KATHMANDU, JULY 26
Kathmandu valley residents will not get water from the Melamchi River into their houses as authorities are still struggling to figure out how to repair the damage from the recent flood in the head works of the project.
Approximately 23 years after the Melamchi Drinking Water Project was inaugurated, authorities had tested the water on March 28 and Kathmanduites had, for the first time, been able to get the water supply to their homes.
Soon, the project had started supplying 170 million litres of water per day.
But, the ill-fated project was struck by the devastating flood in the Melamchi River on June 15. The flash flood carried along with it millions of tonnes of pebbles and sand not only wreaking havoc on the low lying Melamchi Bazaar, but also significantly damaging the head works of the Melamchi project at Ambathan, totally obstructing the water supply to the valley.
The flash flood just around seven kilometres uphill from the head works site had accumulated up to 30 metres high pebbles and sand in some areas. Houses in Melamchi Bazar were covered by sand up to three storeys high. The head works of MDWP has been covered 10 metres high with flood debris according to officials. Worst of all, the flood has swept away around 10 kilometres road from Melamchi Bazaar up to the headworks, including two major concrete bridges.
Without proper roads, MDWP employees are confused as to how or when they will be able to clear the debris at the head works and determine the actual loss to the project.
Rajendra Prasad Panta, spokesperson for the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, said it was uncertain when the debris would be cleared as they still did not have any idea when the construction of the new road to the site would begin. "If we get regular support from various government bodies we might be able to construct temporary roads to the head works in around four to six months.
Only after clearing the site can we know when the water supply can resume," Panta said.
The process will be further delayed due to the ongoing monsoon season as the authorities say renovation works will begin only after monsoon.
This means the government is still unsure when water from the Melamchi will reach Kathmandu again. "If work is uninterrupted, the project will be completed by mid-April 2022," Panta said.
But, if we look at the previous work progress of the project, it is very unlikely that the reconstruction will be completed at the stipulated time.
The main infrastructure at the head works is the 211 metres long diversion tunnel, which passes from the Melamchi River to gate no 1 of the 27.5-kilometre long major tunnel that comes into the valley.
That tunnel is completely under rubble and we can only assess the damage once the debris is removed. Luckily, on the same day, the authorities had closed gate no 1 at the head works for cleaning and to avoid the flow of muddy water due to monsoon rain.
"We are not sure if flooding has damaged the main tunnel, as we do not have access to the tunnel yet," Panta said. An additional audit tunnel at Gyalthum has also been blocked by debris, which has made it impossible to check the tunnel from inside. Panta said, "We hope that the flood did not breach gate no 1. But, we fear that rocks have damaged the gate allowing muddy water inside the tunnel," Panta added.
Meanwhile, the MWSDB has estimated that the flood caused a loss of Rs two billion to the project. The board has also requested the Department of Roads and the Nepali Army to repair the road and install temporary bridges to resume transportation.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 27 2021, of The Himalayan Times.