Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project
Case Study
Kusala Seneviratne Mahalekame
Assistant Director (EIA)
Central Environmental Authority
Sri Lanka
The bulk of the electricity generation in Sri Lanka is from hydropower and the present
demand growth rate is 10%. In order to meet the growing demand, the Upper Kotmale
Hydro Power (UKHP) project has been planned. The project has an installed capacity of
150MW and is capable of providing an annual energy of 530GW. The development of
the project is expected to contribute no only to national social and economic development
through provision of economical energy but also to rural development in the area through
various infrastructural developments.
The UKHP is an ODA project funded by the government of Japan. The Government of
Sri Lanka secured financial support in March 2002 from the Government of Japan to
implement the project, signing of Loan Agreement SL-P74 in March 28, 2002. This
project is estimated to cost a total of up to Rs.44 billion, of which Rs.5.931 billion was
funded by the Ceylon Electricity Board, and ¥33.265 billion by the Japan Bank for
International Cooperation.
Brief history of the project regarding the EIA process of the project
The EIA for the project was done in 1994. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being
the project proponent sought environmental approval for the implementation of the
project from the Ministry of Power and Energy which was the Projector Approving
Agency. Members of the Technical Evaluation Committee having examine the EIA
report did not recommend the project saying that the CEB has failed to study and
examine an option known as “YOXFORD” which would give potentially more power
and was positively more environmental friendly. Central Environmental Authority
(CEA) decline to give concurrence for the approval and the Ministry of Power &energy
rejected the project.
An appeal was made to the Secretary of Ministry of Environment and the Secretary
rejected the appeal and requested the CEB to apply for an environmental clearance from
the CEA with a new EIA after studying and examining the “YOXFORD” option.
Subsequently the CEB submitted an addendum to the original EIA examining the
YOXFORD option. CEA having studied the report rejected the project even in the new
report the YOXFORD option has not been studied properly.
A second appeal was then made to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment by the CEB
against the CEA decision. Further detailed studies on alternatives were completed in
1996 and the Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry and Environment granted approval for
the project under the National Environment Act in July 1998 subject to strict adoption of
proposed mitigation measures to minimize possible environmental impacts, which
included the development of a watershed management plan, maintenance of daytime
flows over the waterfall, monitoring of groundwater levels, an assessment of biodiversity,
management of tunnel waste and a resettlement program. This decision was challenged in
the Court of Appeal in October 1998. The Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry and
Environment gave final order in March 2000, subsequent to the settlement of the appeal.
The decision of the Secretary in March 2000 was further strengthened with the Gazetting
of the National Environmental (Upper Kotmale Hydro-power Project – Monitoring)
Regulations No. 1, 2003.
Project Location
The UKHP is located on the western slope of Nuwera Eliya mountain range in the
Nuwara Eliya administrative district. The project area covers some 540km2 of the
upstream catchment of the Kotmale Oya, a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga. The
topography of the project area is mountainous with a striking landscape of deep river
valleys running beneath high cliffs and escarpments. Most of th Nuwera Eliya District is
still covered with Tea plantations and the higher slopes and the tops of the hills remain
forested with most of the forested areas designated as reserves. The project features are
quiet favorable in topographical, geological and hydrological conditions for hydro power
development. The hydrology of the basin is very attractive with annual average rainfall of
2330mm (1940-1992)
Project location (Nuwara Eliya)
St. Clair’s Water Fall
Project Components
The project Major features consist of the run of the river type regulating pond, a 34 m
concrete gravity dam, 12.8km headrace tunnel and underground power house A 34 m
concrete gravity dam across Kotmale Oya at Talawakelle town, just above the St Clair’s
water fall will divert water through a 4.3 diameter 12.8 km long headrace tunnel to an
underground power house with 2 units of 75 mw turbines capable of producing409 GWh
annually located at Niyamgamdora.. Water arrives at the powerhouse from the dam via
headrace tunnel, which then feeds the 793 m penstock. The initial 745 m of the penstock
is single-lane, while the latter 48 m splits into two lanes, feeding the two 75 MW
generators respectively.
Construction and development
Phase 1: Site preparations, construction of employers and workers living quarters,
construction of access roads, and relocation of affected people.
Phase 2: All key civil engineering works, such as dam building, etc. This takes up
50% of the project cost.
Phase 3: Hydro-mechanical works such as construction of spillways, penstocks,
intake gates, etc.
Phase 4: Electro-mechanical works such as generation installations, construction
of the switchyard, fire fighting system, communication system, etc.
