Monsoon clouds of discord over Almatti: Maharashtra gears up to discuss flash floods with Karnataka

Maharashtra water resource minister Jayant Patil has said he is soon going to hold a meeting with the Karnataka government functionaries to discuss the regulation of water levels in the Almatti dam as part of their flood management exercise.

During the construction of the Almatti dam on Krishna river in northern Karnataka from 1964 to 2005, inter-state disputes among the neighbouring states used to flare up regarding its height. The dam now becomes a bone of contention between Karnataka and Maharashtra every year during the monsoon season.

While Maharashtra seeks water discharge from the Almatti dam to increase manifold every monsoon in order to check backwater flow and floods in its districts, Karnataka highlights that the higher water discharge puts its own border villages at risk due to floods.

Maharashtra maintains that due to heavy rainfall during the monsoon — that causes increased water levels in catchment area of the Krishna river basin and its tributaries — the backwaters of the dam flow into three districts in its western side — Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur — leading to a rise in water levels and floods in the region, which necessitates a higher water discharge from the dam for its prevention.

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Speaking on the issue earlier this week, Patil said, “We will hold discussions with Karnataka government, requesting higher water discharge from Almatti dam during the monsoon to avoid flooding in districts of western Maharashtra,” adding that “we want to address the flood management problems between the two states through cordial mutual efforts”.

Highly-placed sources in Maharashtra’s water resource department said, “A team of engineers and technical experts from Maharashtra coordinates with its Karnataka counterpart over the dam water and flood management every monsoon.” This time, the southwest monsoon reached Kerala on May 29, three days ahead of its normal onset date.

In June last year, Patil had participated in a meeting convened by then then Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa in Bengaluru on “effective flood management” between the two neighbouring states. In the meeting, the Karnataka government had decided to install a real time data acquisition system at the Almatti and Narayanpur dams in order to facilitate better monitoring mechanism of water levels in the dams and their discharge. Maharashtra has already installed a real time data acquisition system in the Krishna river basin for 24×7 monitoring of water levels.

The Almatti dam, named as the Lal Bahadur Shashtri dam, is a hydro-electric project that is envisaged to generate 560 MU electricity per annum. The project with 26 gates was undertaken by the Krishna Valley Corporation. Initially, there was an inter-state dispute over the dam’s height, when Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra had raised objections over it. The ensuing conflict between Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra saw the matter landing in courts. Finally, the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal set the dam’s height at 524.26 feet (about 160 metres). The dam’s length is 1565.15 feet while its optimum water storage capacity stands at 123.08 TMC (thousand million cubic feet).

In their upcoming meeting, besides reviewing the implementation of the last meeting’s agenda, Maharashtra and Karnataka will deliberate on newer initiatives to address the menace of flash floods.

Maharashtra’s overriding concern remains the demand that Karnataka must ensure higher water discharge from the Almatti dam to avoid floods in western Maharashtra. On its part, Karnataka has warned Maharashtra not to release water from the latter’s dams along the Krishna river basin on an ad hoc basis as it leads to flooding in villages along its borders.

In July 2019, Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara were submerged in waters as incessant monsoon rains for one week wreaked havoc killing 60 people and many animals while devastating large tracts of agricultural lands. The then Maharashtra CM from the BJP, Devendra Fadnavis, had sought the Centre’s intervention in ensuring that Karnataka increased water discharge from the Almatti dam from two lakh cusecs to five lakh cusecs.

In view of this flood disaster, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)-led Maharashtra government, which assumed office in November 2019, has been emphasising on the need for joint efforts and better coordination between the two states in ensuring a proper flood management.

However, a senior water resource department engineer said, “Almatti dam water discharge is one aspect which needs to be addressed. But more importantly, we have to work towards building a mechanism for flood management within the state too.” He said Maharashtra has a total of 3,267 dams across the state. Their full water storage capacity is 40604000 million litres, even as the current water level in the dams is 36 per cent on an average.

“Now, none of these dams was designed for flood management. When we built dams decades ago, the idea was to tackle drinking water and irrigation needs. Later, we gave importance to industries and power generation. But flood management and monitoring of dams was never on our agenda,” he said.

“As a result, excess rainfall triggers panic. When the water level rises above the danger mark, the gates of the dams are opened without considering its consequences. A lot more investment, both in terms of funds and infrastructure, should be allocated for redesigning the dams for flood management in Maharashtra,” he added.

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