Melamchi water likely to stop ahead of monsoon

Kathmandu, May 10: Rumours have begun circulating that the residents of Kathmandu may not be able to drink Melamchi water this rainy season, as in the past year. 

This has caused concern among the city dwellers as water sources have dried up due to the prolonged drought this year. 

Amidst this fear, Rajendra Prasad Panta, spokesperson for the Melamchi Water Supply Development Committee, stated that the water supply from the Melamchi drinking water project would be halted once the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology forecast heavy rainfall to begin the monsoon season. “The supply might be stopped from the third week of May or even sooner,” he added.

The water supply was halted following floods and landslides in Melamchi in mid-June and mid-July 2021, which caused significant damage to the headworks areas of the project. As a result, Melamchi’s water is currently available only for a few months during the dry season. 

Panta explained that due to the risk of landslides and floods, regular supply of drinking water cannot be ensured during the rainy season. “While other parts of the structures remain intact, the destruction of the headworks prevents year-round water flow. Foul water and debris could enter the 25.9 km long tunnel, potentially blocking it. If the tunnel becomes blocked, it would be challenging to clean,” he said.

After the destruction of headworks, the water flow was halted on June 1, 2022, and again on June 22, 2023, and this year too water supply will be stopped once more as soon as the rainy season starts, he added.

“If we close the tunnel to prevent debris from entering it, there is a possibility of resuming water supply soon after the monsoon season ends, with no remaining hassles for cleaning, as other infrastructures at the project site are all right,” Panta said.

Shifting headworks

According to Panta, the study report for shifting the headworks 800 metres to one kilometre upward of the present site has already been presented by Asian Development Bank (ADB). The ADB submitted the study report for shifting the headworks in August 2022. The conceptual design has already been conducted, but the only part that is lacking is the detailed design, as we are awaiting the government’s decision to allow the detailed study and other procedures.

“The ADB is urging us to initiate the process as soon as possible, but the lack of a government decision is hindering us from starting the tender process,” he added. “Experts from the Pulchwok Campus, as well as other experts from ADB and the private sector, have also visited the site for the study, and based on their suggestion, the headworks will be shifted upwards,” Panta said.

According to Panta, it will take time for the detailed study, as constructing headworks should be underground to protect from damage, similar to earlier ones. Therefore, after the government approves the construction of headworks, there will be a detailed study conducted to assess the condition of the soil and the geography. 

After that, there will be a tender process to excavate the area, followed by another tender process for construction. So, even if we start now, it will take at least another three to four years to complete the construction of the headworks, he said. “The procurement process is lengthy,” he added.

To construct the new tunnel, there will be another small tunnel to join the main tunnel to supply water. At the same time, a road needs to be constructed to reach the area, and the earlier road is also not in good condition. “There might be a lot of work remaining. Therefore, if the government permits us, the work would start as soon as possible,” Panta added.

According to Panta, “Rs. 1 billion was invested in constructing the earlier headworks, and we are estimating the same amount to construct the new one. “There are other processes as well, such as the construction of roads, land procurement, and land compensation and the other costs will be finalised after the detailed study,” he added.

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