuries. at a time when around 16,000 kidney patients are identified in the district, three mega water projects - Anuradhapura North Phase I and Phase II and Thambuththegama are underway. It is learnt that the lack of safe drinking water is one of the main reasons for the spread of this non-communicable disease.

Thambuththegama is the main city of the Mahaweli-H division in the Anuradhapura District. There are hundreds of kidney patients found in the Mahaweli-H division and many people suffer from the scarcity of safe drinking water. In this background, a previous Government initiated the implementation of the Thambuththegama Mega Water Supply Project a few years back at an estimated cost of Rs. 16,709 million, in collaboration with the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Bank of Ceylon (BOC). The CDB provides USD 102,543,897.66 and the BOC invests USD 18,095,981. The Government of Sri Lanka invests LKR 4,182 million. A population of around 150,000 in Galnewa, Thalawa and Thambuththegama Divisional Secretariat Divisions benefit from the proposed Thambuththegama Water Project at present.

The construction work of this particular water project was inaugurated three years back. The contract was given to Cacti China Geo Eng JV. The construction was halted due to vehement objections of Rajangane Scheme farmers from 64 farmer organizations against using the Rajangane Reservoir (85,000 acres feet) to supply a water intake of 44,000 cubic meters per day. They urged and demanded the Government not to supply such a quantity of water for running the proposed Thambuththegema Water Project since such a move would ruin their agricultural activities which depend on the Rajangane Reservoir. Following the discussions with irrigation and National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) officials, the Anuradhapura Government Agent suspended all construction activities in 2018 until an amicable solution is given by all stakeholders.

Though the construction work of the Thambuththegama Water Project resumed recently, it has no permanent sustainable water source - neither Rajanagane nor any other alternative - for feeding the proposed water project. According to Project Director C.S. Lokubarana, the construction site includes a water treatment plant (1,800 cubic metres), three main water towers (1,500 cubic meters) each, a ground reservoir holding 1,500 cubic meters, and a water transmission main line (150 Km).

Rajangane Integrated Farmer Organization Chairman Nihal Wanniarachchi told the Daily News that there have been around 35,000 farmer families cultivating nearly 22,500 acres during the two cultivation seasons for the last 60 years. According to him, Rajangane is the only scheme out of the nine major reservoirs-based schemes which cultivate both the seasons - Yala and Maha - continuously. Wanniarachchi emphasized that if the proposed water intake is supplied from the Rajangane Tank for providing safe drinking water, the sustainable economy of Rajangane farmers would collapse making the farmer families stranded. He pointed out that the authorities, by deviating from their adamant policies, shall explore the possibility of supplying water intake from the Lower Kala Oya Neelabama Colonization Project or any other suitable alternative water source, leaving the Rajangane Tank.

In the meantime, the Rajangane Resident Project Management (RPM) which come under the purview of the Irrigation Management Division has proposed that the required water intake could be derived from the area close to the Kala Oya River Bridge along the Anuradhapura - Puttalam Main road. Also, the RPM authorities have suggested that there is a possibility of obtaining water from the Moragahakanda Reservoir Project, following negotiation.

Anuradhapura Government Agent R.M.Wanninayaka, referring to the controversial water issue, told the Daily News that Rajangane farmers are in doubt about receiving adequate irrigational water for cultivation because they have not been properly educated about the benefits of the water project. The supply of water intake as proposed from the Rajangane Tank would not affect their agricultural activities though these farmers are still opposing the removal of water from the tank. Wanninayaka emphasized that the Irrigation Department shall conduct a water balance study within the Kala Oya river basin in order to address this issue.

Currently, the NWSDB is continuing the construction work of the Thambuththegama Water Project without a proper water source.

However, it is obvious that misunderstanding and misconception among the main stakeholders such as the Irrigation Department, the NWSDB and the farmer organizations have created this unfortunate situation. It seems that the tug of war seen between the Irrigation Department and the NWSDB is not acceptable on any reasonable grounds.

The Cabinet approval has been given for the project and the tenders have been called since March 13, 2013.

The CEA has granted permission for installing the water treatment plant through the letters No. NCPO/AD/07/755/2013-2014 dated 21.05.2014. Also the Cabinet has sanctioned the awarding of contract in October 2014 to Catic china GEO Eng JV Company which was awarded on 27.11.2014. After the agreement was signed, the contractor company has been granted an advance of 20 percent to begin construction work.