Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Toxic waste water disposal goes on unchecked

March 26, 2017
World Water Day falls on 22nd of March. This article was published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2017

A canal brings pollutants into the Kelani River. Note the difference in colour of the water

Industrial waste water and municipal sewage released untreated poses a danger to Sri Lanka’s environment, experts warn on the eve of World Water Day, which falls on Wednesday  (March 22).

The theme this year is “waste water” with the campaign focusing on reducing and reusing waste water.

Globally, over 80 per cent of the waste water generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, says a United Nation’s report. This has been the case even locally, water experts in Sri Lanka say.

“Most collected waste water in Sri Lanka is released to surface water bodies and eventually the ocean without any treatment. Even Colombo has so far only a sea outfall for its waste water,” says Pay Drechsel researcher at International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

A recent study by the Ministry of Environment in partnership with UNICEF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that pollution in the Kelani River basin is severe and industrial waste water as well as domestic waste water aggravates the pollution.

A separate study by the Environmental Foundation Limited to identify industries located along the river mapped facilities that discharge waste water to the river.

Service stations are another major waste water generating source, but the discharge goes directly to natural water sources.

These polluting industries and service stations should not be allowed on river and stream banks, says Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. She suggests zoning laws that restrict these into industrial zones.

Apart from industrial polluters, there are also households which discharge their effluents into rivers and water bodies.

The World Health Organisation says in a 2014 report that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

“Too many toilets pits in business premises and houses in wayside communities such as Gampola and Pilimatalawa seem to lead directly into streams and rivers. “Trucks transporting sewage are often seen dumping loads into main rivers such as the Kelani in places such as Sedawatta,” said Kusum Athukorala, chairperson of Sri Lanka Water Partnership.

Most households rely on septic tanks or pit latrines. However, there are only very few treatment plants for human waste collected from these pits or septic tanks, once they fill up. Only 1 per cent of the excreta (fecal sludge) are treated. Due to the lack of dumping/treatment sites, illegal dumping in landfills is common, and surface and groundwater can get heavily polluted, points out IWMI researcher Drechsel.

Due to population growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the waste water volumes and pollution are increasing globally.

This will be an issue for the proposed megapolis development, and experts say waste water management should not be neglected.

But there are ways to make use of waste water. Safely managed waste water is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials. There are many treatment processes and operational systems that will allow cities to use waste water to meet the growing water demand, support sustainable agriculture, and enhance energy production and industrial development.

Experts say treated waste water can be used safely for agriculture or service stations etc.

Waste water has its uses

Every time we use water, we produce waste water. According to UN Water, 80 per cent of all our waste water just flows back to nature untreated. Households should to try to reduce waste water, said Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. And the waste water that is generated can be used for watering of plants and washing cars.  

20 Ways to Conserve Water at Home

Village tank project provides lessons for restoration

February 26, 2017

Sri Lanka is famous for its irrigation heritage, but only the marvels of large tanks built for irrigation draw attention, while small village tanks are ignored. In many cases village tanks function as a ‘cascade system’ – so using wrong methods to restore them ignoring specific functions of associated components can do more harm, according to experts who discussed the issue recently in Colombo.

People engaged in building an irrigation canal. Pic by Kumudu Herath@IUCN

The International Union of Conservation of Nature and Department of Agrarian Development together with Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, shared their experiences under the theme “ecological restoration and sustainable management of small tank cascade systems,” on February 14.

The experts say that in Sri Lanka’s dry zone there are 14,000 small ancient village tanks and many are in good shape, supporting 246,000 hectares, about 39 percent of the total irrigable area. In most cases these tanks are designed to function as interconnected clusters often referred to as ‘cascade systems’ called as ‘ellangawa’ in Sinhala.

These tank cascade systems are identified as very efficient water management systems in the world with water being recycled in each tank without letting it go to waste. The entire tank system functions as a single unit, so restoring only a single tank is not useful, said IUCN’s Program Coordinator Shamen Vidanage.

Each tank in a given cascade system adopts geographical and functional features to harmonise with nature. The functional components of a tank perform specific purpose and roles of these components can even be explained in modern science although they were designed centuries ago, he added.

The first set of components of the cascade system is designed to improve the quality of water entering the tank from the catchment.
‘Kulu wewa’ also known as the ‘Forest Tank’ and water holes known as ‘harak wala’ and ‘goda wala’ are all located in the catchment of the tank, retaining dead leaves, mud and other debris, or sediment, experts explain. Next, before the tank is grass cover known as ‘perahana’ located between catchment and high flood levels for purifying the water by holding granules of earth, and sediment functioning similar to a preliminary treatment step of a modern waste water treatment system, the experts explain.

The water stored in the tank is protected from evaporation by tree belt naturally growing on either side of the uppermost areas of each tank. These are called ‘gasgommana’ acting as windshields minimising dry wind contacting the water surface minimizing evaporation, the experts note. “Kattakaduwa’ or interceptor, is a thick strip of vegetation located between tank bund and paddy fields. It also has a water hole called ‘yathuru wala’ to retain saline water seeping from the tank. Various plants of salt absorbing features are found on ‘kattakaduwawa’ which reduce the salinity of the water seeping through the bund before it reaches the paddy fields, the experts say.

“Sadly the cascade systems are poorly understood. For example, there are instances that forest tanks have been used for irrigation,” Vidanage points out.

“Every village had a patch of forests called as ‘gam kele’ and that has disappeared as they are being encroached for agriculture. As a result of these wrong land use patterns, these small tanks now get more sedimentation, increasing tank siltation,” says Professor C M Madduma Bandara of the University of Peradeniya.

Tank sedimentation due to soil erosion is the main factor in the deterioration of the cascade system. Silted tanks retain less water and over the years, these tanks dry out and paddy fields are lost experts say. In addition, pesticides and fertilizers applied in upper areas pollutes the tank water without getting proper natural filtering mechanisms. So experts fear that in future, many of these tank cascade systems will deteriorate and will be abandoned owing to mismanagement.

Meanwhile, as a pilot project, IUCN partnered with Department of Agrarian Development to ecologically restore the Kapiriggama small tank cascade system in the Anuradhapura District. This three-year project was initiated in 2013 with financial assistance from the HSBC Water Programme.

Kapiriggama cascade is in the basin of Malwathuoya and consist of 21 tanks. During the project over 38,000 of cubic metres of silt was removed from five tanks in the Kapiriggama and the removed silt was deposited upstream IUCN says. The project also setup soil conservation mechanisms building soil conservation bunds. Over 7,500 plants on kattakaduwa on 13 tanks were also planted according to IUCN.
“We have also got community participation for all these tasks, so even when the project finishes the villagers who will benefit will be engaged making sure of the sustainability of the Kappirigama tank cascade system,” Dr Ananda Mallawatantri the Country Representative of IUCN said. The north central canal project can also use cascade systems in its design taking additional water into cascades before providing to paddy fields, Dr Mallawatantri said.

Published on SundayTimes on 26.02.2017


Tank cascade system in Kappirigama – photo courtesy IUCN Sri Lanka 


‘Kattakaduwa’ or Tree Belt between the tank and paddy fields

Wildlife desperate for water

October 12, 2016
Safe waterholes dry up, driving animals into human areas 

Poachers are heavily active during the drought – Hambantota

As the drought worsens, not only humans but wild animals too are suffering, reports Malaka Rodrigo

A family living in Hathporuwa, Sooriyawewa, had an unexpected visitor early morning on September 20 – an eight-foot crocodile. The family alerted Hambantota wildlife rangers who promptly responded. Later the same day, the same team of rangers had to rescue another croc, a 9.5 footer, from an agro well in Meegahajadura. As the smaller water holes dry up, wild animals looking for water are increasingly straying into human settlements.

