After a tedious 11-year wait, the excavation of the Reservoir Branch has finally been initiated. It is an important canal linking the River Indus with the Haleji Lake. The Reservoir Branch was once the biggest reservoir for Karachi.
The Karachi Water and Sewerage board (KWSB) had opted to siphon water from an alternate source, the Gujjo minor, after a scuffle with the Sindh Wildlife Department.
During a visit of the area, this scribe found de-silting cranes and excavators busy at zero point, the point where the river meets the lake. Tall weeds, mounds of silt and the rusted wheels and gates of the regulators came across as consequences of the tussle between the government departments.
KWSB record reveals that in the past, the canal was taking 2,200 cusecs from Kalri Baghar or KB feeder, an off canal of the River Indus, but for several months, the irrigation department has not been releasing water.
The Haleji Lake was built by the British government to facilitate American and British troops stationed in the city during World War II and have since surfaced as a permanent potable water source.
At a time, it used to be a freshwater lake and was said to be birdwatchers’ heaven, as birds from Siberia, Russia and other cold countries flocked to the lake in large numbers.
The lake, despite being a wildlife sanctuary and having been declared a Ramsar site, is slowly dying due to the lack of freshwater. After it was declared a wildlife sanctuary and the irrigation department halted its due water share, the KWSB completely stopped taking water from the lake.
“KWSB has not only stopped taking water but has also transferred the board staff to Karachi,” said a KWSB employee, adding that, till 2002, there were about 352 staffers, including Baildaar, supervisors, line guards and security guards deployed at Haleji but only 45 remain now.
The condition of the KWSB water station at Haleji is also steadily deteriorating as the board has, more or less, abandoned it. On contact, KWSB Technical Service Deputy Managing Director Ali Muhammad Palijo denied reports of the tussle, stating that when the irrigation department stopped the supply of freshwater, the KWSB simply turned to the alternate Gujjo canal.
“KWSB acquired the lake from the Sindh government in 1942, therefore, it is the rightful owner, so to say, of the lake,” he said, reiterating that there is no conflict between the board and the wildlife department.
According to Palijo, in the absence of freshwater from River Indus, the ammonia levels have increased to a point that has rendered the lake water useless.
He rejected the assumption that by taking water from Gujjo canal, the KWSB has lost a reservoir of the lake. “We have several small reservoirs on Gharo, Pipri, TOD Hills, North East Karachi, Hub Dam and other reservoirs, so our decision to stop taking water from Haleji Lake does not mean we have lost a reservoir of the city,” he said.
Provincial Minister for Wildlife Daya Ram Essrani said he is not aware of the ownership issue of the lake but said that even his department is suffering due to the lack of fresh water from River Indus.
“We have brought it to the notice of the irrigation department that freshwater is essential for the survival of the lake and hope that the matter will be resolved soon,” he said.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009