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Yan Oya Reservoir: Another Waste Of Public Funds

  • Govt plans to spend a staggering Rs 41.5m. to develop one hectare of paddy

By Nirmala Kannangara

An attempt is being made to swindle billions of rupees of public money in the guise of an agricultural project in the Eastern Province.
The proposed Yan Oya diversion project to construct a 169 million cubic meter (mcm) capacity reservoir to irrigate 650 hectares of paddy land in the Eastern Province has now come under severe criticism although the project contract had been signed with China CAMC Engineering Corporation in November 2011.
Though the Irrigation and Water Resources Management Ministry claims to bring 650 hectares of new paddy cultivation under the proposed Yan Oya Reservoir Project, environmentalists claim that in the process they are planning to destroy 1,727.16 hectares of paddy lands, 2,235.83 hectares of agricultural lands and 1,438 hectares of forest land which forms a total area of 5,400.99 hectares of land and 238 water bodies.
The estimated cost for the proposed Yan Oya diversion weir at Pamburugaswewa to establish a reservoir to irrigate 650 hectares of new paddy lands and to solve water problems faced in the north central province has been calculated as Rs 27 billion (US$ 225 million). According to environmentalists this is yet another costly project that the country does not need. The proposed 2350m long main dam will be located 30km upstream of Yan Oya’s sea outfall at Pulmoddai.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report done by the project proponent the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, the aim of the proposed project is mainly to increase the cropping intensity of paddy and to maximize the agricultural production of a number of failed irrigation projects – Padaviya and Wahalkada which are operating only 0.86 cropping intensity and to solve water problems in the North Central Province including Kebethigollewa, Padaviya, Welioya and Medawachchiya.
“This project will be yet another white elephant like the Magampura Port and the Mattala Airport that would utilize a large amount of resources and public funds. When the existing 8752 hectares of paddy lands could be irrigated by the ancient Padaviya and Wahalkada Tanks one season per year why can’t the Irrigation Ministry increase the capacity of these two tanks and facilitate the existing paddy lands to grow paddy during both Yala and Maha seasons instead of planning to waste public money. In such an event only 5% of the estimated cost of Rs 27 billon will have to be spent. If the two tanks are renovated and the capacity increased it can easily irrigate the proposed 650 hectares of new paddy lands as well. Since the government is getting a loan from China it is spending the money as if it is its own money,” alleged Operations Director Environmental Foundation Limited, Vimukthi Weeratunga.
According to page 157 of the project summary report, 1696.76 hectares of existing paddy land will be inundated and a further 30.4 hectares will be lost to the left bank canal making a total loss of 1,727.16 hectares of paddy land in order to develop 650 hectares of new paddy lands.
“What a serious joke is this? Notwithstanding the loss of 1,727.16 hectares of paddy lands alone in addition to other agricultural and forest lands to build a reservoir to develop 650 hectares of new paddy lands, according to the estimated cost the country is going to spend a staggering Rs 41.538 million to develop one hectare of paddy. Whose money does this government want to spend in such a way? It is all our hard earned money. This is going to be daylight robbery and those who are behind the project will benefit from the commissions,” claimed Weeratunga.
Weeratunga further noted as to how the EIA that has been carried out gives contradictory data with number of fundamental and fatal flaws including non-assessment of many important areas and has failed to address a number of critical environmental impacts.
“The only consistency of this EIA is the inconsistency; unreliable and contradictory data that shows severe discrepancies of the data presented. The project proponent has deliberately failed to make assessment of many important areas and to address a number of critical environmental impacts. Therefore this EIA has to be rejected and a fresh EIA has to be carried out,” he claimed.
He further stated that it is confused as to what amount of land will be irrigated under this project as the discrepancy in the figures given in the summary report is unacceptable.
According to Weeratunga, under the proposed irrigation development project, 7215 hectares of existing paddy lands and 375 hectares of new paddy lands could be irrigated from the left bank while 1537 hectares of existing paddy lands and 275 hectares of new paddy lands could be irrigated from the right bank. According to him although the exact figures are as such it is difficult to understand the figures given in the summary report as it contradicts each other figure.
“In page 7 of the summary report two contradictory figures are given about the developing areas under the left bank project. Although in one place it says the total area that will be developed under the left bank is given as 7590 hectares, in the same page it states that the existing and proposed new paddy lands to the amount of 4190 hectares (existing 3815 and 375 new) would be developed under the left bank. Page 7 further reports that both left and right banks will feed a total command area of 6002 hectares, while page 15 of the same report states that a total benefitted area under both left and right banks would be 9402 hectares. This is very confusing. How can we expect such a large project to be carried out perfectly when the project proponent has failed to provide accurate facts and figures in the report? They should have taken maximum precautions that a realistic assessment of the project is done and the data used to make predictions are absolutely correct and does not contradict each other,” said Weeratunga.
Weeratunga also pointed out what the negative impact would be to the environment within the project area as well as adjoining areas.
“The project will lead to many negative environmental impacts over the short and long term. If mitigation measures and constant monitoring to ensure implementation of those measures in full are not carried, it will lead to bigger environmental issues in the future which will reverse the benefits, if any,” he added.
He further said that the mineral sand deposition on the Pulmoddai coast and the sea erosion due to the lack of sand from the Yan Oya once the dam is built has not been assessed in the flawed EIA.
“The mineral sand deposition on the Pulmoddai coast has not been assessed but an insignificant opinion has been included. Although the EIA states that the major source of mineral sand in Pulmoddai originates from the Mahaweli River basin, Mahaweli River sand does not reach the coast but deposits into a marine trench in Koddiyar Bay. Therefore once the Yan Oya dam is constructed it will block the flowing minerals from the Vijayan Rocks along the Yan Oya and this will have an adverse impact on the mineral sand resources in Pulmoddai.
“Therefore a proper study and an adverse impact assessment on this valuable natural resource of the country need to be carried out and any cost should be included in the cost benefit analysis of the project. The EIA does not include such a study. It merely shows the economic feasibility of the project when in reality the cost from the loss of mineral sand deposits if the proposed project is implemented could be far greater than the benefits publicized in the project report,” he alleged.
According to Weeratunga, the damming of the Yan Oya will also increase sea erosion of the coastal area due to lack of sand to replenish the beach.