Hambantota wildlife rangers also revealed an increase in elephants infiltrating villages and raiding crops as the drought progresses. Most of the small tanks in the pockets of forest patches had dried out so animals – particularly elephants – were moving to the remaining water sources such as Bandagiriya Wewa.

These, however, are now surrounded by cultivations, most established illegally, so the elephants now have to move through villages to get to the water, intensifying the chance of human-elephant conflict.

The dry period is a merry time for poachers. They use inhumane methods such as poisoning the remaining waterholes, bringing death to the unsuspecting animals.

The wildlife rangers and Special Task Force police nabbed three poachers at Kadawara Wewa in Hambantota this week, finding the bodies of two spotted deer they had killed. They also found different kinds of traps set up near the waterhole to capture wildlife – mainly deer.

Deer and other small animals have other new threats. As safe waterholes dry up they have to venture into more open areas. Groups of feral dogs learn to hunt these weakened animals. Hambantota wildlife officers this week found a dead deer that had been attacked by feral dogs.

The media officer of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Hasini Sarathchandra, said the department was arranging more patrols in protected areas during this dry period but with a large pockets of unprotected areas outside national parks and only a few dozen wildlife rangers available for deployment it was impractical to expect matters to improve as the drought continued. Not only Yala, near Hambantota, but also Wilpattu and Kumana are experiencing drought.

Yala National Parks Warden D.P. Siyasinghe said this is the typical dry period Yala experiences every year. “Many of the small water pools have gone dry but there are number of large tanks and rock pools that still contain water. The department is also putting water into some of the waterholes and, with the use of solar power, some waterholes get water pumped from the river that still has water,” he said.

The Sunday Times learned that the DWC with support from Linea Aqua, last year rehabilitated a number of tanks inside Yala that helped to increase water capacity and retention so that rainwater is held for a longer period.

Some wildlife experts are of the view that drought is a natural process and we should not interfere too much with it. Late Childers Jayawardene, who was Yala Park warden in the late ’70s, earlier said “drought is nature’s way of maintaining life”.

“Drought eliminates the sick and weak animals. Next year, after the drought, what we have is a healthier animal population. Drought is nature’s way of maintaining life,” Mr. Jayawardene said. Hence mechanisms to minimise the damage from drought should be carefully considered.

Elephant expert Dr. Prithviraj Fernando pointed out that food was a bigger concern than water during a drought. An average elephant spends 16-18 hours a day grazing as it requires about 150kg of food, so a dry period is a testing time for elephants particularly restricted into a smaller area.

Releasing of 9.5 feet croc fallen into a Agri well in Meegahajadura - Hambanthota on 20.Sept

Releasing of 9.5 feet croc fallen into a Agri well in Meegahajadura – Hambanthota on 20.Sept

Dr. Fernando pointed out that many of the national parks have more elephants than their vegetation can support during drier period, so it is important that animals be able to roam in adjacent forests to assuage their hunger. As the national parks are surrounded by electric fences, however, the elephants’ movements were restricted.

“Sadly some of these fences erected between national parks and wildernesses belong to the Forest Department. It is important these fences be readjusted if we need to have a healthy elephant population in national parks such as Yala and Udawalawe,” he advised.

Dr. Fernando also said the plan to keep the Minneriya tank at spill level throughout the year for irrigation should be reconsidered in order to manage habitats for elephants in drier periods.

Hundreds of elephants in the area gather during the dry season around the Minneriya tank bed to feed on fresh shoot of grasses that come up as the water level recedes. If the Minneriya tank was at spill level all year round a large amount of these grasslands that emerge during the dry season will be submerged, depriving elephants of this nutrition-rich fodder.

Without this fresh source of food during drought, conflict will increase, Dr. Fernando warned, urging authorities to rethink the strategy.

The drying water holes

Drying out water holes

WATER – A forgotten lifeline of Avurudu

April 14, 2014

Today, is the traditional New Year of Sri Lanka (celebrated mainly by Sinhalese and Tamils – hence’ Aluth Avurudu’ as it called in Sinhala). Except for the song of the Koel – all the other Nature’s symbols of Avurudu including the crimson blossoms of Erabadu, ripen Kadju Puhulam, Olinda and Panchi games are now getting a rare sight. Likewise traditions related to water has become another set of customs that has been faded away.


Drawing water from a dug well (c)

I still recall my childhood where Avurudu was different than today. It was changing times in early ‘80s, yet many of the Avurudu customs were practiced in my village. With few days to Avuduru our houses have been washed those days as a custom. Mopping with wet broom has become the way to clean your floor nowadays, but the whole house has to be washed by water before the Avurudu on a self-imposed Avurudu ritual of our village community. The floors were either not tiled those days, so washing the whole floor infact meant ultimate cleaning to welcome the prince of Avurudu.

The kitchen which was already been heavily used in the making of Avurudu kevili and also a centric piece of upcoming events was the place lots of cleaning required. There were no fancy chemicals available for cleaning that time, so Coconut husks are been used to wipe out the patches and layers of dirt accumulated in the floor over last year. Though it could have been a difficult task for my parents, this ritual of washing the house provided us play time bringing first cycle of avurudu fun. We didn’t have pipe-bourn water on those good old days, so had to use the hand dug water well for all the household water needs. Usually our task was to fetch water from the well and bring them to the house.

The well was located about 30 feet away from the house, so we get soaked when the task is still halfway. Sometimes we make nasty throw splashing water all over at the time we had to take a shout from parents. But parents who shout on other days for playing with water are tolerant on getting ourselves soaked, so we enjoyed this watery custom very much.

‘Ganu-denu’ with water

Washing of the house was only the first direct Avurudu ritual been practiced with water, but there were more to come. Soon after finishing the eating at auspicious time brings the ‘ganu-denu’ tradition of doing the first transaction of the New Year. I can still recall I went to our dug well with my father, throw a coin to the well and fetched a bucket of water to mark the ‘ganu-denu’. Few jasmine flowers too has been thrown into water to mark the occasion. Though mother earth would not expect any payments for the service it rendered, this has symbolized our gratitude to the well which is the most important lifeline that helps to quench all our water needs through. So getting the well too into the Avurudu rituals was a really meaningful tradition.

But then, we had moved to Colombo. There were no water well, but we had the luxury of the pipe-bourn water in the city. Last year when made my Avurudu visits to meet relations, I’ve visited our well that has been a center of Avurudu activities long ago. My heart sank seeing the neglected state of water well which was once a lifeline. There were wild shrubs surround it. The petals of flowers and dried leaves seeped through the mesh that has been put on top covering it. There were dengue inspectors looking for mosquito breeding grounds, so my neighbor has put some ‘guppy’ fish who had multiplied in numbers.

Building a hand dug well

Building a hand dug well (c)

Our water well just reminded me a retarded, unshaven old man that has been completely neglected. I remember how much we care about the well those days. We used to completely empty the water well during dry season when water is limited and cleaned it properly. The sand in the top layer of the floor bed that contains particles accumulated over the year too has been removed. A freshly prepared charcoal and few jasmine flowers were put down into the well as we believe those had water purification qualities. After this cleaning, the well looked like very clean like giving its annual shave and haircut.

I had second thoughts last year that we should do this cleanup again. But neighbor stopped us. “Water in our wells is polluted. So these are now not in drinking conditions” he said. It was found some chemicals from a nearby paint factory have been carelessly released to the bare soil contaminating the ground water. Water wells dug by hand draws water from the first layers of ground water which could be the most affected with pollution. So this should be the case in many areas in Sri Lanka too.

Many of us had made the water wells into garbage pits, when pipe-Bourne water reached our houses. It was sort of a marking of the development for and filling-up the well symbolized some sort of a step up of the social hierarchy for many. But there is also some traditional knowledge linked with water wells. Our grandparents knew how to find the best location on their lands to dig the water well. They came to this conclusion by looking at specific plants grown in different areas in the garden. They knew trees like Kumbuk makes the water more purify and keeps water cool. They also knew that charcoal has water purification qualities. And they also had the techniques to dig the ground and make its walls safe. So it is not only the water well that disappears with our change of livelihood. It is whole traditional knowledge too will be lost from next generation.

