Melamchi not needed, local water source enough, say experts

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, December 31:

The ambitious $464 million Melamchi water supply project is stalled due to internal problems and irregularities, but local water experts have now come to the conclusion that water storage in Kathmandu Valley is enough to scotch the project altogether.

The government plans to bring water from Melamchi river after digging a 26.5-km long tunnel from the valley of Melamchi in Sindhupalchowk district but project engineers are yet to give a date when the water will eventually flow in here. Kulal Maharjan, ex-chairman of Jyapu Samaj and an expert on indigenous technology, said the government is neglecting existing water sources and daydreaming about bringing water from a distant river valley. “What the government is doing is equivalent to the idiomatic ‘selling your son to buy a servant’,” he said.

According to him, Kathmandu has an abundance of drinking water. Water coming out continuously from hundreds of stone spouts, constructed in different periods — from seventh century to 19th century — produces so much water that it is more than enough to cater to the present population of the Valley. There are around 377 traditional waterspouts in the Valley, of which 262 are in working condition regardless of water quality. Due to negligence or deliberate demolition by the government, the rest of these spouts don’t operate and need repairing.

The water source of most of the stone spouts in Lalitpur area was Tika Bhairav, a foothill to the south. Now, modern construction and careless laying out of roads have disturbed the age-old channel and the spouts have suffered.

Maharjan said huge patches of land in the form of ponds at Lagankhel, Kumaripati and other places were either encroached on by government buildings like barracks, courts schools and other government offices or sold off as private property to the public. Bam Prasad Shrestha, a former District Forest Officer, claimed he could provide enough water to the whole Valley if given the authority and a sum of Rs six billion, without bringing water from anywhere else.

“Though traditional sources are plugged, we can still tap existing rivers for water. We can bring water from Betrabati river. We can construct an artifical dam for water storage at Sundarijal, Shivapuri, Gokarna and Chobhar,” he said. He also charged that the government did not allow him to explore his expertise. Agreeing with Maharjan’s and Shrestha’s opinions, Dr Roshan Raj Shrestha, chairman of NGO Forum for Urban Water and Sanitation, said the scarcity of water was not as alarming as the donors of the controversial Melamchi project keep trying to show. A report by the Melamchi project itself has shown that the average water demand in the valley per day per person is 75 litre, or a total of 130 million litres per day. This could be fulfilled if the Manohara water project were to be completed by 2006. “If the leakage is controlled and network improved, we wouldn’t need to go for bigger projects,” he said.