Massive Damage To Kotmale With Mini Power Projects

by Hafsa Sabry

Kotmale valley has been one of the places that everyone wanted to visit due to its hidden natural beauty and the history it contains. The sight is better admiring during the rainy season than dry months. The seven virgins covered in a veil of mist, water falls and beautiful cascades everywhere, is indeed a beautiful natural environment to enjoy. At almost every bend one could hear the gushing sound of water falls which is being threatened largely due to new hydro power plants coming up in the area.
Measures were in place to construct many power plants along the Pundalu Oya, Poona Oya, Ramboda Oya and in the meantime, under the instructions of Wasantha Karannagoda, former Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy and former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Japan, there are more power plants to be constructed which will create more damage to the beautiful precious environment of the Kotamale area, environmentalists lamented.
In Sri Lanka, large hydro power potential has all been fully utilized and what remain are opportunities for small or mini hydro power. These smaller plants are blocking streams, threatening freshwater fish and the fragile ecosystem in these water sources, the environmentalists claimed.
The Dams, Rivers and Freshwater Fish in Sri Lanka are all being threatened by the proposed mini-hydro power plants. A mini hydro project works by having water in a river diverted to a powerhouse by means of a dam built across the flow. This water rotates a turbine and flows back downstream. According to law not all the water can be diverted as a part has to be allowed to flow naturally in the river.
Even though a percentage of water might be allowed to flow freely, if part of a stream is diverted the habitat downstream changes and fish will be affected. With flow changes the PH value [acid levels] of water too could change and very sensitive species could become affected.
Some fish migrate upstream to breed and when the stream is blocked this movement is disrupted which is a threat to the endemic fish species of Sri Lanka. In Kotamle cascades there are several varieties of freshwater species been recorded and some of them are endemic to Sri Lanka.
“Most of the mini-hydro projects are being constructed in the biodiversity rich zone, so the damage they cause is worse than with the large dams. Meanwhile, not only the fish but also other animals such as amphibians and freshwater crabs are too affected,” said the Director of Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) Ravindra Kariyawasam. Many streams have been marked as potential for building mini-hydro projects and already about 37 are in construction or evaluation phase, he added.
He emphasized the importance of considering the collective effect of all the mini-hydro power plants on a stream or a river when carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).Due to construction happening within the water cascades, falls and negligence in part by the developer, the project is said to be causing massive environmental destruction affecting the stream, the villagers, soil and endemic fish in the region.The mini-hydro project will destroy the environment and the water cascades as water is being diverted from the weir to the powerhouse, several kilometers away. This will result in the local extinction of many endemic and endangered fish species recorded in the Kotmale and Poodalu Oya.Environmentalists revealed the damage caused by a number of these projects, among them are the Dunsinane mini hydro power plant, Sheen upper stream mini-hydro power plant, Sheen hydro power plant, Ramboda Oyaupper stream hydropower plant and Ramboda mini hydro power plant which are being newly proposed and developed.
The Kotmale Oya flows through the rural up-country of Sri Lanka passing ancient villages steeped in history and tea plantations of a more recent era. The tranquility of this river valley has been changed recently with the construction work of the Kotmale Hydropower reservoir.
As a result of these water cascades and falls were included in the projects, people who use these water ways as their water resource are being objected from using water for their day-to-day usage. The farmers of the area are also affected as the water ways are being blocked due to the construction of power plants.
Pundalu Oya is one of the falls vastly used by the villagers from Kirindiwela, Kumbal Oluwa, Egodawela, Medakanda, Niyamgandara, Kosgahapathana, Bogahavela, Maldeniye, Metagama, Katarandana and Veerasekarapura, whereas the water way is being blocked and used for the project affecting the people.
More than 3,000 families who lived in the Kotmale valley had to lose their homes and lands, some of them inherited through a continuity of nearly twenty centuries. They were given alternate land on higher elevations of Kotmale itself or in Kalawewa, Maduru-oya, and Ulhitiya, which are being developed under the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme.
Ravindra Kariyawasam claimed that damages done to these waterfalls and cascades can never be stopped nor will be renovated. These project constructors should have concern about the environment and not only the money and the economical purposes it is disheartening that the government allows all the destruction within the country even with the continuous pressures and objections made against the moves.
It was divulged upon a visit to the Kotmale power plant construction site, that there are building processesfor three more plants going in the downstream of Dansinanshin Falls, said Kariyawasam.
It is also crucial that the area where the power plant constructions are carried out in Kotmale is one of the most warned areas for landslides in the country. The government is in a bid to produce more energy while destructing the natural water flows and the endemic species of flora and fauna. This will also result in creating water shortage problems in the area in the near future as the villagers will not have a resource to get pure water.
International Energy Agency (IEA) through researches confirmed that the constructions of mini hydro power plants to generate energy are not that successful as the government and the projectors might expect. Meanwhile, it is obvious that unsuccessful mini and micro power plants construction in hill countries will result in damaging the large Kotamle water reservoir that gives water to the country.
Nevertheless, ours is a country where we find sunlight for 365 days, an island surrounded with sea water and we receive wind blowing on the mountains which can be used in producing energy for the country. But the government’s failure to use the natural resources results in the destruction of nature and the waterways.
The Kotmale Dam is a large hydroelectric and irrigation dam in Kotmale, Sri Lanka. The dam generates power from three 67 MW turbines, totaling the installed capacity to 201 MW, making it the second largest hydroelectric power station in Sri Lanka which is adequate to produce the energy the country needs.
“We appeal to the president not to allow the businessmen or the powerful politicians to gain fromdestruction of our environment and to consider them immediately. Mini hydro plants, touted as clean energy power sources, are destroying eco-systems in the area”, experts warned

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