The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 10

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Pressure on
due to urban
Lack of proper
sanitary system
water pollution
Lack of proper waste
management system
Lack of
proper water
Unplanned drainage
disposal from
Saline water intrusion
due to sand mining
runo from
Industry related
Graphics by Pushpika Karunaratne
By Sajitha Prematunge
It is projected that by 2050,
over 70 percent of the global pop-
ulation will live in cities. Urban-
ization and urban population in-
crease poses the biggest pressure
on water resources. Rapid expan-
sion of irrigation leads to water
logging and salt accumulation in
the soil. Excess use of fertilizer
leads to eutrophication of water
bodies, while industrial activity
leads to surface and groundwa-
ter pollution. With more people
moving into cities, there will be
a proliferation of squatter settle-
ments in third world cities, add-
ing water pollution to the long
list of threats to surface and
groundwater sources.
The Nation
spoke to Colombo
University, Geography Depart-
ment, Senior Lecturer Dr. Ran-
jana Piyadasa on the challenges
of water resource management,
today on World Water Day. Large
quantities of water have to be
supplied to urban environments,
to provide for the growing ur-
ban population. Since ground-
water of urban environments is
often polluted, water has to be
pumped from inland water bod-
ies through often costly water
supply systems.
“City groundwater is polluted
due to industry activity, lack
of proper sanitation and gar-
bage mismanagement,” said Dr.
Piyadasa. “The existing water
management systems and regu-
lations are strong enough, but
useless without proper monitor-
ing and enforcement on the part
of local governments,” observed
Dr. Piyadasa.
Squatter settlements pose
another threat to urban water
sources, in that they do not have
a proper drainage system. Even
sewage is dumped, untreated
into water ways. This coupled
with food waste and fertilizer
washed up from agricultural
lands of the suburbs, leads to
tion is the accumulation of ex-
cess nutrients in water bodies,
which leads to an explosion in
algal growth. A proliferation of
algae will result in an oxygen
deficiency as excess amounts of
oxygen is used up by the algae,
leaving little oxygen for aquatic
species such as fish. The end re-
sult is a greenish, lifeless water
body that emits a nasty odor.
Water demand for Colombo
is supplied by Ambatale River,
explained Dr. Piyadasa. “But
due to sand mining Ambatale
river basin is below sea level.”
According to Dr. Piyadasa this
had lead to salt water intrusion.
“Colombo canals are polluted
by saline water intrusion
even as far as Diyawanna
Oya.” Saline water intru-
sion is pronounced in
coastal areas.
Since most of the sur-
face water sources are pol-
luted, this leaves the only
other abundant source of
water – groundwater. “But
the problem is we don’t
know in what quantities it
is available.”
Even groundwater sourc-
es contain pollutants and
require special chemical
purification. “It may seem
unpolluted, because there
is no discoloration. But
when you test it, it’s full
of pollutants such as bacteria. ”
said Dr. Piyadasa.
“According to WHO standards,
there should be a distance of at
least 15 meters between a dug
well and a toilet pit,” explained
Dr. Piyadasa. “Local authori-
ties only check whether this has
been maintained within individ-
ual premises. They don’t check
the distance between a toilet pit
of a particular house and a dug
well of an adjoining house.”
In some areas groundwater is
the only source of water. “Kal-
pitiya for example is a highly
agricultural area,” said Dr. Pi-
yadasa. It’s a very thin strip of
land bordered by the ocean on
one side and the Puttalam La-
goon on the other. There are no
rivers or any other surface wa-
ter bodies; the only source of
water is groundwater.”
Sri Lanka has 103 river basins,
pointed out Dr. Piyadasa. “There
used to be over 37,000 irrigation
tanks, out of which only 18,387
are operational today. The rest
has gone into neglect.” Dr. Pi-
yadasa explained that during
the golden age of irrigation,
Sri Lanka boasted of a cascade
irrigation system. “Larger res-
ervoirs provided smaller tanks
with water throughout the
He said that some tanks were
located in the wilderness to
provide water to wild animals.
“These tanks are all but neglect-
ed. This is why wild elephants
move into villages, because
they don’t have enough water.”
Dr. Piyadasa explained that this
intensifies the human elephant
conflict. “There are 884 million
people with no access to safe
drinking water and 2.5 million
with no access to drinking wa-
ter,” pointed out Dr. Piyadasa.
“If we are not careful in using
groundwater resources, we are
in danger of depleting it, as in
the case of Tamil Nadu through
overuse for agriculture,” warned
Dr. Piyadasa.
By Ashani Jayasundara
The concerns raised by the en-
vironmentalists and the allega-
tions made by the residents in
Badulla- Bandarawela areas have
caused some uncertainty about
whether to go ahead with the
already initiated Uma Oya Multi-
purpose Development Project.
The cave-in that occurred in the
Galahitiyaya area in Ambadande-
gama, Bandarawela on Monday
(March 16) was a disastrous inci-
dent that the residents witnessed,
with the environmentalists claim-
ing a link with the Uma Oya Proj-
ect. The residents in the area also
have been complaining that the
wells and water springs in the
area have gone dry and walls have
The Director of Environment
Chamikara said that they have
identified and explained the ad-
verse effects of the project even
before the commencement of the
project. He said that all these re-
cent disasters are results of the
Uma Oya Project.
He commented, “For years there
has been no such disaster reported
from these areas. Everything hap-
pened only after launching Uma
Oya, which is nearly 25 percent, is
He added, “ECT carried on stud-
ies continuously and also made
people and the government insti-
tutions aware of the issues, but no
step has been taken so far.”
