October 17, 2023
KATHMANDU – Nepal and India have agreed to reduce the height of the proposed Saptakoshi High Dam amid concerns in Nepal over the potential inundation of a large swathe of land upstream of the dam.
During the 17th meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Team of Experts established to study the Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose Project and the Sunkoshi Storage and Diversion Project held in Biratnagar on October 9-11, two sides agreed to reduce the height of the dam and change the location of the re-regulating dam, the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation said in a statement.
“There has been consensus to carry out further study on the project by lowering the height of the dam to 304.8 metres from the currently proposed 337 metres,” said Chiranjeevi Chataut, director general of the Department of Electricity Development, who led the Nepali team.
The reduction in the dam’s height means the proposed hydropower generation from the multipurpose project will also decrease. “The project is now expected to generate around 2,300MW, down from the earlier proposed 3,000MW,” said Chataut.
“Considering the inundation area by Saptakoshi project, proposed and operated projects in the upstream area of Saptakoshi and social, environmental and technical factors, a decision has been made to reduce the dam’s height,” the ministry said.
Chataut said the lowering of the dam means the inundation area in Nepal will also be reduced.
Nepali officials say as large storage hydropower projects have been planned in the tributaries of the Saptakoshi-Tamor, Sunkoshi and Dudhkoshi, Nepal had proposed downsizing the Saptakoshi High Dam project.
As large storage projects upstream of the proposed high dam will regulate water and sediment, the proposed size of the project, including the height of the dam, can be reduced, they said.
A 756MW Tamor Storage Hydroelectric Project has been planned on the Tamor river while the 635MW Dudhkoshi Hydropower Project is also in the pipeline. Nepal and Bangladesh have agreed in principle to develop the 683MW Sunkoshi 3 Hydropower Project.
“Besides these hydel projects, Sunkoshi Marin Diversion Multi-Purpose Project, upstream of the proposed dam site, will also reduce the flow in the Saptakoshi river and higher dams may not be required,” a senior official told the Post last year.
According to the ministry, the two sides also agreed to relocate the proposed re-regulation barrage from Sisauli in the latest meeting last week.
“A study will be carried out on relocating the barrage at a new location and irrigation facilities in Nepal in partnership with the Department of Water Resources and Irrigation,” the ministry said.
According to Chataut, the new regulating barrage has been proposed around the Chatara area, about 4km upstream of the proposed location. Relocating the regulating dam upstream from a plain area means the inundation area will also be reduced.
“We have also rejected the plan to construct canals to take water from the Saptakoshi to India for irrigation,” Chataut said. The earlier proposal was to irrigate 546,00 hectares in Nepal and 976,000 hectares in India.
Moreover, the two sides agreed to prepare a detailed project report (DPR) of the Saptakoshi High Dam project within 30 months with a focus on geology, environment impact assessment, rehabilitation and resettlement and flood benefits.
The project has been facing public backlash over the potential inundation of large areas of Nepali land.
Citing the potential loss of their land due to the high dam’s construction, residents of the area are up in arms against the project. As a result, the joint project office set up in Biratnagar has not been able to conduct fieldwork such as drilling, hydrological study and environmental impact assessment for the high dam.
In the secretary-level eighth meeting of the Joint Commission on Water Resources held in New Delhi in 2019, the Nepali side had even proposed closing down the joint project office, considering the difficulty of carrying out the fieldwork. India opposed the proposal, according to officials at the energy ministry.
With the joint project office remaining idle, the Nepali side had proposed downsizing the entire Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose Project.
“The reduction of dam height by around 35 metres will significantly reduce the inundation area,” said Chataut. “As we are taking ahead rehabilitation and resettlement plans and environment impact assessment, people’s fears about inundation and other impacts can also be addressed.”