Local Indian media reports saying floods in regions of Assam are caused by sudden release of water from Bhutanese dams are not true
Just as in several past incidences, Indian local media especially has reported that the recent floods in the neighbouring Indian state of Assam is linked with the sudden release of excessive water from the dam of Kurichhu hydropower project in Mongaar, eastern Bhutan.
However, the managing director (MD) of Druk Green Power Corporation Limited (DGPCL), Dasho Chewang Rinzin said this is not true and that the Kurichhu dam can in no way cause a flood or inundate downstream areas, even just downstream of the dam.
“All we want to communicate is that there is no reservoir. We have only a diversion dam and so the water flow from Kurichhu is only the natural water flow with very little impact on the operation of the dam,” Dasho Chewang said, adding that this has been verified by Central Water Commission and jointly verified also by experts a number of times. Dasho underlined that the Kurichhu dam can in no way flood or inundate downstream areas even just downstream of the dam. “We have a reservoir operating manual that was prepared by NHPC and WAPCOS. The National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology monitors the hydrological flows and data is made available to Indian counterparts at all times. A representative of CWC also is with NCHM,” Dasho said.
Moreover, Dasho mentioned that the river discharge during the opening of dam gates was between 700 to 880 m3/sec, “which is way below the peak monsoon river inflow of around 1,200 m3/sec.” “Therefore, the flooding in Assam due to the release of water from Kurichhu dam is not correct,” Dasho reiterated. Dasho further informed that the amount of water released from the dam was from 700 to 880 m3/sec and the inflow recorded at the Sumpa Gauging Station in Lhuntse, which is about 40 km upstream of Kurichhu dam was about 767 m3/sec.
“However, this is about 30% below the actual Kurichhu inflow normally received during peak monsoon, which is around 1,200m3/sec,” the MD of DGPC remarked.
When asked about the mechanism by which excess water was redirected down the river line and monitoring systems, Dasho explained that excess water was redirected downstream of the dam through radial gates provided on the dam body in a controlled manner. Further, discharge was monitored every 30 minutes during the reservoir scouring. Additionally, the water level at Sumpa Gauging Station (Upstream of Kurichhu Dam) and Panbang Gauging Station (Downstream of the confluence of Dangmechhu (main tributary of Manas River) and Kurichhu River were also monitored.
Speaking on it further, Dasho said Kurichhu River is one of the four tributaries of the Manas River, the biggest being the Drangmechhu River which has a catchment area far bigger than Kurichhu River. Other tributaries are the Chamkharchhu River and Mangdechhu River, which all join the Dangmechhu River (main tributaries of Manas River) downstream of Kurichhu dam. Therefore, swelling of any of these rivers will cause downstream flooding whether or not Kurcihhu reservoir is depleted.
Furthermore, the dam controls the flash flood; and any excess release from the dam beyond the inflow received at the dam gets moderated downstream as the KHP dam is located far away from Assam. “Therefore, the flooding in Assam on 14th July 2023 is not related to Kurichhu reservoir scouring,” Dasho emphasized.
Though there is no bilateral protocol in releasing excess water, the National Center for Hydro and Metrological (NCHM) based in Thimphu, Bhutan relays such information to Central Water Commission (CWC) in Assam.
Such allegations from the Indian local media are not new, with Indian media reporting almost every year, about it despite attempts by Bhutanese authorities to dispel it.
“They hypothesize that we store water and let out huge volumes at once. Such wrong and unfounded news will severe the very good relations that the people of Bhutan share with their Indian neighbours in Assam,” Garab Dorji, Chairman and founder of the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) said.
He added that the common people affected by the floods will not be media literate. “They will believe what is written, especially when it is done on an annual basis,” GAB’s founder said, adding that concerned authorities on both sides should clarify. “Our hearts go out to our neighbors severely affected by the floods. But the media should not rub salt on their wounds by saying that their predicament is a result of Bhutan’s actions,” he said.
In the face of allegations by local media, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) on 18th July clarified that the floods in the western districts of the state were not solely triggered by the water release from the Kurichhu dam. ASDMA said that the grim flood situation in western Assam was also a result of continuous rainfall in both the upper catchment areas of Bhutan and Assam.
“We would like to provide clarification to the residents of the state regarding the water release from a dam in Bhutan (Kurichhu) and its impact on the flood situation in Assam. It is important to note that the rise in water levels in rivers such as the Brahmaputra and its tributaries is primarily due to the incessant rainfall in the upper catchment area of Bhutan,” ASDMA told a local Indian media.
ASDMA stated that recent reports in local news channels and newspapers have caused panic among the population of western Assam, linking the rising water levels and floods to the release of water from the Kurichhu dam.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma through a tweet had informed that excess water from the Kurichu Dam will be released. “The Druk Green Power Corporation Limited (DGPC) of Bhutan, which runs the Kurichu project in Bhutan, announced on July 13 that it will be carrying out a Reservoir scouring of the Kurichu Hydropower Plant on July 14. It will release the water stored in the reservoir from 00:00 Hrs of 14th July 2023 in a controlled manner and is expected to complete by 09:00 Hrs of the same day,” the tweet read.
He further added, “We have alerted our district administrations to remain vigilant and assist the people in every possible way in case the water breaches the Beki and Manas rivers”.
The neighbouring state of India, Assam experienced flood in mid-July. People in the Basbari area of Assam’s Bongaigaon and Chirang district were reportedly affected after the flood waters of the Aie River submerged their homes.
Several media reports have alleged that sudden water releases from Kurichu Dam in Bhutan have led to floods. ETV Bharat National on 14 July reported “The Assam flood crisis continues to worsen as the dam authorities in neighbouring Bhutan released excess water from the Kurichu Dam. Hence, several districts in Lower Assam are inundated with rainwater.”
The news channel said that the water level of Kurichu dam is sufficient enough to affect the districts of Barpeta, Bangaigaon, and Nalbari in Assam.
Sangay Rabten from Thimphu