Shimla: As the hard negotiated Indo-US Nuclear deal is in limbo, pressure on development of hydropower potential of Himalayan rivers mounts with a World Bank study on optimization of river basin development for Himalayan rivers recommending that planning, design, development and operation of hydro projects was better done at a river basin level than the current practice of taking each project separately.
Taking the Satluj and Alaknanda rivers as a case study, the report states that ‘there is compelling evidence to suggest that there are economic, environmental and social benefits for all stake holders to be gained from a river basin planning approach.”
The World Bank study done by Hydro Tasmania consultancy, at the behest of the Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand governments, is expected to impact the central government hydro policy, currently under formulation. The draft recommendation report has been circulated for discussion with the concerned states and the central government.
Michael Haney, senior energy specialist with the World Bank told My Himachal News that Himalayan rivers showed that there are substantial geological risks associated with hydropower development with no mechanism for shared knowledge development.
“Often there is a gap between environmental and social developmental plans and their implementation. There are considerable risks to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem with the compensatory afforestation and catchment treatment plans having variable success,” he said.
The report recommends ‘a strategic environmental assessment of the entire basin needs to be taken, Panchayats representatives can have greater involvement in the development of their basin and it could be considered designating certain sections of rivers or entire rivers as reserved for conservation, tourism and other low impacts uses.
The study established that silt was a major problem and simple modeling showed that optimization of a cascade of hydropower projects would result in greater energy output and less physical footprint than the current planned designs and operational plans.
For the Satluj basin the study supports construction of the Khab storage dam near the sensitive Indo-China border. “There is a strong case for such a storage, given the benefits of water storage, flow regulation, silt storage and flood attenuation,” the report states
With there being multitude of developers on a river basin, there is confusion amongst them. Many of the private developers are new to hydropower and don’t know the commercial risks that may arise. The already challenged road network face severe problems, the report states.
To move towards river basin planning, the study recommends establishment of a developers forum on a given basin that supports a mechanism for data sharing and decision making. Infrastructure such as access roads, construction power and evacuation transmission lines need to be shared, the report recommends.