Katzara Dam, a project for the next generation
Ahmad Khan Bhatti
Katzara Dam (Skardu Dam) near the Skardu town has been projected in a section of the press as the world's largest dam having a potential of 35 MAF storage capacity and 15,000 mw of hydel power.
The estimated life is reported as 1000 years. In view of the fact that virtually nothing is known about the possibilities of development of Skardu Dam, such claims are at best misleading. The present knowledge is insufficient for drawing unqualified conclusions.
The "Skardu Dam" site is located about 3 km upstream of Ayub Bridge on Indus, about 16 km down stream of Skardu town in
Baltistan. The darn site was first identified by a Wapda-Harza team during 1960. At that time the road to Skardu was a single lane and was impassable to any thing, except jeeps and pack animals.
The road used to be closed for 6 to 7 months of the year due to winter snow and resulting heavy damages due to snow melt runoff. This site did not receive much attention earlier because of access problems.
Later reconnaissance level studies were carried out by Chass T. Main (Consultants) during 1966. The costs for 5.2 MAF and 8.0 MAF reservoir capacity projects were worked out as $509 million and 588 million respectively.
The 8.0 MAF reservoir would totally submerge the Skardu Valley, including the Skardu town.
The site has a potential for power generation but the extension of transmission line all the way to the load centres of Pakistan through very difficult terrain would pose serious construction and O&M problems.
The full hydel power generation capacity cannot, of course, be utilised locally.
Similarly construction of the Dam itself in the near future would entail enormous logistic costs.
Hence this dam is regarded as a long-term prospect to be developed after some of the more accessible sites on Indus like Basha, Dasu, Bunji etc have been built.
Far more serious are the environmental issues as the Skardu dam will submerge large tracts of inhabited areas of Baltistan and almost all the developed communication infrastructure.
To warrant its inclusion in the development programme, these aspects will have to be investigated thoroughly.
The project has been included in Part-II of Wapda's Vision 2025 programme for preliminary studies. Under this programme pre-feasibility study of this dam will be carried out by Wapda in a period of 30 months at a cost of Rs 70 million.
The pre-feasibility study would be an office-cum-field study to obtain a general information on hydrology, storage capacity, power potential, population, houses and infrastructure that would be submerged, cost of construction as well as cost of resettlement reconnaissance survey for transmission-line routes and the alternative would also be the focus of the study.
There are solutions to construction problem of difficulties but these have to be seen in the context of their economic viability. What was impossible in the sixties is achievable now and would perhaps be easier a few decades later.
Construction of Skardu Dam is a project for the next generation but the environmental and social issues would then perhaps become more difficult to resolve.
The crucial aspect of the project that would receive special study is the back-water effect of big storage above the gorge and the area of land that would be inundated as a result of its construction.
Traditional financing agencies are not likely to finance a project having major environmental and social dimension.
Pakistan may have to implement the project on its own or seek expensive commercial loans.
Given the timeframe for its implementation it would not be desirable to invest on the full-fledged feasibility at this stage. Outcome of the feasibility would provide us direction for further courses of action.
Till then the debate on the merits of the project is uncalled for.
The writer is member Water, Wapda.