Tehri Dam failure could destroy architecture and landscape

Let us pray that seismic activity does not cause the Tehri dam to fail

Listening to the BBC World Service in the early morning I heard a cultured Indian remark ‘I think the British have a lot to answer for’. His complaint was about the affect of the Tehri Dam on the River Ganges. The design was begun by the Russians, in 1961, and the dam was completed in 2007. Wiki explains the problems as follows: ‘In addition to the human rights concerns, the project has spurred concerns about the environmental consequences of locating a large dam in the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayan foothills. There are further concerns regarding the dam’s geological stability. The Tehri dam is located in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a major geologic fault zone. This region was the site of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in October 1991, with an epicenter 500 kilometres (310 mi) from the location of the dam. Dam proponents claim that the complex is designed to withstand an earthquake of 8.4 magnitude, but some seismologists say that earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.5 or more could occur in this region[citation needed]. Were such a catastrophe to occur, the potentially resulting dam-break would submerge numerous towns downstream, whose populations total near half a million. A protest message against Tehri dam, which was steered by Sundarlal Bahuguna for years. It says “We don’t want the dam. The dam is the mountain’s destruction.” The relocation of more than 100,000 people from the area has led to protracted legal battles over resettlement rights, and ultimately resulted in the project’s delayed completion. Since 2005, filling of the reservoir has led to the reduced flow of Bhagirathi water from the normal 1,000 cubic feet per second (28 m3/s) to a mere 200 cubic feet per second (5.7 m3/s). This reduction has been central to local protest against the dam, since the Bhagirathi is considered part of the sacred Ganges whose waters are crucial to Hindu beliefs.’
I take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the British people. They did not build India’s first dams, but they accelerated the pace of dam-building and Ganges-spoilation. Rivers should regarded as sacred in the pre-Christian sense (‘set apart’) on account of their high importance. See this Wiki entry on the geology of the Himalayas to chill your spines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himalayas#Geology. And see these photos of India’s water shortage to super-cool your spine. The dams, it appears, are being used to divert water from rivers and rural areas. It is used to generate electricity for the cities and to keep them supplied with water for lawns, swimming pools, car washing etc. Mahatma Gandi would not approve of this. But everyone wants to live in cities, so what can be done? Limiting the population is one thing but Indira Gandi had no luck with this policy. She was assassinated in her garden after commenting in a speech on the preceding day that ‘I am alive today I may not be there tomorrow I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive’. Compulsory sterilization contributed to her unpopularity but Sikh separatism was the immediate motive for her assassination.

8 thoughts on “Tehri Dam failure could destroy architecture and landscape

  1. Christine

    There must be a way to assess the public benefit and detriment of dams in particular locations. The Snowy River Scheme in Australia is considered an unqualified success even though there are impacts on the Murray Darling River system. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowy_Mountains_Scheme ] Perhaps Australia could with a greater concentration of dam and water management etc achieve world’s best practice?

  2. Stephen Harmer

    Dams or the consequence of dams is going to be an ever increasing problem. The main case in point is Iraq which does not have enough water to sustain its agricultural industry. The proliferation of Dams in the region is causing major problems and is straining the ever increasingly strained relations between countries.

  3. christine

    Does Iraq have both surface and ground water sources?

    Since the amount of water is constant, ie “we are using and re-using the same water that has been on earth since the beginning of time.” There must be ways to understanding the increasing pressure on water supplies.

    Apparently “while the water is the same, the amount of clean water has gone down. At some point, if we do not take care of it, we will be left with only contaminated water.”

    So is there problems in Iraq with clean and dirty water and has the proportion of clean to dirty water changed over time?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The whole gulf region is ‘on skids’ because of its dependence on ground water. It comes in two categories: static and dynamic. I am working on a project in Ladakh which will rely on what we think and hope is a dynamic ground water resource. It is recharged from snow and glacier melt. The worry is that the glaciers are retreating.

  4. Christine

    Glacial melts also form glacial lakes which potentially could be used as sources of hydro electricity. [ http://www.cseindia.org/userfiles/TM_Presentation.pdf ] and [ http://oliveridley.org/2009/11/06/the-glacier-melts-away-in-ladakh/ ]

    Is there detailed knowledge on the rate of glacial retreat? Is it increasing or decreasing a fixed, declining or accelerating rate? The longitudinal data is more important than the latitudinal data for making predictions about changing climate and its effects on the region.

    1) “Explorers, mountaineers, scientists,researchers, developers, and planners, have been attracted to the area for the last 200 years.” These are the best records to investigate in the first instance.

    2) “While glaciological research has been carried out in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region by many institutions and individuals (principally academic) over more than a century, the research has been intermittent with no systematic or coordinated long-term basis. These studies need to be reviewed and consolidated and gaps in knowledge identified.

    3) There are current studies underway. a) “ICIMOD is attempting to bridge the knowledge gap by undertaking a systematic inventory of glaciers and glacial lakes, and identifying those lakes that could represent a threat. This large programme, heavily dependent on remote sensing,has been developed in collaboration with ICIMOD’s country partners. More than 8,000 glacial lakes have been identified. While the great majority of these are very small and have formed in remote areas, up to 200 may be potentially dangerous.” This information will be valuable for mapping and recording activity both current and historic.

    “A standardised glacial lake inventory is being prepared for the entire Hindu Kush-Himalayan region and will be used as a basis for GLOF risk assessment, supported by the Swedish
    International Development Cooperation Agency, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the World Bank.” The risk assessment could assist in assessing the suitablility of lakes for particular purposes, the risks of development activities and the need to prioritise study and action in particular areas.

    Because we are in an interglacial period there will have been a time in history when glacial cover was less than it is today, and even in terms of natural climate change glacial melt ought to be expected.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think there are more disputes about glacial melt then about global warming generally. In Ladakh, we have had a spell of warm weather and the streams are full of sparkling clear water. The nearest stream, which only flows for between 5 and 25 days per year, is a raging torrent. It is a pity, for those with an interest in geological time, that a lifespan is so short.

  5. Christine

    Although there is some conjecture that individuals in the past (1600 and 1700s) had lived to ages close to 150 years age is verifiable only to 113 years. So “…It may be concluded that the span of human life is at least 114 years, but that this is not the maximum upper limit.” The Guiness Book of Records has Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to 122 as the longest living person.

    Given that the age of the earth is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years this presents a problem for a person wishing to undertake a longitudinal study of geological time. Would it be possible for a Buddhist to reincarnate to undertake such a study as a succession of reincarnations?


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