Ambitious irrigation project to divert Mahaweli waters | Sunday Observer

Ambitious irrigation project to divert Mahaweli waters

10 June, 2018

With far less rainfall than expected every year, paddy farmers in the North Western Province have always been part of the struggling sons of the soil in Sri Lanka. On top of it all the village folk suffer with long dragged drinking water issues, with the CKDU (Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown etymology), a disease that has been plaguing the North Central Province in particular, lurking in their backyard.

But, hopefully soon most of these worries and disheartening days of the struggling farmer community will belong to the past.


The Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry has ventured on an ambitious project to divert the Mahaweli water from the Nalanda and Bowatenna reservoirs to the water deficit areas in the North Western Province, to provide solutions to their age old issues. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding the main project under which the North Western Province Canal Project is implemented. The cost of the total project which also includes Upper Elehera Canal Project and Minipe Left Bank Canal Rehabilitation Project is US $ 675 million. Of this, US $ 222 million will be contributed by the Government.

The Mahaweli Water Security Investment Program under the auspices of the Mahaweli Ministry revived certain dormant projects that were proposed under the Mahaweli Master Plan in the 1960s and implemented in the 1970s to bring relief to their age old water issues in the North West.

The Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project, in 1977, identified a few crucial projects to complete in five years, the projects were initially planned to be completed within 30 years. Although, it was to their credit that these projects wrapped up as planned within a shorter span, a number of vital projects in the Master Plan, such as, the Moragahakanda, Kaluganga and Upper Elehera Canal projects were overlooked for quite a long time after the accelerated projects came to a conclusion - to be precise, for 40 years (since 1977).

When finally, the feasibility for the stalled North Central Province Canal project was carried out from 2011-2015, the irrigation experts discovered a pleasant surprise, in that, there was excess water from Bowatenna which could be diverted to the North Western Province to diminish the long drawn woes of the farmers in the two districts in the NWP.

The project, to be completed in two stages, set sail in 2016 under the Mahaweli Water Security Investment Program. The first stage is to be completed in 2021. The second stage which is still in the designing stage, will be implemented from 2021 to 2024.

The farming communities in the Divisional Secretaries divisions of Dambulla, Galewela and Naula in the Matale district and Polpithigama, Mahawa, Ehetuwewa, Galgamuwa and Ambanpola in the Kurunegala district are the beneficiaries of this highly anticipated NWP canal project.

The overall project objective is to ensure water security to 350 small scale reservoirs and seven major irrigation schemes, namely, Wemedilla, Devahuwa, Attaragalla, Palukadawala, Ambakolawewa, Mediyawa and Hakwatuna Oya schemes - in the NWP.


“The water that will be diverted from Bowatenna and Nalanda reservoirs will jointly nourish 31,000 acres of cultivated paddy land under the NWP Canal Project,” Project Director Asoka Perera told the Sunday Observer.

According to the Project Director the cropping intensity of the paddy lands in the region ranges from 0.9 - 1.2. (If the paddy lands are cultivated in both Maha and Yala seasons, the cropping intensity is said to be 2. If the lands are cultivated in only one season the cropping intensity is 1).

The ultimate goal of this ambitious irrigation project is to bring the average cropping intensity in the region up to 1.7. Currently, the cropping intensity for the command areas of most of the 350 small scale reservoirs in the North West stands at 0.9.

Additional water for the North Western Province was a long term request of the farming populations since there is sufficient water for farming only during the Maha cultivation season (October-March) which falls during the North-East monsoon. The rest of the year, the Kurunegala district undergoes a severe dry spell.

Under the first stage of the project which is already in progress, 5.25 km of the existing canal from Wemedilla to Devahuwa reservoir is being improved with a concrete lining. The objective is to enhance the water conveyance efficiency.

In addition, a new canal will be constructed from Galewela to Kahalla-Pallekele Sanctuary covering a total of 22km under the second package of the ‘First Stage’. This component is to be completed within the period, June 2018 to 2021.

The contract for the second package of Stage One of this irrigation project is scheduled to be signed this month.

Under a third construction package, the North Western Province Canal Project will build two Stock Reservoirs – Mahakithula and MahaKiriula - to store water coming from Wemedilla, to be distributed to Kurunegala farming lands during the dry spell. The two reservoirs will store 20,700 acre feet of water together.

The first stage of the project will also see the construction of three tunnels, which are 740m, 800m, and 540m in length.

Under the Second Stage of the North Western Province Canal Project, a network of canal system will be developed in the Kurunegala district to distribute the water in the two Stock Reservoirs, Maha Kithula and Maha Kiriula. In addition, excess water from Bowatenna will be linked to a canal down Wemedilla reservoir.

“Water from Bowatenna will not be diverted to the reservoir,” the Project Director assured.

Apart from the irrigation purposes, 10% of the diverted water will be released for drinking needs. “This will address the drinking water issues the people are grappling with, especially, the problems associated with the mystery kidney disease, CKDU which is haunting the poor farming families in this region,” Irrigation Engineer Dulanjan Wijesinghe explained.

If the projects are completed as planned, the sons and daughters of the soil in the NWP will have a new lease of life.

Battered by everyday woes associated with their occupation to feed a nation, they deserve this shot in the arm, if no one else.