Sri Lanka’s water resources are critically important to sustain the country’s socio – ecological integrity and development goals. The island’s major rivers originate from the mountains in the central region and radiate out to the lowlands to distribute water across the country. Thus, the mountains are the water towers for the entire country and are critical for sustaining both life and economic development aspirations. However, the forest cover in the upper watersheds has been extensively degraded, with the remaining forests dispersed as small fragments. The natural mountain wetlands and marshlands which were water retention and holding areas that facilitated infiltration and percolation have been converted to agricultural and other anthropogenic lands.
Investments in water supply infrastructure have greatly increased access to safe drinking water, which has reached 86 percent of the population.
The Government’s public investment plans include several development plans for the upcoming years to further accelerate the economic growth and promote social and human development. Being a tropical island located close to the equator, Sri Lanka is highly susceptible to adverse effects of climate change.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2019, which analyses to what extent countries have been affected by the impacts of weather – related loss events (storms, floods, heat waves etc.) ranks Sri Lanka as the second among the most affected countries in the world. This is an alarming situation. The impact of climate change is evident from the severe and long duration droughts as well as severe flooding occurring almost every year in several parts of the country.
Water availability is becoming more variable and uncertain even as demand for bulk water supplies for agriculture, new industries and tourism and clean water for drinking increases. Studies confirm that these impacts are likely to exacerbate, and the wetter areas of the country would eventually become wetter and the drier areas drier and drier.
Farmers affected by successive crop failure due to water shortage and extended droughts have committed suicide or have abandoned farming. Flash floods and landslides have killed hundreds of people in the past few years alone, with high economic setbacks to the country as property and infrastructure are destroyed.
Unplanned settlements, industrial projects, and maladaptive agricultural practices are creating additional water stresses. An estimated 80 percent of the river basins have greatly reduced water quality and quantity. With the support of many donor agencies like The Asian Development Bank, and Green Climate Fund, the government of Sri Lanka has initiated many watershed management programs. Those covers some part of Uma Oya, Walawe Ganga, Kirindi Oya, Kalu Ganga watershed and upper side of the Knuckles watershed but the problematic situation still prevails.
Although the intervention from pervious watershed management projects were able to contain the problem to certain extent, the watershed degradation has continued due to many drivers, such as increase population, low land per capita, less investment on soil and water conservation, inability of the land users to invest resources on soil and water conservation, exploitation of natural resources due to poverty, unregulated sewage and solid waste disposal. Lack of coordinated and coherent approach by a number of organisations to manage the resources within the watershed does not help to address the issues. Administratively, the Upper Mahaweli Watershed (UMW) cut across four districts, three (Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Matale) located in the Central Province while one (Badulla) in the Uva province. The extent within Matale District is small and as a result, only three districts will be included in the project. Within these three districts the total numbers of Divisional Secretariats and Grama Niladhari divisions are 31 and 1662.
Many dams and reservoirs in Sri Lanka are ageing, and many suffer from various structural deficiencies. This attributes a severe threat to public lives, related infrastructure facilities, and for active operations of the water management systems. In the event of a dam failure, the adverse results and consequences would be massive and irreparable in all aspects. Considering the potential danger and the requirement of enhancing the operational efficiency of the systems, in 2009-2018, World Bank Funded US$ 71.6 Million under the Dam Safety and Water Resources Planning Project (DSWRPP) and US$ 83 Million under the DSWRPP Additional Financing.
A special attention was given to upgrade and rehabilitate 63 dams owned by the Irrigation Department (ID), Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka (MASL), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) and Northern Provincial Council (NPC). Even though some large dams were rehabilitated under DSWRPP, a considerable number of the irrigation schemes still have not been rehabilitated for many years.
The dam network of Sri Lanka comprises 80 large dams 270 medium dams and around 15,000 small dams located within the country’s 103 leading river basins majority of these dams were constructed during the reigns of our ancient kings and later renovated on many occasions, due to being damaged by Floods or other calamities. The dams and reservoirs in Sri Lanka which have not been rehabilitated under aforesaid DSWRPP are still facing the nature of unavoidable ageing, and many suffering from various structural deficiencies thus posing a severe threat to public lives related infrastructural facilities. In the event of dam failure the adverse results and consequences would be massive and irreparable in all aspects.
Therefore, the ongoing World Bank Funded project on Integrated Watershed and Water Resources management has been designed to improve watershed conservation and management and ensure sustainability of adequate water resources for socio-ecological well-being and economic development. There is some kind of coordination among water sector organisations such as ID, MASL, NWSDB, CEB and Local Authorities. The total Cost for the project US$ 45.03 million under four components such as, Watershed and Water Resources Planning, Infrastructure Improvement, Contingency Emergency Responses, Project Management and Medium and additionally Micro Scale Irrigation Rehabilitation Activities (Repurposing) with costs US $ 10.00 Million.
Under the ongoing IWWRMP the tank bund and rip rap and sluice of Anuradhapura Mahalindawewa, hydro mechanical works and ecological improvements of Walawa RB Canal, rehabilitation of Muthuiyankaddu RB canal, rehabilitation of downstream infrastructure of Kanagambikai kulam and Piramathalaru schemes in Peninsula have been almost completed and rehabilitation of Kalmadu scheme is now ongoing.
The other ongoing projects are providing rip – rap protection to Senanayaka Samudraya bund, rehabilitation of canals in Bathalagoda Mahanthankulam and Dewahuwa Schemes, supply installation of Gantry Cranes for Pollgolla Barrage and Udawalawe dam, repairs to gates of irrigation structures in Kalawewa are in forefront of the priority list. In eastern province Adachachakal tank rehabilitation is yet to be started.
However, considering the current economic crisis, the government is introducing an accelerated program to address medium and minor irrigation infrastructure rehabilitation works. Therefore US $ 10 million has been repurposed to benefit the farmer community in the project area at village level. Already 560 numbers of sub projects have been now identified island – wide and many of them initially implemented through community based organisations.
Small and Medium Scale Irrigation Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project (SMIIRP) affiliated to IWWRMP will be implemented in all 25 districts at a cost of USD 10 Million as mentioned above. Under this SMIIR project Repairing of Damaged Sluice Gates, Tank Bunds, Canals and Turn outs are to be implemented. Some of the important works under this SMIIRP are Pallegama tank rehabilitation – (Polonnaruwa), Kurankapachchan Tank Rehabilitation – (Trincomalee), Right Bank Main Canal Rehabilitation in Galkadawala Scheme – (Anuradhapura), Feeder Canal No. 7 rehabilitation in Komarika Ela Scheme – (Badulla), Install new Flood Gates at Ranwala, Muththettupola Flood Protection Structure – (Colombo), Construction of C2/CT2 Canal at Sewanagala – (Moneragala), Rehabilitation work in Irrigation Canal of Moradeniya Tank – (Ampara).
The IWWRMP would combat soil erosion and land degradation in the project area through state and Community Interventions while improving the management of natural resources within the concepts of integrated management of watersheds. The IWWRMP is a five-year World Bank Funded project implemented through Irrigation Department, Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, Northern Provincial Council Irrigation Department and Eastern Provincial Council Irrigation Department expected to be completed at the end of 2025.