Project impacts
Displacement of people
The construction of the reservoir will entail social impacts within the Talawakellle
Urban Council Area. The main social and economic impact will be due to the
displacement of 498 houses including the line rooms, a number of commercial
establishments, agricultural land, and community facilities in the reservoir area.
De watering of Streams
The diversion of flow from the stream to the tunnel would result in the dewatering of
the downstream reaches from the diversion points. Thus down stream users both
human, animals living in such reaches of the stream and down stream ecosystem
would be severely affected
Ground water depletion
Experience of tunneling in the hill country show that there would be severe impacts
on agriculture and flora in general due to changes in the ground water table. However
the proposed tunnel traces travel below tea and agricultural lands. It is very likely to
have serious impacts on ground water during tunnel construction.
Water Quality
The project will aggravate the sediment flow in to the streams specially during
constructions. The entire project area has been declared as an erodable area and thus
the area is very sensitive to soil erosion.
Geological Hazardous
Entire area is sensitive to landslides unless proper construction measures are adopted.
Impact on St Clair’s Water fall
St Clair’s water fall will be seriously affected due to the reduction of flow with the
implementation of the project. It is one of the beautiful water falls located in the Nuwara
Eliya district, a major attraction for tourists.
The project was rejected two times and finally the approval was granted by the secretary
Ministry of Environment subject to the strict adoption of the mitigation measures
including a preparation of Watershed Management Plan for Upper Kotmale Catchment .
The secretary also directed CEA to appoint a monitoring committee to evaluate the
implementation of the proposed mitigation measures by the CEB. The Environmental
Management and Monitoring Plan is incorporated as a condition of the construction and
operational contract for the project and on the understanding that these environmental and
social requirements will be strictly enforced and practice.
Mitigation measures adopted
Water flows and stream flows
From the date of the commencement of the project a standardized photographic
record of the St Clair’s water fall has been maintained by the CEB under the
supervision of the CEA once in every month so that the continuous assessment can be
carried out. With the operation of the project, as ordered by the Government
Extraordinary, the St. Clair's waterfall will maintain a continuous flow of 47,250 m3
(1,668,618 cu ft) of water for 10 hours and 30 minutes daily, between sunrise and
Watershed Management
Watershed Management Plan (WMP) for the upper Kotmale Catchment Area has
been prepared by the CEB with a view to mitigating the impacts arising from the
project on the environment such as landslides within the area. WMP has specially
focus on afforesting the project area with indigenous species.
A Biodiversity Assessment has been carried out for the area with the assistance of the
IUCN & the University of Peradeniya. An indigenous snail species called Ravana
Politisma which has been found only in the stream of the Kotmala Oya has been
relocated successfully by this program.
Ground Water Table
A ground water monitoring program has been implemented to monitor the water table
in the area in order to see whether any de-watering occurs as a result of the project
Landslide Mitigation
The project in consultation with the Environmental Monitoring Committee has
adopted a plan to mitigate the risk from land slides in identified high risk areas
within the project area.
Excavated Materials
All excavated materials including tunnel muck has been used for land filling and
road construction that are associated with the project
Resettlement Action plan (RAP) has been
prepared in accordance with the National
involuntary resettlement policy of Sri Lanka
and is in full operation. The major objective of
the RAP is to identify the magnitude of the
social impact to enable the successful
restoration and improvement of living
standards, income earning capacity, living
standards and general well being of the
affected people. 495 houses affected by the
Project has been resettled in 7 new
resettlement sites close to the project area. The
resettlement program of UKHP is among the
most comprehensive and successful programs
similar scale carried out in Sri Lanaka. New
homes have been built with access to vital
facilities such as water and power. The relocated families are provided with concessionary loans
to start new self-employment ventures, while additional facilities such as the Talawakele Central
College, places of worship, a cinema hall, a library, and a community centre, are being
Lessoned Learned
The project has now been successfully completed. UKHP is a very controversial project
in the country and the environmental approval for the project was rejected for two times
since the EIA report failed to study alternative options properly. Once the detailed
alternative studies completed, the Secretary Ministry of Environment gave the approval
subject to strict adoption of the proposed mitigation measures which were also gazzeted
in the National Environmental (UKHP –Project-Monitoring) Regulations No 1 of 2003.
Separate studies on biodiversity, watershed management, ground & surface quality of
water; landslides were conducted to obtain more specific mitigation measures which have
not been adequately addressed at the time of the preparation of the EIA report. Because
of the adoption of the mitigation measures and the continuous monitoring carried out by
the appointed monitoring committee and project itself the UKHP has become a successful
project in terms of environmental and social aspects. The local social benefits will be
largely confined to the area around Talawakelle town while the wider benefits of
watershed management will extend to the whole of the upper basin.
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