Avurudu traditions moving away from our traditions with water always make a void. So perhaps, Avurudu season could be the best time to pass this knowledge to the next generation – perhaps that could be the least minimum we could do to preserve these changing traditions..!!

(The New Year dawned few hours ago and this is my ‘First Post’ for the New Year)

Experts warn: Avert conflicts over water-energy-food nexus

April 13, 2014

Water for food is a core issue that can no longer be tackled through a narrow sectorial approach, a major international conference held in Colombo last week was told. Nearly 500 experts from 40 countries participated in the three-day Fifth International Conference on Water Resources and Hydropower Development in Asia at the BMICH.

Addressing the summit, senior minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama said native topography meant that Sri Lanka “was made for hydropower”, which is a vital contributor to economic growth.

Dr Avinash Tyagi, Secretary General of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), focused in his keynote address on reservoir operations during drought conditions – an issue of great relevance to Sri Lanka. He began by underlining the need to recognise the “water-energy-food nexus” and outlined concerns about water security, particularly in the light of climate change.

This has been particularly relevant to Sri Lanka as evident in the severe drought Sri Lanka faced in 2012. There was insufficient water in the reservoirs to be released for farming at height of the drought and it was alleged that the then minister of power and energy had asked officials to use reservoir water stocks to generate hydro-electricity to gain revenue for the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

In doing so, the minister managed to bring down the CEB’s power-generating costs which otherwise would have soared with having to resort more to thermal power plants, but in the process the water stocks that should have been kept for irrigation in prolonged drought has been exhausted. This has led to protests by paddy farmers who had to witness their paddy lands dying without water.

This highlights the interlinking of different water usage and the need to carefully manage water stocks among stakeholders, especially for energy and food. In Sri Lanka, water from multipurpose reservoirs been released for various demands which brings to a head the need to manage water wisely to face drought conditions.

The water-energy-food nexus was a highlight of the recently-launched World Water Development report, “Water and Energy”, which said that recognising the many synergies and trade-offs between water and energy use and food production and balancing these trade-offs was central to ensuring water, energy and food security.

In Sri Lanka, the allocation of water for different needs is periodically assessed with major stakeholders such as the CEB, the Irrigation Department, Farmers Association, Water Board and the Mahaweli Authority. The process is handled by the Mahaweli Authority and water releases are supposed to be made in accordance with this plan.

Since there are different departments working toward different needs, it was proposed several years ago that an apex body be set up to manage water resources but this has not materialised. Experts also stressed the need of drawing the Meteorological Department too into the planning stage of water sharing as rainfall patterns grow increasingly unreliable.

Sri Lankan a lead author of elite UN report 

Sri Lankan Achala C. Abeysinghe is a lead author of the latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main international body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The IPCC, which has won a Nobel Prize for its work, analyses the body of scientific knowledge through three working groups, and its fifth and latest report is a product of Working Group II, which considered climate change in relation to observed impacts and future risks, the potential for and limits to adaptation, and importantly, the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems to this change.

A total of 309 co-ordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors drawn from 70 countries were selected to produce the latest report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors and 1729 expert and government reviewers.

This elite report consists of 30 chapters and Sri Lankans could be proud that a lead author of its 20th chapter, “Climate-Resilient Pathways: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainable Development” is Dr Abeysinghe, who holds a PhD in international environmental law on climate change.

Her stated interests lie in equity and fairness issues in international climate change negotiations, adaptation to climate change, finance for climate change adaptation and issues related to loss and damage. Dr Abeysinghe works for the respected London-based International Institute for Environment and Development where she is Senior Researcher of the Climate Change Group and Team Leader, Global Climate Change Governance.

She gained her first degree from the University of Colombo and worked as an attorney-at-law in the Supreme Court and was a law lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka. As well as contributing significantly to the latest IPCC report, Dr Abeysinghe’s current positions include being legal and technical adviser to the Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Head of the European Capacity Building Initiative workshops programme.

Growing confidence in climate reports but localised studies crucial

Twelve pots of water from the 12 main hydro reservoirs were brought down to Anuradhapura by special motorcade and, after paying tribute at the Ruwanweliseya, were offered to the sacred Bodhi tree with an appeal to the deities for good rains.

This annual ceremony had added fervency last week with climate change producing little answer to the prolonged drought that will see rice shortages by August, hydropower generation at a record low and a global report warning of increasing suffering from global warming.
The latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that extreme events such as this country’s prolonged drought will be a way of life in the future.

The report, “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” by IPCC Working Group 2 in which Sri Lankan environmental law specialist Dr Achala C. Abeysinghe was a lead writer, highlights the impact of climate change on water resources with global rainfall patterns due to be greatly affected.

Climate change is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in many regions.

While years ago UN and other reports on the far-reaching effects of climate change were regarded with caution and even scepticism in some quarters, there is much more confidence in the climate projections now, and also evidence of changes already in place, said leading Sri Lankan climate scientist, Dr Lareef Zubair. He acknowledged that some climate change projections had not been tested but emphasised: “There are serious implications of climate change for Sri Lanka in my judgment”.  

Published on SundayTimes on 13.04.2014


Off to Kumamoto to see Japan’s famed cherry blossoms

April 11, 2014

“The Sakura flower is extremely beautiful, but its splendour does not last long. A few days after blossoming, the flower starts to disintegrate, reminding us of the uncertainty of life,” said Nobuko, my Japanese colleague explaining how the Japanese view the cherry blossom season.

The Sakura’s bloom marks the arrival of spring, as the trees bloom only when climatic conditions are right. Missing them in Tokyo, I was lucky to see them in Kumamoto city at the heart of Japan’s southernmost island Kyushu.

Kumamoto is roughly about 40 minutes by domestic flight (six hours from Tokyo by train). Signs of Sakura could be seen as soon as we exited the airport.

Literature says cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunusserrulata. As my Japanese colleague explained, there are many varieties of Sakura flowers ranging from pink to white. However, white is the most popular Sakura flower among the Japanese. When over 80% of Sakura flowers open up, it is called a ‘Full Bloom’ and the Japanese go out to picnic in parks to enjoy the dawn of spring. The trees in Kumamoto were a few days prior to a full bloom, but were already infested by a swarm of white butterflies. The Sakura trees line the main roads, making it a beautiful sight. Some of the tree branches are bandaged with medicines to prevent them becoming infected with disease – a reminder of how well the Japanese look after these trees.
Kumamoto though offers more than the Sakura. Tasting the cleanest water directly from the source was another experience, the city being famous for its groundwater springs. There are a few hot water springs too in the vicinity and the tour also took us to visit one of the largest active volcanos in the world.

Passing barren mountains that had traces of crystalized lava, we moved toward Mount Aso located about 30 miles away from the city. Disappointing and scary news reached us while on the way that due to high volcanic activity, the public would not be allowed to go to the crater but things had settled by the time we reached there and we were allowed to climb all the way up.

Though having seen many documentaries about volcanoes, I never thought it would be so scary to look at one up close. The volcano was emitting gushing whitish fumes with fury from the heated volcanic lava, the sound captured by the ears more frightening than what has been seen by the eyes. The scent of sulfur was everywhere and announcements were constantly made that asthma sufferers should not go closer.

A tour to Kumamoto is not complete without visiting its most symbolic historic monument; the Kumamoto castle, incidentally the location for the Tom Cruise movie ‘The Last Samurai’. The movie is based on the historic events of the Satsuma Rebellion that took place in 1877 and the final battle between Samurai warriors and the empire’s troops that took place in Kumamoto. Dating back to the 1600s, the Kumamoto Castle is considered a most impregnable fortress with singular features such as its curved stone walls called mushagaeshi and its wooden overhangs, originally designed as protection against the ninja, together with its black and white main towers according to the guides.

