Stop the Ecologically and Socio-Economically Destructive Kitulgala Mini-Hydro Project
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A private mini-hydro project to be constructed directly adjoining the Bandarakele Forest Reserve which is part of Kitulgala Rainforest Complex is on the verge of causing the extinction of several point endemic species while disrupting the local eco-tourism industry. The project proponent Kitulgala Hydropower (Pvt) Ltd, plans to build a dam approximately 700m down stream from Kitulgala Rest House, diverting the water for 1 km distance. The dam results in a stagnant water body contributing to the possible extinction of several point endemic species (i.e. species that only live at this location and nowhere else on Earth). The entire drained section of the river directly adjoins Bandarakele Forest Reserve which is part of the Kitulgala Rainforest Complex. Although smaller than Sinharaja World Heritage Rainforest, the Kitulgala Rainforest Complex rivals its much larger cousin due to its very high bio-diversity and point endemic species.
If the proposed Kitulgala Mini-Hydro Project is constructed,
- Point endemic Balanocarpus kitulgellensis, a critically endangered rainforest tree that only occur in the adjoining Bandarakele forest reserve and needing the moisture from the river for its survival is in danger of going extinct.
- Point endemic Devario micronema, a beautiful freshwater fish locally known as Kitulgala Saalaya and only found in this section of the river and needing the specific ecological characteristics for its survival is in danger of going extinct.
- Continuous survival of natural population of 12 fish species, particularly Systomus asoka (Asoka pethiya), that use the project influenced river segment for life cycle processes, is threatened due to project activities.
Kitulgala is a world famous location for white-water rafting and making of the famous movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai". Many locals' livelihood depends on the tourism industry sustained by the river and surrounding rainforest. While villagers have voiced against the destructive project since 2010 due to the negative social and economical effects, a recent decision by the local authorities to grant approval is short-sighted and alarming.
Recognition of the importance of linkages between streamside forests and instream communities has resulted in creation and protection of riparian buffers as Best Management Practices in many regions and parts of the world. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka we are yet to see such policy while the last remaining rainforests and running rivers/streams/waterfalls are destroyed on a daily basis.
The Mini-Hydro power projects promoted by Sustainable Energy Authority have already destroyed rivers and streams stretching up to thousands of kilometers. Due to the diversion of water away from the natural streams and rivers and through concrete headrace channels and penstock, villagers have experienced severe water shortages, loss of ground water and drying up of wells. However, the same mini-hydro projects have not been able to produce the expected capacities, averaging just 25% plant factor in 2016 with the total contribution to the national grid less than 2%.
Sri Lanka is considered as one of 18 biodiversity hotspots in the world, meaning our country has very high biodiversity but under severe threat due to unsustainable development. Construction of mini-hydro projects have resulted in further loss of biodiversity. It is not sustainable as the ecological collapse directly affects water flow thus significantly reducing future power generation capacity. Ironically, Sustainable Energy Authority still promotes these ecologically destructive mini-hydro projects as #1 "sustainable energy". Therefore, the relevant authorities need to immediately set a clear policy and vision towards sustainable energy generation in Sri Lanka. The new policy should contain assessing the environmental costs during project costing phase. The cost of environment destruction such as agricultural loss due to water scarcity and soil erosion, impact on eco-tourism revenue, loss to wildlife and habitat, impact on the hydrological cycle etc., should be calculated and factored into the total cost of the project. We urge the relevant authorities to not sacrifice our rich natural heritage including waterfalls, streams, rivers and rainforests to generate a palty, less than 6% unreliable energy susceptible to frequent droughts and put the entire country in danger. Instead, promote ecologically sustainable rooftop solar, waste-to-energy, wave energy and wind energy projects which are also becoming economically attractive due to recent technological breakthroughs drastically reducing the associated costs and many private companies both local and international, eager to pursue on Build-Own-Operate basis.
Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka
Kitulgala EcoTourism Zone Conservation Society
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