Bhabadah Waterlogging: WDB initiative ‘impractical’
The Water Development Board in Jashore has been trying to solve the longstanding problem of waterlogging at Bhabadah by pumping out stagnant water using 20 pumps since the beginning of the year.
Experts, however, say this expensive undertaking is impractical and the authorities should have gone for the tried and tested tidal river management (TRM) approach.
Installing the water pumps on the Bhabadah sluice gates sealing the Hari river in January, the WDB has been draining out the rainwater deposited in the beels which stay underwater for a large part of the year due to excessive siltation in the tidal rivers.
The Bhabadah region comprises around 52 beels in Jashore Sadar, Abhaynagar, Monirampur, and Keshabpur upazilas of Jashore and Dumuria upazila of Khulna. These areas, especially villages adjacent to the beels, remain largely inundated, especially during the rainy season.
Already spending almost Tk 2.5 crore on the project -- including setting up of the pumps, electricity bills, and some river excavation works -- the Board is proposing a further water pumping project at an estimated cost of Tk 50 crore, said a WDB official.
Each pump has the capacity to drain five cusecs of water -- equivalent to 28.32 litres of water per second -- said Tauhidul Islam, executive engineer of WDB Jashore. Fourteen of those pumps run round the clock except during load-shedding.
He claimed due to this experimental project, the water level reduced by at least one metre compared to the previous year.
The DPP (Development Project Proposal) for installing 10 high-power pumps, each of which has the capacity to drain up to 40 cusecs of water, is completed and sent to the central WDB office for the water resources ministry's approval, he said.
The cost of the installation and renovation of some canals is estimated at Tk 50 crore and the tenure of the project is three years, Tauhidul added.
However, experts and local activist say WDB is ignoring the tidal river management (TRM) approach, proven to be the most effective way of relieving waterlogging in the region.
Through this approach, an embankment is built around a beel leaving two cut-points for water to enter and recede from. When the water recedes during low tide, it takes the sediment deposited on the riverbed in a process of natural excavation.
Activists involved with the movement to get Bhabadah waterlogging solved, and experts have termed WDB's water pumping project impractical.
While water recedes due to the use of the water pumps, it is very nominal against the level of water receding needed to have an impact, said Kamruzzaman, former chairman of Nehalpur union in Jashore's Monirampur upazila. The union is one of the areas most affected by waterlogging.
Besides, rainfall so far this year has been lower in Bhabadah region than in previous years and if normal levels of rainfall occur, areas will go underwater as usual and the pumps will become useless, said Kamruzzaman, who has long been involved in the Bhabadah movement.
People living in the villages adjacent to the 52 beels spent money from their own pockets to pump out water from the crop fields to cultivate paddy this immediate past Boro season, he said.
Currently, there is no alternative to TRM to solve the waterlogging, he added.
Anil Biswas, an adviser of the Bhabadah Water Mitigation Movement, said the waterlogging problem started in the late '80s due to excessive sedimentation amid lack of upstream water flow, which pushed sediment downstream.
The Mukteshwari, Teka, Hari, and Sree rivers, which originate mainly from the Bhairab river, pass through the Bhabadah region and play a vital role in draining out rainwater and saving the region from water stagnation.
However, high tide carries excessive sediment and deposits these on the riverbed, raising it over time, before receding again during low tide.
Once the riverbed rises, so does the water level of the surrounding beels and blocks drainage, leading to the whole region becoming perennially waterlogged.
Zahirul Haque Khan, deputy executive director of the Institute of Water Modelling, said while the water can be drained using the pumps, the river cannot be saved in this process.
"I heard water has been removed by using the pumps but the siltation that causes the river bed to rise cannot be managed this way," he said.
"We recommend three methods including some dredging of the river as a short-term measure, TRM as a midterm measure, and starting circular flow from upstream to solve the waterlogging problem," Zahirul said.
WDB is doing the pump project on their own initiative whereas TRM is a well-planned and proven method that can manage the sediment of the river, keep it navigable, and ease waterlogging, he added.