Saturday, June 11, 2016

Uma Oya diversion- Development or a Disaster?

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

Tunnelling in Uma Oya continues despite more wells become dry in Heel Oya area in Bandarawela. The report submitted to the Supreme Court states that  original water ingress 450 l/s was reduced to 60/70 l/s before sealing and after sealing it reduced to 47 l/s. However, when the drilling operation continues it has been increase to 110 to 125 l/s.  This proves that they are tunnelling through the shallow water aquifer.

It is evident that since the restart of tunnelling in January 2016, more than 20 new wells along the tunnel trace have dried up. This is  a serious ecosystem damage that should be immediately stopped and need to  redesign the tunnel.  If not this mountain ecosystem will be seriously damaged. This is clear ignorance of the monitoring bodies including the CEA.

The Uma Oya tunnel is being constructed  to bring Uma Oya water to  ‘Ali Kota Ara’  in the Kirindi Oya river basin.  It has designed to drill about 300 meters underground to have  approximately 600 m head to generate maximum electricity.  The tunnel collapsed in Heel Oya  area in December 2014 and more than 2500 houses got damaged, while 17 of them are not liveable anymore.

Hundreds of drinking water wells dried up in few hours. Since then people were provided with limited amount of water. No compensation has paid so far.

Beyond the damage to the people, the ecosystem damage is far more serious. The  tunnelling has resulted breaking the limestone soil structure which has damaged the  water aquifers in the area. Even if the tunnel is completely sealed, it will nor repair this soil structure.

Some officers gives false assurances to people that the water table will now be regenerated. Even if the sealing is done, it does not ensure the water table can be regenerated, as there may be many changes happened inside the aquifer. The new document claims that they have fixed things by sealing where the confining layer was pierced. However, that may not last long if any cracks develop in the material.

Majority of the population in the affected areas are farmers. Even the others who are engaged in government and private sector jobs used to cultivate vegetables to earn an extra income and for domestic consumption.

As a result of the drying up of water springs, streams and other natural water sources, the farmers had not been able to cultivate vegetables and paddy in the last four seasons starting from 26th December 2014.  It is unfortunate that the government is  keeping eyes close on the matter which is death and life situation for the villagers.( Haritha Esa[Green Eye] Issue 2)

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