Today, Kumamoto Castle also houses a museum which contains palanquins, samurai armour, Japanese swords and other artefacts from the Kato and Hosokawa clans, as well as detailed information on the castle’s remarkable history. It is also an excellent site for cherry blossom viewing,
The friendly people are the most valuable asset of Kumamoto. If you are lost, most would not hesitate to come along to show you the way. I even found a Sri Lankan restaurant in Kumamoto!

Published on SundayTimes Photo credit for Cherry Blossoms in ‘Full Bloom’ Chunli Yang.

?????????? ?????????? ?????????? Sakura bloom at Kumamoto Castle (c) Chunli Yang 2014 ??????????????????????????????? DSC_0010




Little water for Hydropower, Irrigation and Drinking; CEB pleads deities for rain

April 7, 2014

Country to experience rice shortage by August, and Water Board asks people to use tap water carefully. Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB)’s cost of power generation escalates high as the contribution from hydroelectricity drops around 11%. In this aftermath, the country’s Minister of Power decided to turn to the deities pleading for rain which is long over-due. 

The percentage of expensive thermal power generated by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is rising daily as the Government sticks to its “electricity at any cost” policy despite drought in hydro-catchment areas.

On Friday, a massive 88.4 per cent of the country’s energy requirement was met with thermal power, statistics published by the CEB show. Only 11.3 per cent of hydroelectricity was generated. This is an increase from a week ago when 84 per cent of power was generated by thermal power stations while 15.3 per cent came from hydroelectric power stations.

Despite mounting losses to the CEB, the utility is implementing the Government’s policy of providing uninterrupted power supply. There will be no power cuts, said Senajith Dasanayake, CEB Assistant General Manager.

“In the afternoons, the thermal power stations are on and it’s 90 to 100 per cent thermal,” said Mr. Dasanayake, who is also the CEB’s official spokesman. “During peak hours, between 6 pm and 9 pm, we use all the stations, including the most expensive machines in the system. The water in the reservoirs is being used very sparingly because the priority is for drinking and agriculture.”

He urged the public to save electricity, particularly during peak hours. He also said the CEB does not anticipate an increase in its burden during the National Holidays because shops and industries will be closed, thereby reducing consumption. “The load is less,” he explained

Meanwhile, the second unit of the Lakvijaya Thermal Power Plant at Norochcholai is being tested. On one day this week, both units ran at full load, adding 600 megawatts of power to the grid. There is still no date for its official inauguration as CEB engineers want to ensure all aspects of the complicated unit are tested for weaknesses.


A submerged Buddha Statue that has gone underwater in Maussakele reservoir reappears as water levels recede drastically. Pic By R Kogulan

“There are thousands of systems and our engineers are testing each one,” Mr. Dasanayake said. “While the process is ongoing, the power produced is absorbed to the CEB system.” He added that the existing transmission line from Puttalam to Veyangoda is able to carry the full capacity of the two units.

When the third unit is commissioned, however, the new transmission line to Anuradhapura must be made available. It is currently held up due to environmental and social concerns. The CEB incurred heavy losses in the first three months of this year.

“On the cost side, 85 to 95 per cent goes towards the power we are buying from both CEB stations and independent power producers,” Mr. Dasanayake said. “Costs are higher than revenue.

“We have had dry years and wet years,” he explained. “We nearly made a profit in certain months during 2013 which was a wet year. In January and February 2014, we managed to pay back our arrears to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and independent power producers from money collected the previous year.”

Mr. Dasanayake also said both machines of Laxapana Hydro Power Station have been shut down to carry out repairs on an underground tunnel taking water between reservoirs and the plants. Each generates 50 megawatts of electricity.

“The underground tunnel had not been inspected for the past 40 years,” he explained. “But since the 80s we knew that there was a leak.” Repairs were postponed several times but the CEB decided to implement the project this year because of the availability of funds under the World Bank funded Dam Safety and Water Resources Planning Project.

Little water for Hydropower, Irrigation and Drinking; CEB pleads deities for rain 

Meanwhile, the minister of Power seek divine intervention to end the drought. Twelve pots of water containing the water from 12 main hydro reservoirs have been brought down to Anuradhapura on a special motercade. After  paying tribute to Ruwanweli Seya, these water was offered to the sacred Bodhi tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya seeking devine blessings to bring the rain to the reservoirs.


Minister of Power offer water from reservoirs to deities pleading for rain

CEB still manages to provide uninterrupted power supply to the country, but as SundayTimes’ lead story pointed out this week – they have bear a big cost as thermal power is expensive. Hydro power is the cheapest option Sri Lanka is having at present, but its contribution has dropped to generation of 11% of the total power need. So in this scenario Hydro Electricity generates cheaper electricity; the rains are crucial for Sri Lanka.

In spite of this, the ministry of Agriculture too warned that paddy cultivation too has been severely affected by the prevailing dry conditions. The ministry’s secretary R.M.Meegasmulla told media tat maha season harvest has dropped drastically and the Yala season couldn’t be started as water levels in the resoivors are too low to be released for the cultivation. So the agriculture ministry expects 35% of paddy harvest where country may have to experience a shortage of rice at end August which will increase the price.

Even the Water and Drainage board requested the users not to waste the water as the water stocks are going down drastically.

This highlights the interlinks of usages of water and need of carefully managing the water stocks among stake holders. In Sri Lanka mostly the water from multipurpose reservoirs been released for all these demands which brings the need to manage water wisely to face a drought conditions. This Water-Energy-Food Nexus has been one of the highlights of the recently launched World Water Development Report 2014 titled “Water and Energy”.

The report indicates that there are many synergies and trade-offs between water and energy use and food production. Using water to irrigate crops might promote food production but it can also reduce river flows and hydropower potential. Growing bioenergy crops under irrigated agriculture can increase overall water withdrawals and jeopardize food security. Converting surface irrigation into high efficiency pressurized irrigation may save water but may also result in higher energy use. Recognizing these synergies and balancing these trade-offs is central to jointly ensuring water, energy and food security.

Sri Lanka was in drought in 2012 and at the latter parts, there wasn’t enough water in the reservoirs to be released for farming. It was alleged that then Minister of Power had asked the officers to use the stock of water in the reservoirs to generate Hydroelectricy with aim to record profit for the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). The minister managed to bring down the cost of CEB which otherwise had to be generated by thermal power plants; but in the process the water stocks that should have been kept for irrigation in prolonged drought has been exhausted. This has lead to protests by paddy farmers who had to witness their paddy lands getting die without water.

Participating an international conference on Hydropower that was held in Colombo last month, CEB officers reveal that the percentage of the water for different sectors are being allocated periodically at an informal committee. The CEB, Irrigation Department, Water and Drainage Board and Mahaweli authority with other stakeholders of water sits together to allocate the percentage of water for different sectors. This process is managed by the Mahaweli authority, but the need of a formal establishment is very much evident inorder not to repeat 2012 situation.

UN warns water energy needs coming to crunch- point

March 30, 2014

By Malaka Rodrigo in Tokyo

WWD 2014

the United Nations predicting that the world will need 40 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy some 15 years from now, World Water Day’s theme of “Water and Energy” Friday was right on target, very much so for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is hoping to increase its reliance on hydro-power but is facing problems with drought and contesting claims on water resources by farmers and others.

Tokyo yesterday hosted the main international events commemorating this year’s World Water Day, centerpiece of which was a flagship UN report, the 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR).  Considered an authoritative status report on global freshwater resources, it highlights the need of policies and regulatory frameworks that integrate approaches to water and energy priorities.