“A comprehensive study should be conducted to quantify the amount of sand that is needed for replenishment of the beach with or without the project and to estimate the predictions of beach erosion. The EIA report further states that comprehensive archaeological and historical value assessments have not been conducted in the project area. This is extremely dangerous. If there is destruction to even a small portion of an archaeological heritage site in the guise of development, the loss is immeasurable. Hence we urge the project proponent to carry out a proper Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) to find out what the negative impact would be,” he added.
Meanwhile according to Archaeological Department sources who wish to remain anonymous, the importance of the archaeological value in the proposed Yan Oya reservoir project is inestimable.
“Without going into details; the Yan Oya which starts from the Ritigala mountain peak and the entire surrounding area is of archaeological value. There are caves from 2 BC and 3 BC and lots of archaeological sites belonging to the pre-historic era. There are protohistoric burial sites in Danduwakkadu, Gurugalhinna and Dickwewa, etc., and several ruins of Buddhist temples belonging to indeterminate periods in this area.  There are even monuments belonging to the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods and many small tanks that were built by our great kings. The existing Wahalkada tank was built by King Mahasen and later renovated by King Agbo. We fear that the small tanks that are of archaeological value would be inundated for the Yan Oya project,” he added.
When asked whether an AIA was carried out, the sources confirmed that although an AIA was done it was not carried out by professional Archaeologists.
“For the benefit of the project proponent this AIA was done but not a proper evaluation,” he added.
Meanwhile the environmentalists have urged the Irrigation and Water Resources Management Ministry to increase the distance of the demarcated reservoir reservation area from 100m to 5km.
“The EIA report proposes to demarcate a 100m reservation area for the reservoir and canals which is inadequate. We want to get this distance increased to 5km to avoid siltation, illegal cultivation and water pollution from agro chemicals. The report further states that all trees above 30cm would be removed in the inundation area which is a thick dry zone evergreen forest. This 30cm high ‘trees’ are not mature – only saplings.
Destruction to these 1,438 hectares of thick forest cannot be a benefit under any terms although under the cost benefit analysis the value of the timber when it is cut has been added as a benefit to the project. If the timber value is taken as a benefit then the cost of the lost ecological services by these trees is detrimental. The cost benefit calculation has been conducted with the sole intention of showing that this project is economically feasible but in reality it is a disaster,” said Weeratunga.
However Additional Secretary Technical, Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, P. U. Wickremaratne said that the entire cost of the project could be generated within five years after the completion of the project.
“Although environmentalists claim that this is a white elephant, people could reap the benefit five years after the completion of work. How much money could we generate once we get the yield from paddy and other agricultural crops? Whenever we implement such a project these environmentalists have raised their voices to get it stopped. From other irrigation projects how much have we benefitted?” said Wickremaratne.
According to him, once the dam is constructed and water is released for agricultural purposes the cropping intensity could be increased from 0.75 to 1.
“At the moment the farmers in these areas are cultivating not with water from Wahalkada and Padaviya but with rain water. We have failed to store more than 8,000 mcm of rain water although we get 40,000 mcm of rain water annually. We also plan to provide drinking water to the North Central Province and the adjacent areas as well under this project. In addition to these benefits we could stop the flooding downstream once the dam is constructed,” added Wickremaratne.