Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saving Athwelthota Waterfall

Aesthetic beauty is something that everyone appreciates but very few cares. Injuring the scenic beauty has rapid increase in the industrial era of the world. Over 400 waterfalls is a major landscape that contribute to the mother lanka’s natural beauty. However Sri Lanka is loosing these waterfalls due to the irresponsible development activities mainly for hydropower generation.

The permission given to Sakura Energy, a company own by Dhammika Ranathunga  to injure Athwelthota waterfall also known as Pilithuda waterfall is now under reconsideration by the Project approving agencies i.e. Central Environmental Authority and the Forest Department. The project is planning to add 1.5 MW energy capacity to at to the national grid.

Mini hydropower project is Sri Lanka are deadly to the Sri Lanka’s waterfalls, one of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. Watawala waterfall, Naya Ganga  falls, etc have been already destroyed. Even the beauty of St. Clair waterfall is now regulated. The permission has given to Sakura Energy mini Hydro project located in Morapitiya on the basis that there is no waterfall in the Athwelthota river which is connecting to Palan Ganga and a tributary of Kaluganga.  Is this true?

Can Athwelthota-Pilithuda waterfall be count as a waterfall?

The Initial Environmental Examination does not mention this as a waterfall.  During the technical evaluation stage a so-called waterfall expert has also concluded that this is not a “waterfall” but a “water drop”. 

According to the Lanka Council of waterfalls (LCWF), the only index available in the country Pilithuda is a 5-meter high waterfall.  Sri Lanka has much smaller waterfall too. This waterfall is located in a river flowing down from Sinharaja rainforest. It used to have much more water before the infamous logging of Sinharaja in the 70s. Due to the fast flowing water Pilithuda waterfall has created a deeper hole and often times entire waterfall cannot be seen.

How tall must a waterfall be to count and a waterfall?  This is not only a question to us, but other countries are asking the same question. To answer this question I quote the following section from an article appeared on the “world of waterfalls.” 

“We’re basing our answer on how height plays into its aesthetics and shape. In other words, does the waterfall’s geometry make it both obvious and pleasing to the eye? For example, Angel fall and Iguazu fall are obviously waterfalls of differing heights and widths yet they’re aesthetically pleasing while being geometrically obvious that you indeed have a waterfall here. However, what if you have a 5ft tall waterfall (not even 2m) and it looks like a waterfall if the stream is narrow enough?  Ordeville Canyon Waterfall falls under this category. I’m sure there will be people who say this is not tall enough to be a waterfall. But if we didn’t tell you the height and you just looked at the photo, would you have called it a waterfall? So why did this waterfall get attention when there are thousands (maybe millions) of other miniscule ones that don’t even get noticed?  That’s because this 5ft waterfall is an obstacle preventing progress further up Orderville Canyon for many without technical canyoneering gear. That’s why it gets noticed and pegged by many people as a waterfall. So we ended up concurring with the local consensus on this and called this one a waterfall even though it’s really stretching our comfort level (perhaps bordering on hypocrisy) on evaluating what counts as a waterfall.”

Althwelthota waterfall has been treated as a waterfall since the era of Prince Wideye Bandara who ruled “Palinda Nuwara” during the period of Portuguese colonization in Sri lanka( 1505-1670 AD). According to the chronicles he has hidden the jewelries behind the water curtain. Our elders say that there is a tunnel constructed just below the waterfall to “Yakkunge Wala” where people have seen steps to enter the tunnel. Some people say some treasure is hidden in “Yakkunge Wala” and some says a golden bed appeared in this deep water hall which is located about 1 km downstream the waterfall.

These chronicles around Athwelthota waterfall are at least 500 years old. This means people in the area has the consensus that this is a waterfall. It is part of our natural heritage too. Therefore, there is no dispute about counting this as a  waterfall.

Other than the consensus of the people in “Pasdun Korale”, Palindanuwara Pradeshiya Saba has tendered the parking location to a shop owner in the area and it assures that there is no dispute on counting this as a waterfall.

Fifty-five years ago, a famous author, Wallace Stegner, wrote a letter explaining the value of undeveloped wilderness to our spirits and souls which later published it as a chapter in his book, The Sound of Mountain Water.

He wrote “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste . . . ”and
“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

A famous US Supreme Court case in 1972 Sierra Club  v. Morton, says that “Aesthetic and environmental wellbeing, like economic wellbeing, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society . . ..”   Damaging a aesthetic beauty is considered as  “aesthetic injury” under the US law.

1971 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. FPC [Federal Power Commission] is worthwhile to study.

The case was filed when the Consolidated Edison Power Company announced a plan to build a hydroelectric “pumped water storage facility” on top of the highest, most beautiful mountain along the Hudson River.  The plan was to have pipes carrying water up the mountain during the night when there was little demand for power and then carrying water back down the mountain during the day to drive turbines, when New York City needed energy. The environmental group, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, went to court.  The Federal Power Commission tried to block them from bringing the lawsuit, arguing that the Federal Power Act did not mention anything about aesthetic beauty.  The Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the term “aggrieved party” in the Federal Power Act was sufficient to encompass aesthetic injury.  It said: “In order to insure that the Federal Power Commission will adequately protect the public interest in the aesthetic, conservational, and recreational aspects of power development, those who, by their activities and conduct, have exhibited a special interest in such areas must be held to be included in the class of ‘aggrieved’ parties under § 313(b) [of the Federal Power Act].”

In the case against the Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabha by Environmental Foundation Ltd in 1997/98 for not saving the  Kadugannawa scenic beauty by the vendors and the bill boards, the Pradeshiya Sabha agreed to preserve he scenic beauty of Kadugannawa pass.

There is no doubt that Athwelthota waterfall is a common property. No one has the absolute ownership to the waterfall. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, It’s the duty of all every person in Sri Lanka to preserve and protect public property, and to combat misuse and waste of public property (28 d) and to protect nature and conserve its riches( 28 f).

Therefore, it is clear that this waterfall should not be given to Sakura Energy or any other person to injure or destroy. In fact it’s the duty of the Central Environmental Authority and the Forest department to conserve it.

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