Water and energy are closely interconnected and highly interdependent, the UN report says. Choices made and actions taken in one domain can greatly affect the other, positively or negatively. Trade-offs need to be managed to limit negative impacts and foster opportunities for synergy. Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation.

The UN predicts that by 2030 the world’s population will need 35 per cent more food, 40 per cent more water and half again as much energy as it consumes today. In stark contrast to these projected requirements, already 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation and 1.3bn people cannot access electricity. These issues need urgent attention, the report released yesterday says.

There is increased stress on the supplies of groundwater, the report says. In many countries, aquifers are reaching their limits. Energy currently accounts for 15 per cent of freshwater withdrawals and this is set to rise by 20-25 per cent by 2035.

Published on SundayTImes – Sri Lanka

World Water Day – Day04 (Kumamoto City)

March 29, 2014

Kumamoto City council arranged a field visit to see how they utilize the ground water resources. The attractions of the Kumamoto Prefecture including the Kumamoto castle and mount Aso which is one of the largest active volcano of the world has been visited. At the Shirakawa Fountain head; we found cleanest water that was so refreshing. The Sakura trees in Kumamoto started blooming let us know that the city is getting ready for the spring..!!

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World Water Day – Day02

March 27, 2014

On the 2nd day, the official event to commemorate the World Water Day 2014 were held at UN University Conference Hall. The morning session include general speeches about the World Water Day 2014 and its theme “Water and Energy Nexus”. The occasion is also marked with the launch of World Water Development Report 2014 and presenting the ‘Water for Life’ award. The afternoon session has been participated by the Crown Prince Naruhito and lots of high level Japanese officials giving lot of weight for the event. At the end, a wrap-up session for all those who participated the World Water Day workshop has been held. A reception at the night concluded the official World Water Day 2014 event.

Here are few photographs showcasing the day’s activities..!!


 The participants of World Water Day Workshop





zLaunch of WWDR - address

zLaunch of WWDR - addressee

zLaunch of WWDR - addressee3

zLaunch of WWDR - Electricity

zLaunch of WWDR - Energy Vs. Water

zLaunch of WWDR 2

zLaunch of WWDR 3

zLaunch of WWDR 4

zLaunch of WWDR 5

zLaunch of WWDR 6 (2)

zLaunch of WWDR 6

zLaunch of WWDR 7- Global Water Demand

zLaunch of WWDR



zParticipants9 - with me

zAward - Singapore 2

zAward - Singapore

zAward - TATA IWMI 2

zAward - TATA IWMI 3

zAward - TATA IWMI 4

zAward - TATA IWMI

zCrown Prince of Japan - with audience 2

zCrown Prince of Japan - with audience 3

zCrown Prince of Japan


























World Water Day – Day01

March 20, 2014

The theme of the World Water Day (22nd of March) this year is ‘Water and Energy’. With the aim of raising awareness on the subject, a 2 day workshop has been organized inline with World Water Day (WWD) official celebrations that is being held in Tokyo, Japan. The following has been captured during this WWD workshop.












Introduction 2

Introduction 3

zAbout Science Writing


zGroup Work 5




zGroup Work 10

zGroup Work 11















War for water in Kithulgala

March 20, 2014
Rafters protest hydro project that dams their livelihood 
White water rafting 2

Kithulgala is Sri Lanka’s premier white-water rafting location but a hydro-power project threatens the future of this tourist attraction. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is building the Broadland Hydropower Project on the Kelani River as a run-of-river (ROR) type power plant.

ROR plants need little or no water storage but under this project the Maskeli Oya and Kehelgamu Oya, the main tributaries providing water to the Kelani, will be blocked by dams to divert water through a 3km tunnel 5.4m in diameter to a plant to run an electricity-generating turbine. Water will then be released back to the river downstream.

Protestors marching against the power plant

Last week, the White Water Rafters’ Association (WWRA) – whose members fear a loss of livelihood if the project goes ahead – staged a protest, parading with rubber dinghies and calling out slogans such as: “Should water be used for power or sports?”, “Does the Broadland Hydropower Project say ‘goodbye’ to white-water rafting?”.WWRA secretary Priyantha Pushpakumara complains that the project will dam water about 5km above the main stretch of white-water rafting activity. “This stretch has 18 rapids that can be used for rafting but this diversion will destroy 13 of the rapids,” wept Priyantha.

White-water rafting at Kithulgala was started in 1995. There were only a few operators in the business initially, but that number has grown with the demand, said Channa Perera, one of the pioneers. For thrill-seekers there used to be just the Kithulgala Resthouse providing accommodation but now there are 38 hotels in Kithulgala serving local and foreign tourists. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 tourists visit Kithulgala annually for white-water rafting.

More than 200 people are directly employed by about 10 rafting operators and the business provides another 400-odd indirect jobs, creating the backbone of a livelihood for the Kithulgala villagers. “Kithulgala village evolved around the white-water rafting industry, and if the main attraction is affected the number of tourists will decrease, leading to a string of economic as well as social problems,” warned Priyantha.

The 35MW Broadland project expects to add 126GWh of electrical energy annually to the national grid. Hydropower is the cheapest energy source for Sri Lanka as thermal-based electricity generation is growing increasingly expensive with rising oil prices. This project is important, a CEB spokesperson said. The CEB also gave assurances that it would continue releasing water during the daytime so that there would be enough water to continue white-water rafting. The board said the WWRA’s fears were baseless.

“We understand that the country needs energy and we are not against using water to generate the energy but we are not clear on how the water can be made available during the daytime for rafting activities as promised by the CEB. Our request to explain the mechanism of how this could be done has not been answered,” the rafters’ association responded.

Construction work on the power plant has already started and construction work is scheduled for completion in four years. The Broadlands Hydropower Project (BHP) is to be implemented with loans borrowed from Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and the Hatton National Bank.

Protesting with their rafts on top of 3-wheelers

Clean energy vs biodiversityHydro electricity is tagged as one of the cleanest energy sources, and the cheapest. But Sri Lanka has now tapped all the major rivers blocking them to generate energy. So now the country is turning to small hydro-power plants or mini hydro-power. The small hydro industry is typically characterized by hydro power projects with capacities less than 10MW.The Director-General of the Sustainable Development Authority (SDA), Dr. Thusitha Sugathapala, said there were more than 100 mini hydro projects in operation in Sri Lanka, generating about 250MW at present, and a recent study suggested the country has potential of about 800MW from mini-hydros.Due to environmental factors and other limitations, however, the potential from mini-hydro projects was only about 550MW. Dr. Sugathapala said there was an approval process to make certain mini-hydro projects do not damage the environment; if a project area is within a protected area the authorities did not hesitate to reject the project at once.Environmentalists oppose most of the small-scale and mini-hydro projects. These locations might not be in a designated protected area but their environmental impact is significant, environmentalists say. Recent examples include the Warathenna plant that is in one of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered species, Labeo fisheri (Gadaya). There were also recent attempts to build a hydro power plant blocking the Aberdeen waterfall and the scenic Eli Hatha waterfalls near the Peak Wilderness.“Freshwater fish will be the worst affected due to these mini-hydro projects. Their impact can be worse than that of the large hydro projects as mini-hydro projects block smaller streams that are rich habitats for many endemic freshwater fish,” pointed out Madura de Silva, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle which conducts an island-wide fish survey.

Blocking a river can change the speed of flow of water and its depth, and this will change the micro habitats that these fish need for survival. Furthermore some fish such as gobis and eels migrate up and down rivers or migrate to the sea for breeding. Any dams will block their movements and their population will be affected.

“It is true that mini-hydro projects can have local environmental effects but compared with coal it is still a better option both economically and environmentally as coal emits a lot of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming,” said Asoka Abeygunawardana, Executive Director of Sri Lanka Energy Forum. “But,” he added, “often there are opportunities to reduce environmental damage when establishing mini-hydro plants, and this is an area where Sri Lanka needs to improve.”