Weeraratne said that the earth
belonging to Bandarawela and
Koslanda is not stable, “So when
a tunnel is built in such a place,
landslide and sinking may oc-
cur. So that is why Environment
Impact Assessment (EIA) re-
port should be produced before
launching such a large scale
project. And the report should
be made according to a particu-
lar standard. As a result of the
negligence of those who initiate
such projects, complications oc-
cur and the innocent residents
become the victims of the disas-
ter finally.”
The Chairman of the Sri Lan-
ka Nature Group, Thilak Kariya-
wasam said that the recent earth
sinking in the area of Dambadan-
degama in Banadarawela obvi-
ously has a connection with the
Project. He added, “Though it is
said by the authorities that there
is a limestone deposit, geological
maps done by the Survey Depart-
ment show that there is no such
limestone deposit in Bandarawe-
la. Purposely details are hidden
in order to justify the project.”
Thilak Kariyawasam also com-
mented that the Uma Oya Project
is a hidden agenda of the previ-
ous government to provide wa-
ter to the proposed projects in
the Hambantota District. He ex-
plained, “Uma Oya Project was
proposed without following any
scientific or technical instruc-
tions. Data has been misused in
order to justify the project.”
He stated that the same project
was proposed years before and
was rejected due to the unfea-
sibility of the project. He said,
“After the former president came
into power, several projects were
commenced in Hambantota. As
a solution to sort out the water
shortage problem to these proj-
ects, Uma Oya Project was pro-
He added, “Since the initiating
of the project late environmen-
talist, Piyal Parakrama, Prof.
Jinadasa, ECT’s Sajeewa and
I strongly criticized this proj-
ect and took the matter up with
the authorities in charge. In the
meantime, we conducted meet-
ings in Welimada and Puhulpola
and advised people regarding
the adverse effects that they will
have to encounter in the future,
advising not to go ahead with the
project. But the people were per-
suaded by the government tell-
ing about the better side of the
According to him, in 2010
January, EIA report was given
to people to include their com-
ments with analysis and criti-
cisms. He mentioned that it was
a rare occasion since a consider-
able amount of comments was
received from the public regard-
ing the project.
He stated, “On April 12, 2010,
the project got the approval
from the Central Environment
Authority (CEA).” He also re-
marked “The approval has been
given on a public holiday where
the authorities are closed, which
proves how the authorities have
been influenced by the govern-
ment at that time.”
“Everything came into the
scene in an unethical manner
due to political push at the time.
When the construction is going
on, regular monitoring should
be done by NBRO and Geologi-
cal Services and Mining Bureau.
They are giving various speci-
fications which the authorities
have to follow. But Farab Compa-
ny has been so far hindering oth-
er government institutions from
these inspection processes.”
He also said that due to the di-
version of water to Hambantota,
people in Bakmedilla, Wiyaluwa,
Thoranathota where paddy is
cultivated, have complained that
it has been difficult to continue
their livelihood.
He explained when digging the
tunnel, the upper soil goes down
which causes earth slipping and
landslides. “If they continue
with digging, the damage will
be more. They have to clearly
identify the rock structure and
investigate how feasible it is to
dig the tunnel.” He also added
that in EIA, it was reported that
Uma Oya got rain in the month
of August, which was intended
to show the need of water to
Thilak Kariyawasam added
that though three committees
have been appointed, the investi-
gation is a time- consuming pro-
cess. According to him, at least
one year analysis and investiga-
tion should be done in order to
monitor the project. He said that
on Friday they hoped to present
the ill-effects of the project to
the president from the perspec-
tive of the villagers along with
several other environmentalists.
When contacted Prof. Kapila
Dahanayake, Senior Professor of
the Department of Geology, Uni-
versity of Peradeniya, denied
his knowledge regarding the
committee to monitor Uma Oya,
“I’m not involved in the investi-
gation. But I saw my name in sev-
eral news websites saying that I
was the head of the committee to
investigate the Uma Oya project.
But I am not in the Committee as
said everywhere.”
Deputy Minister of Irrigation,
Wasantha Aluvihare said that on
Friday (March 20), they would
discuss the issues with Presi-
dent Maithripala Sirisena. He
added that those who have been
affected by the recent disaster
have been given relief and com-
The Project Director of the
Uma Oya project refused to talk,
saying he declines to talk to the
media. The Secretary to the Min-
istry of Mahaweli Development
and Environment, Nihal Rupas-
inghe said that the decisions re-
garding the project will be taken
at the meeting held with the
presence of the President, Mai-
thripala Sirisena.
The first phase of the Uma
Oya hydropower project which
includes the construction of the
dam is already underway with
financial assistance from Iran.
Under the project its water will
be diverted to the Kirindi Oya
basin which will take water to
Hambantota through a long un-
derground tunnel across the
mountains in Bandarawela.
There are several objectives
of this project including genera-
tion of hydropower, irrigation,
provision of drinking water and
provision of water for industrial
Today is World Water Day
Water woes
What to do with Uma Oya?
The first phase of the Uma Oya hydropower project which includes the construction of the dam is already underway with financial assistance from Iran
Use water wisely. A single load of
laundry uses up to 40 gallons of water,
a 10 minute shower uses 50 gallons
When contacted Prof. Kapila Dahanayake, Senior
Professor of the Department of Geology, University
of Peradeniya, denied his knowledge regarding the
committee to monitor Uma Oya, “I’m not involved
in the investigation. But I saw my name in several
news websites saying that I was the head of the
committee to investigate the Uma Oya project. But I
am not in the Committee as said everywhere”
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