Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:14

Mini Hydro projects on state forest reservation cause environmental degradation

Several mini hydro projects are being built or planned today in many protected areas such as in the state forest reservations that result in environmental degradation said. Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, a senior scientist on the topic of “Awareness Session for Financial Institutions on Mini Hydro Power Projects” held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute at Colombo 7. The awareness session was organized by the Environmental Foundation Ltd.

He said many of these projects are located close to pristine forests that cause considerable environmental damage to its bio diversity and the eco system. Some of these mini hydro projects are found near the Sinharaja and other forest reservations causing fragmentation of forests. Species found in these forests are very sensitive to environmental changes and degradation of forests that can cause environmental disasters such as floods and soil erosion. Over 90 percent of the endemic species are located in the South West quarter where mini hydro schemes that should not be located close to such reservations. He said there are several endemic fish found only in the south west quarter and if streams in the forest dry up, the fish too will disappear all together. “Sri Lanka is at a cross roads today when it comes to development and environmental degradation.” He said.
Biologist Madhura De Silva said devastation caused by a mini hydro project in Arugala in Galle district was a case in point where many plants and endemic species have been affected. Some of the endemic fish live in fast flowing streams and unplanned construction of mini dams will slow the flow of water that result in breeding patterns and migration of fish and building up dams across streams will restrict the movement of fish and other aquatic species such as crabs. Even large hydro projects such as Kotmale affects the movement of fish and other aquatic creatures. “If mini hydro projects continue in areas such as Kithulgala and Seethawake many of the aquatic species will become extinct within the next ten years. When dams are built across rivers life cycles of species are disturbed.”
Attorney at Law Jagath Gunawardene commenting on the legal aspect said that all mini hydro projects are basically situated in state lands. According to section 76 of the State Lands Ordinance all streams rivers and canals are considered as state land. Many are using state land to build private projects such as mini hydro projects on them. He said builders of mini hydro projects have to obtain a permit to divert water by the respective Government Agent or by the Divisional Secretary of the area. Another permit is also was need for the flow of water and that permit too have to be obtained from the Government Agent. He said lands in state reservation fall within the ambit of the State Lands Ordinance and authorities cannot simply act arbitrarily contrary to the provisions of the act. “Most Divisional Secretaries do not adhere to provisions of the State Land Ordinance due to many reasons including corruption. Beneath the surface we have to acknowledge that fact”. He said some of the state reservations have been badly encroached upon to construct unauthorized structures that have caused a lot of problems. Many environmental assessment and project reports for construction of such mini hydro projects have not highlighted the dangers posed to the environment .
Chairperson of the Net Water and the Sri Lanka Water Partnership, Kusum Athukorala said that illegal logging in the Arnanayake area and deforestation probably could have contributed to the recent landslide disaster. She said in the past land slides occurred occasionally but have now become a common occurrence.”We have a major water security problem in some areas as wells and rivers have gone dry during the drought season . “ She said politicization with regard to mini hydro projects have been responsible for environmental degradation.

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