Mr. Abeygunawardana, a former adviser to the Power and Energy Ministry, said he did not view the Broadland Hydropower Plant in Kithulgala as having a large adverse impact

“Water and Energy” is the theme of this year’s World Water Day

Water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. Energy generation requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectricity. Generating cleaner/cheaper energy is essential for country’s development, but as issues linked to Kithulgala dam highlights, water resources needs to be tapped carefully for Energy Generation. So the World Water Day that is fallen this week on 22nd of March selected “Water and Energy” as the theme to collectively bring the attention to the water-energy nexus.

Coincidently, 14th March has been the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams. 

Published on SundayTimes

Severe water shortage looms in Jaffna

September 27, 2013
Climate change, over-extraction of groundwater due to resettlement and with no rivers flowing through the peninsula, its aquifers are fast depleting 

The first elections in Jaffna since the war ended was held yesterday with many political promises. However, experts point out a water shortage silently looming in Jaffna, that will affect the people beyond these political promises.  The fact that Jaffna will face a severe water shortage in the future, if water extraction is not managed, has been revealed by a study done by Jaffna University’s Department of Agricultural Engineering. No river flows across the Jaffna peninsula.

Hence, the groundwater in the limestone aquifer is the main source of water for the area. Aquifers are underground layers of rock that are saturated with water that can be brought to the surface through natural springs or by pumping. The extracted water must be replaced by new water to replenish or recharge the aquifer. But in Jaffna, this recharge rate is 0.57 million cubic metres (MCM) of water, while the extraction rate is 0.66 MCM, according to research done by M. Thushyanthy and C.S. De Silva. So, Jaffna’s limestone aquifer will become depleted over the years, these water experts fear.

Rapid development of agriculture, economy and increase of population due to resettlement, creates greater withdrawal of water. Especially, water extraction for agricultural purposes will impact Jaffna’s water resources, according to this study.
However, this situation is not only restricted to Jaffna. Sri Lanka’s aquifers located in other areas will also face similar issues, says Water Resources Board (WRB) Director General R.S. Wijesekare.

He fears the changing rainfall patterns due to Climate Change will impact Sri Lanka’s groundwater aquifers. Not only the drought, but intense rain during a short period of time, will also disturb groundwater recharging cycles, as it will not allow rain water to leach down, but runoff quickly into rivers. The presence of buildings prevents rainwater from leaching, hence leaching in urban areas is severely reduced, which slows down groundwater recharge, while groundwater extraction for commercial purposes is increasing. Hence, a solution needs to be found for the future, point out water experts.

At least for the Jaffna aquifer, the Jaffna University researchers recommend the establishment of an institution for a groundwater regulatory framework, to optimise its usage by controlling its overuse.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2013

Excessive use of agrochemicals pollutes groundwater in many places

September 27, 2013

Last month, the Sunday Times highlighted that Sri Lanka’s farmers were over-using agro-chemicals, and warned that it could ultimately penetrate into the groundwater. This has now been confirmed by a study conducted by the Water Resources Board (WRB).

WRB Director General R.S. Wijesekare revealed that chemical compounds such as Nitrates, Phosphates and heavy metals were found in excess in many places in the districts they surveyed. The survey covered Jaffna, Ampara, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Matale and Gampaha districts. Excessive Nitrate compounds were in samples taken from Kalpitiya and Jaffna, while Phosphate was in abundance in samples taken in Ampara. In samples from Anuradhapura, heavy metals such as Arsenic were found in quantities exceeding standard levels, he confirmed.

Some of the agrochemicals will be absorbed by plants, but most of it will collect on the soil or be washed away as runoff. Part of it leaches through to the groundwater. What goes in will come out, so not only the people in the immediate vicinity, but others in the area too could be affected by contamination.

Water samples from 30 Secretariat Divisions covering these districts have been collected periodically, under this study initiated in 2011. Mr Wijesekare said that the results have highlighted the need for some control of using agro chemicals. He said that WRB with other agencies such as the Agriculture department and farmers are planning to conduct a program in Puttalam to educate farmers to use the Agrochemicals responsibly while monitoring the ground water periodically to check for improvements of the quality. He also said the survey has been done on a Pilot scale and are trying to do the exercise covering the whole island.

Head of Sri Lanka programme of International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Dr Herath Manthreetilake has also stressed the importance of having such programmes at least in priority areas prone to groundwater pollution.

He also pointed out that periodic monitoring has to be continuous, to get a clear idea of pollution levels. Isolated incidents of chemical spills on depleted groundwater reserves due to drought, can increase the concentration of chemicals, so the results may not be entirely accurate – but data captured periodically on the groundwater condition can give a better picture. Dr Manthreetilake said that groundwater in most industrial countries such as Japan, are polluted beyond usage. Therefore, to avoid falling into the same trap, it is important to continue with a proper monitoring mechanism of groundwater sources.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2013 

Setup polluting industries in industrial zone: Environmentalists

August 19, 2013

It is reported that the President has ordered the Rathupaswala factory be relocated in an industrial zone. Environmentalists agree that industries which have the potential to pollute the environment should be located in industrial zones.

“It is better to set up polluting industries in industrial zones instead of in populated areas that are environmentally sensitive,” stressed Hemantha Withanage of Environment Justice. He pointed out that the first level of waste water and other pollutants needs to undergo primary treatment by the factories themselves, and another secondary process before releasing the effluent into the environment. Locating all the industries in a central area also makes it easier to regulate and monitor the process.

However, it is noticed that some of the non-polluting industries too are set up within industrial zones, which is a waste of resources, according to Avanthi Jayatilake of EML Consultants. Being an Environment Professional specialising in Waste Management, Avanthi lists out rubber processing, chemical processing, paint industry and garment dyeing as some of the industries that have a large pollution footprint. These should be located within industrial zones, he urged.

Avanthi also points out that some of the small scale facilities – such as electroplating – can emit harmful substances such as heavy metals. Even service stations and petrol sheds could cause environmental damage in the long run. So he suggests setting up ‘Mini Industrial Zones’ for polluting facilities. Avanthi who previously worked under the Central Environment Authority (CEA) is of the view that the CEA alone would not be able to monitor every industry in Sri Lanka, hence his suggestion to set up mini zones – perhaps one for 4 or 5 villages – which will facilitate greater reduction in pollution by small-scale operators.

However, there are also complaints regarding waste management within these industrial zones. A Sunday Times report on Moratuwa University’s Civil Engineering website titled ‘Industrial Waste Management: Free Trade Zones in Sri Lanka’, mentions of continuous complaints reported from the public, as well as ministries, on improper waste management practices prevailing within the free trade zones.

The report lists inadequate knowledge on industrial solid waste recovery, processing and disposal, profit oriented private sector, lack of coordination among internal bodies, loopholes in legal provision as some of the issues leading to failure in waste disposal.

Unawareness of new industrial waste management strategies too leads to not having efficient waste management system. “Monitoring is the key to avoid pollution by industries, whether they are within industrial zones or outside” says Institute of Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka (IEPSL) President Prof Hemanthi Ranasinghe.

Published on SundayTimes on 18.08.2013

Not just Rathupaswela, many more areas polluted by factory waste

Following allegations that waste material from a company was polluting the water in Rathupaswala, Weliwerivya, similar cases of environmental pollution have been reported from various parts of the country. The other areas include Ekala, Kadalawala-Wattala close to Bopitiya, Jaela, Katunayake, Biyagama, Muthurajawela and Galle, environmentalists say. – By Mirudala Thambiah 

A resident in Ekala shows the yellow water that comes from his tube well

When the Sunday Times visited the Kadalawala area where charges have been levelled at a palm oil company for polluting the environment people complained of breathing difficulties because of the black fumes emanating from the factory. “My wife and son have severe phlegm. They have been to many doctors and they all say they are being affected by some pollutant in the air,” a resident who didn’t want to be named said.

