Tuesday, November 16, 2010

China begins damming Brahmaputra river for hydropower project

China begins damming Brahmaputra river for hydropower project
The Hindu, November 16, 2010
Ananth Krishnan

Indian government has raised concerns about possible downstream impact
of project

China has started damming the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra river,
or the Yarlung Tsangpo as it is known in Tibet, to begin construction on
a 510 MW hydropower project that has raised concerns in India.

The government for the first time revealed that it has, since November
8, begun damming the Tsangpo's flow to allow work to begin on the
hydropower project at Zangmu. This is the first major dam on the
Brahmaputra and has been billed by the Chinese government as a landmark
hydropower generation project for Tibet's development.

A news report on Monday said the "closure of the Yarlung Zangbo river on
November 12 marked the beginning of construction." Work is expected to
continue beyond 2014, when the first set of generators will be put into
operation. The total investment in the project is 7.9 billion yuan ($1.2

The Indian government has raised concerns about the possible downstream
impact of this project during talks with China earlier this year.
Chinese officials have assured their Indian counterparts that the
project would be "run of the river," having little impact downstream.

China has said that its projects were only for hydropower generation,
and were neither storage projects nor designed to divert the water.

Officials at India's Ministry of External Affairs have, however, voiced
frustration over China's general lack of willingness to share
information regarding the Zangmu project, meaning they had little means
to verify claims on the specific construction plans and impact on flows.

According to Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former Water Resources Secretary of the
Government of India, for India "the point to examine would be the
quantum of possible diversion and the impact it would have on the flows
to India."

Usually, to ensure that the flow downstream remains unaffected during
the period of construction of a dam, the water is diverted through
streams around the construction site and returned to the river.

"Since the flow of the water cannot be stopped, the water will be
diverted so there will be no reduction of flow in this stage," Mr. Iyer,
who is an authority on dams and transboundary water issues, told /The
Hindu/ on Monday, speaking from New Delhi.

He stressed that he was speaking in general terms regarding any dam
construction, and did not have specific details regarding how China was
carrying out this particular project.

There is still some uncertainty on what China intends for the project,
and whether or not a storage reservoir, which could affect downstream
flows, will be built beyond the minimal "pondage" required to operate
the turbines.

Chinese media reports indicated that the Zangmu project is unlikely to
be the last on the Brahmaputra. A news report on the widely read portal
Tencent said the Zangmu dam was "a landmark project" for Tibet's
development, being the first major dam in Tibet, and "a project of
priority in the Eleventh Five Year Plan."

The report said that such projects would "greatly relieve the energy
stress in the middle regions of Tibet" and upgrade power capacity from
100 MW to over 500 MW.

'No treaty'

Mr. Iyer said a larger concern for India was the absence of a
water-sharing treaty with China, which does not allow India to either
qualify or address Chinese claims regarding specific projects.

"Between India and Pakistan, we have a treaty which specifies what we
should do," he said. "We're not supposed to retain a drop, and [even]
during a stated period of construction, inflow is equal to outflow."

"But with China," he added, "we have no treaty. So what they will do, we
have no idea."

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