Of all Sri Lanka's development projects considered…. it was the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project (UKHP) in Talawakele that had to face so much dissidence. The project had to be shelved at least on three occasions due to relocation factors, environmental factors and political factors.
However the euphoria that was to stay with the ending of the 30 year conflict in the country was to have discounted all such opposition.
|St Clair's Falls in the hey day|
UKHP is the last of the large scale hydroelectric projects conceived on the master plan for hydroelectric development in the Mahaweli Basin in 1968. Feasibility studies conducted by the Japanese donors in the 85-87 period identified a reservoir project at Caledonia which was to displace over 2700 families and inundate a good portion of the best tea gardens in the country; thus the run of the river project with a diversion weir at Talawakelle being considered prudent.
The project is approved by the Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry and Environment under the National Environment Act in July 1998 subject to strict adoption of proposed mitigatory measures to minimise possible environmental impacts.This decision was challenged in the Court of Appeal in October 1998. Subsequent to the settlement in the appeal court, the Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry and Environment gives a final order in March 2000.
|Largest re-location in a hydro power project in this country|
The project realized with many mitigratory factors. Maintaining a daytime flow over the waterfalls was one such requirement.
Today the headworks are completed with the weir barraging the water that would otherwise have flowed over the St Clair's Falls is diverted to a tunnel that runs to Niyamgamdora for power generation.
|Barraged waters about 2 meters below capacity|
The water that we see cascading over the St Clair's Falls today; is but the regulation water that is released as a requirement in the court order.
|Regulation waters released to the river to activate St Clair's falls - [March 3, 2012]|
I do remember an incident way-back in year 2000 when the Japanese team approached an Environmental Academic attached to the University of Colombo in the height of the opposition to the project, to be briefed on the mitigatory factors. This Don was to say that he is not that very concerned about the water falls; for them would dwindle with the threatened environment and nobody would know how they looked before the hills were stripped for tea and coffee. It is the project cost that had almost tripled during the negotiations; which is far too in excess for a country like ours.
|St Clair's with regulation water as seen on March 3, 2012|
However the project is now here to stay with us, supplementing the large deficit in the country’s power sector. St Clair’s Falls will still keep cascading while many would not know that it is false. The tea centre opposite the Devon and St Clair’s falls will still have guests until this false falls keep falling.
A note on the positive aspect though; even this regulation view that we enjoy today will be complimented in time to come with the wanton destruction to the upper-watershed management area that goes unchecked. The illicit forest clearing for cultivation etc. would find the said falls drying up for many months in an year, in the future. Now with the regulation flow we would still have the St Clair's falling without interruption for many more years.....?
|The Tea Centre overlooking the falls|