He said vllagers had protested against the factory urging authorities to move the factory to another place. But the protests came to a halt when the villagers were threatened by unidentified groups. He said the soil too in Kadalawala area appeared to be contaminated as crop cultivation especially banana and coconut had been affected. “Even tube well water is contaminated. We cannot use the water even to wash clothes unlike three or four years ago.

One could get the heavy pungent smell of oil in the air. “Previously the factory used gas to boil the oil but recently they have been using firewood to bring down the cost. After they started using firewood air pollution has increased and the smell is very strong,” the villager said.

According to villagers India had rejected a proposal to set up this palm oil factory therefore it was built in Sri Lanka. Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam too confirmed this. Meanwhile another resident complained that the factory recycled waste thrice a month causing severe air pollution. He said the activities were carried out late in the nights and early mornings.

In another instance a paint factory on St. Anthony’s Mawatha in Ekala has been found to be dumping effluents that are allegedly polluting the water in the area. Most of the residents in this area depend on well and tube well water. According to the residents living in the vicinity of the factory they had found yellow water in the wells and tube wells.

The residents said they had agitated against the company and had lodged many complaints with necessary authorities. Following this the paint company had provided area residents with drinking water in huge tubs.  A year ago the residents had obtained a waterline from the Water Supply Board. But the people say they cannot pay for the water as they are low-income earners. Therefore they continue to use the ‘yellow water’ for their day-to-day activities like bathing and washing except for drinking. Sarathkumara a resident said some people had loss of teeth, skin allergies because of the yellow water. The water also has a bad smell he added.

The Palm oil Factory. Pix by Susantha Liyanawatte

In another case in Galle, water contamination has been reported due to chemical waste released from shoe factories. The well water had turned black affecting more than 30 people who are reportedly suffering from cancer, the Sunday Times learns.  According to Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam, National Coordinator, Centre for Environment and Nature Studies, sme 200 families living in Imaduwa and Dorape in Galle have been affected by this ‘black water’. A complaint has been lodged at the Central Environment Authority to test the water and soil in the area.

Mr. Kariyawasam said the factory owners have promised to solve the problem if the contamination was found to be due the effluents from the factory. Hemantha Withanage , Director Centre for Environmental Justice said although most of the factories in Ekala and Jaela hold an Environmental Protection License they dump asbestos and other kinds of waste in the marshy land in the area.

“Many of the residents in these areas are unaware that asbestos has been used to fill their lands but assume it is being filled with cement. They are unaware of the contamination. Ordinary people don’t know about PH levels in their drinking water,” he said.
Mr. Withanage stressed that the water and soil should be tested by Public Health Inspectors in affected areas to test the PH levels. But this is not carried out. Even the CEA has district level offices to examine environment issues yet this does not happen.

Mr. Withanage added that the Environmental Protection Licence is renewed every two to three years but it should be renewed every year and the CEA should inspect it.  He charged that the law enforcement aspect of the CEA was not strong enough.

However Dr. R.M.S.K Rathnayake Director of Environment Pollution Control Division attached to the CEA, said that the National Environmental Act was being amended to bring in stronger regulatory powers. “Now an order has to be obtained by the court to take action against an alleged factory, but after the amendment the laws will be stronger and the CEA would be able to take action directly,” he said.

According to the National Environmental Act a six month imprisonment or a fine not less than Rs.10, 000 or both is imposed on those found guilty. CEA statistics reveal 72 complaints relating waste-disposal have been reported so far this year

Who pollutes Rathupaswala water..?

August 12, 2013
Pollution by industrial effluents, an ever present hazard for those living in the vicinity of factories 

The agitation for clean water in Rathupaswala has ended with deaths, injuries and damage to property. A joint investigation is being conducted by related government agencies to ascertain who is at fault for the water pollution. However, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara of Environmental Conservation Trust points his finger directly at the factory, for the improper release of industrial waste, as a cause for this catastrophe.

water contaminationHe alleged that the factory has been releasing waste water into the environment without being properly treated, which rendered the area’s ground water acidic. He also blames Central Environment Authority (CEA) and Board of Investment (BOI) for not properly monitoring the factory’s process.

The problem in Rathupaswala emerged when villagers requested the Water Supply and Drainage Board (WSDB) to test the water, after several of them had fallen ill, as they felt something was wrong with the quality of water. Results revealed that the pH level of the water was lower than 7 (normal), which means it is acidic. Pure water has a pH very close to 7; but the water in Rathupaswala had a PH level around 4, as alleged by the villagers.

Villagers then lodged a formal complaint at the regional office of the CEA in Gampaha. CEA Director General, Dr Saranga Alahapperuma talking to the Sunday Times confirms that the agency’s Gampaha regional office has received a formal complaint on July 16, and next day they sent a team to investigate. Later, a BOI investigation was started. The DG said that an investigation of this nature takes at least a fortnight for the results. Unfortunately, events unfolded on August 2 taking 3 lives. Now a joint investigation is being conducted by the CEA, the BOI, the WSDB, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) and experts from several universities. He said the results would be released by next week.

The factory at the center of the controversy is Dipped Products Ltd (DPL) owned by the Hayleys Group. which was set up in 1994 in Nedungamuwa, Weliweriya, as a BOI project. The plant manufactures Latex Gloves by processing natural rubber, which involves many chemicals. As a result, the processes generate many harmful industrial waste that require treatment to dilute their harmful nature, before release into the environment. There is a provision that the BOI can issue Environmental Protection Licences (EPL) under the National Environment Act, after obtaining concurrence from the CEA, and the factory has been offered initial EPL.

Weliweriya protesters with Handwritten Placards - one says Nadungamuwa Raja - a tusker honored by carrying Dalada Karaduwa that was stationed in close proximity stopped drinking well water for few weeks

Weliweriya protesters with Handwritten Placards – one says Nadungamuwa Raja – a tusker honored by carrying Dalada Karaduwa that was stationed in close proximity stopped drinking well water for few weeks as per villagers

CEA DG admitted that approval for the EPL’s renewal, which is an annual requirement, is usually granted on reports submitted by the company seeking same, unless there is a complaint, when the CEA then conducts investigations. He also admitted the importance of having independent analyses from time to time, which mechanism the agency is looking at in the future.

Meanwhile, it is also alleged that the sludge – or residual materials left from industrial wastewater – has been dumped in the area sans any precautions. When the Sunday Times queried about this, from DPL Managing Director Dr Mahesha Ranasoma, he said that, prior to January 2012, the factory was disposing solid waste at landfills known to the Pradeshiya Sabha (PS). From January 2012, the company entered into an agreement with GeoCycle (Holcim Lanka Ltd.) whereby, GeoCycle disposes the solid waste, with the exception of wood ash, unutilised wood chips and waste cotton, which are disposed at PS approved sites.

Denying all the other allegations, Dr Ranasoma said the factory complies with CEA and BOI standards for releasing rubber industry effluents to the surface water, and operates under the renewed EPL. He pointed out that for the processing of rubber, Alkaline chemicals are mainly used, not the acids. So the pH value always remains higher than 7, should pollution occur. He added that, DPL does not use any acid for the manufacture of rubber gloves. However, they use a commercially purchased acidic material (10%-30% mixture of Nitric and Sulphuric acid) for mould washing. This acid is always re-used by topping up with fresh material. If we do need to dispose it, we treat it the same way as the mould washings described above.

Dr Ranasoma also said that their effluent water quality is regularly tested by the National Building and Research Organization (NBRO) every three months. He said they are disposing the treated effluent according to EPL standards, to designated soakage areas which is their coconut land. Their treatment plant is designed to cater to up to five plants, according to Dr Ranasoma.

