The beauty of a dying reservoir | Sunday Observer

The beauty of a dying reservoir

28 April, 2019
LONG VIEW: The parched landscape of the dried up reservoir bed of Samanalawewa in Balangoda
LONG VIEW: The parched landscape of the dried up reservoir bed of Samanalawewa in Balangoda

I was struck by the beauty of the landscape at the Samanalawewa Reservoir where the water level had fallen by less than 18 percent when I visited it recently. Although we experience sporadic evening showers nowadays, in several areas in the country, the water level has not yet increased in the reservoir.

I saw an abandoned fishing boat lying on the parched dried up reservoir bed. Samanalawewa is truly a unique phenomenon; we have driven here for the first time to witness the drought conditions and were inspired to take a walk on the reservoir bed which had a unique topography, my main subject for this photo essay.

Entering Belihul Oya through the Horton Plains, the Walawe Ganga passes through Pabahinna and Kinchigune and flows down to Kaltota before entering the Udawalawe reservoir in the Ratnapura District. The river reaches its widest expanse – between Ambalantota and Godawaya – and becomes a broad river.

During the early part of 1992, the Government built the Samanalawewa Reservoir, located in the Uda Walawe basin and the dam was built at the confluence of the Walawe Ganga and the Belihul Oya, 400 metres (1,300ft) above mean sea level near Pabahinna in Balangoda, to produce hydropower, funded by Japan and the United Kingdom. It is nourished by several streams such as, the Belihul Oya and Hirikatu Oya, the main tributaries of the Walawe Ganga.

Many ancestral villages were inundated due to the construction of the reservoir, including the Kinchigune village on the southern side. By the time the British construction company completed the Samanalawewa Reservoir dam in early 1992, the ancient village, along with the Kinchigune temple complex and chaitya were submerged along with the Warakawela paddy fields.

The Samanalawewa Reservoir in spate is quite different from the reservoir during drought.

The landscape under the swirling waters emerges during the drought, when the massive ruins of the chaitya rises majestically on the dry reservoir bed and a swathe of green overtakes the muddy-stained waters.

According to local information, the residents were moved to upper Kinchigune, where they erected a new temple. Because of its size, the 21-foot-tall Kinchigune Chaitya and its pedestal could not be shifted. Hence, the chaitya and the temple complex remain under water only to reveal themselves every time the water level falls.

Now the residents of Kinchigune, and other villages raise crops when the water level is good, and grow beans and other dry crops when the flow dips. The people go fishing in coracles in low waters, but fresh water fishing is greatly affected due to the drought.

Deforestation in the peak wilderness in Sri Pada and tree plantations in the mountainous region has been greatly influenced by climatic change resulting in all the tributaries running dry. Down stream from Hirikatu Oya, Denagam Oya and Belihul Oya in Balangoda have been severely affected by the drought in the area.

Although the water level in the reservoir has receded from time to time on several occasions during drought, this is the first time in the last 23 years that it has receded to such a low level.

Like any reservoir bed that supports a population and is revered for its munificence, the reservoir bed is a source of fishing in low waters and the rich alluvial soil that is a farmer’s dream. Sight-seers and trekkers make camping sites on the reservoir bed and enjoy the night, sleeping under the stars.