It is claimed that Nedungamuwa, Weliweriya, is an area where shallow water could have a natural pH less than 6.5. Chemistry professor O.A. Illeperuma says there is a possibility of the soil being naturally acidic in these areas due to the presence of laterite, which is an iron rich mineral.

The red soil resulting from the disintegration of these lateritic rocks is fairly widespread in the Western province including the Gampaha district and also around Nugegoda and Maharagama. Hence, the village derives its name “Rathupaswala” from the presence of the red soil, opines Prof Illeperuma. Such soils have high concentrations of iron- in the ferric form – by bonding with water (hydrolysis), which renders it acidic.

Prof Illeperuma too says that he cannot understand how this type of pollution has arisen all of a sudden, if this theory is true. However, in order to verify this, it is necessary to do a comprehensive water analysis programme of the affected and surrounding areas, points out Prof Illeperuma. So, there seems to be more questions than answers at Weliweriya as to who the real polluter is. But whoever it is, the fact of the matter is quality of the water has deteriorated, to the detriment of the welfare and wellbeing of the people of Rathupaswala.

Industrial water pollution a regulatory failure: Environmentalists 

Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) reveals there are hundreds of such cases of pollution linked to industries in Sri Lanka, and highlights the need for preventive actions through regular independent monitoring.

Whoever is responsible for the water pollution in Rathupaswala, the incident is also a clear indication that regulatory measures are not being properly implemented, making it a dire need for its strengthening to prevent future pollution case, points out Mr Withanage. He said the issue of environmental licences also needs to be evaluated, and the water sources in the vicinity of factories, notwithstanding their effluents, regularly monitored.

Mr Hemantha insists that Water Quality undergo comprehensive testing for an accurate extent of pollution. For example, Tolerance Limits for Industrial Wastewater in Sri Lanka lists 22 parameters including harmful chemicals such as arsenic, and pH level is only one of them.

He says these tests have to be conducted independently, which, if the CEA had done, this problem would not have gone this far. He also was displeased with the process of issuing EPLs, pointing out that the process is not properly governed due to corruption.

Environmental Organisations too have a role to play, some concerned citizens points out, taking India as an example. Some of the green NGOs in India, such as Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conduct their own investigations in air and water pollutions. These kinds of independent investigations should be done in Sri Lanka too.

However, these tests are costly, and to check all the parameters, the test costs Rs 39,000, added Mr Hemantha. 

Published on SundayTimes on 11.08.2013

A week with days to remind Water, Forest, Sparrows & Climate Change

March 26, 2013

Have you realized 5 international days that are having some Environmental Importance were fallen on last week..??

Yes, 23rd.March: Earth Hour & World Meteorological Day, 22nd. March: World Water Day, 21st March: World Forest Day and 20th March: World Sparrows Day were those special days celebrated last week.EarthHour

On Saturday 23rd of March two environmentally important days Earth Hourand the World Meteorological Day has been celebrated. The Earth Hour was observed across the world including Sri Lanka with many switching off lights and refrain from using other power consuming devices for an hour stating at 8.30pm. Earth Hour Co-Founder and Executive Director Andy Ridley visited Sri Lanka on last January also meeting the president Mahinda Rajapakse earning support for the campaign. He started Earth Hour in 2007 mainly aimed importance of individual action to fight the Climate Change due to excessive emission of Green House Gases such as Carbon Dioxide. As of 2012, the cause has been successfully advocated in more than 7,000 cities in 152 countries, including Sri Lanka.

The World Meteorological Day was also fallen on 23rd of March. This year’s them was ‘Attention towards weather for the protection of property and lives’ which became a timely subject with signs that Climate Change intensifying the extremity of otherwise normal weather events. Sad news also reported this week that a majestic domesticated Tusker has been killed by a lightning strike highlighting the importance of this year’s World Meteorological Day’s theme. The minister of Disaster Management Mahinda Amaraweera highlighted the need of upgrading Meteorology Department in facing these extremities of weather events.

logo for World Water dayThe theme of this year’s World Water Day which was fallen on 22nd of March has been the Water Corporation. The Year 2013 is also named as the International Year of Water Corporation highlighting the importance of managing water.  However, managing water resources has been a hotly debated issue where on several occasions it is attempted to introduce Water Policies for Sri Lanka, but political and community pressure lead to abandon these efforts. However, last year – Sri Lanka faced severe drought and then floods. During the drought, there wasn’t enough water to continue cultivations and if we had a proper water policy, this situation could have been governed and managed atleast to some point, highlights those who campaign for a water policy.

The week also marked the celebration of First-ever International Forest Day on 21st of March. This date was agreed by the UN General Assembly in November 2012 so that every year there would be one day set aside to “celebrate and raise awareness” of forests. Sri Lanka is considered as a global Biodiversity Hotspot and the diversity of life in forests contributes much for claiming this prestigious status. Forget the little creatures inhabit in this habitats. Forests perform lots of valuable Ecosystem Services that helps to regulates lots of systems support humanity and our survival such as regulating Climate and safeguarding Watershed facility. So the day has carried a special importance for Sri Lanka.

On 20th March, another day which was taking a lighter side was fallen on. It was the World Sparrows Day has been promoted by many environmental organizations in different parts of the world highlighting the perils of Sparrows. The House Sparrows known in Sinhala as ‘Ge Kurulla’ was once very common even in our households. The House Sparrows known in Sinhala as ‘Ge Kurulla’ was once very common even in our households. But they have been declined even without our knowledge. Now the ‘chirpy’ sound of this bird once common in many parts is not to be heard. Even the existing populations are declined without our knowledge. This is not a phenomena recorded only in Sri Lanka, but many something observed in many parts of the world. So the day is specially dedicated to highlight the importance of having an eye even on the common birds as there is no guarantee they would be saved.

However, these days will be only meant for raising awareness. it is highlighted no matter how many days were dedicated – public and authorities need to take up the tasks to protect our environment, otherwise the results of not taking care of our Environment will impact our own survival. Let’s all be motivated to take up the challenges of not over exploiting our natural resources.

Special days fallen on this week..

  • 23rd.March: Earth Hour
  • 23rd. March: World Meteorological Day
  • 22nd. March: World Water Day
  • 21st March: World Forest Day
  • 20th March: World Sparrows Day

Uma Oya project: Register your objections, urge environmentalists

February 24, 2013

(Published in SundayTimes on 17.02.2013) Environmentalists have voiced concern over public apathy regarding the supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment of the second phase of the Uma Oya multi-purpose project though it has been open to public comment since January.

The EIA document will be open for public comment at the Central Environment Authority (CEA) only until February 22, and environmentalists are urging the public to review it as the cost of the project is eventually borne by them.

The first phase of the Uma Oya hydropower project which includes the construction of the dam is already underway with financial assistance from Iran. �Uma Oya flows from the central hills to the Mahaweli River. Under the project its water will be diverted to the Kirindi Oya basin which will take water to Hambantota through a 19 km long underground tunnel across the mountains in Bandarawela. A dam will be built at Puhulpola (in Welimada) and a reservoir in Diaraba for this purpose.

Environmentalists charge that a flawed EIA for the first phase was passed in 2011 under government pressure. The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) registering its objections over the first EIA in 2011 pointed out that the environmental cost had not been analysed properly. When the cost of resettlement too is included the project doesn’t yield any benefits. Hemantha Withanage of CEJ said the Uma oya project would only scatter the communities as “development refugees” for the sake of development.

Another point of contention was the release of water for cultivation. Environmentalists question the prudence of diverting water over such a long distance to support only about 1000 farmers. They fear the cost of the project will far outweigh the expected benefits. Since the project has already started, they charge that the current EIA was just a showpiece but call for the public to register their objections so that authorities will be forced to find alternatives.

Map of Uma oya (c) DailyNews

Map of Uma oya (c) DailyNews

Published in SundayTimes on 17.02.2013