Difficulty in clearing Melamchi tunnel, seeking army help

Nepal News5 Views

The structure of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project, including the dam and water treatment plant under construction, was flooded due to the floods on June 15.

 After analyzing the drone video in the headworks area, the project concludes, “The sooner the access road to the headworks is built, the sooner the project work can be resumed.”

However, the project has to open the gate next to the audit tunnel of Ambathan to clear the tunnel immediately. This work is not easy without access to the project. Therefore, the project officials are expecting that this work can be done with the help of the army at the initiative of the government.

According to project chief Ram Kumar Shrestha, a team of technicians and experts had gone to Melamchi on Saturday with the aim of reaching the project. 

However, after reaching 3 km above Melamchi Bazaar, the team could not move forward and returned.

Shrestha said that it was difficult to reach the Melamchi project area as floods were still coming in Melamchi and the flood level was fluctuating from time to time. “We can’t take the risk, but on Monday our team will try again,” he said. “We will try to reach the headworks and see the condition of the structure.”

The headworks of this project is located on the banks of Melamchi. The river is flowing over the headworks after the flood. However, the project estimates that the dam and water treatment structure of the project was not severely damaged due to sand filling. However, an expert team should reach the venue to check the real situation.

The access road to the project site has been washed away after the flood. The project has started discussing options on how to reach the place where the previous access road was built as the river is flowing now.

“The Chinese contractor Sino Hydro has said that it will not be able to start work immediately as it has lost three of its technicians and does not even have an access road,” said project chief Shrestha.

Project officials say that initiatives should be taken for the road from a higher level than the project level. It is not easy to build a road through the cliffs as it is not possible to build it from the river bank. The process may have to be completed for work including tree felling.

On top of that, the project officials are confused as there is talk that the rainy season has just started and not all the parts of the landslide that fell in the northern part have been washed away. The project is still unresolved as there is a risk of a major accident when work resumes without rain.

The problem is not only to start work on the project again but also to clear the tunnel of the project. The headworks of the project were flooded less than eight hours after the tunnel was closed for supervision on June 15 at 11 am.

According to project chief Shrestha, the tunnel is being emptied by discharging water from Sundarijal. According to the protocol, the flushing gates of Indus, Gyalthum and Ambathan have to be opened gradually. 

However, there is no road to the flushing gate of Ambathan. It is not possible to open the water from outside the gate.

“Now we are discussing whether the excavator can be taken by helicopter and opened,” said Shrestha, the project chief. “It is an emergency, so it may require the help of the army.

The tunnel will be emptied only after opening water from Ambathan. Then there is a schedule to go inside the tunnel and supervise. Earlier, it was planned to evacuate within 15 days and complete the supervision in another 15 days. If a problem was found inside the tunnel, it was estimated that it would take another month to drain the water to Kathmandu.

However, it has become difficult to clear the tunnel after the floods. Even when empty, the structure of the headworks, including the tunnel, needs to be checked. If the dam is damaged, water can be pumped into the tunnel only by constructing a temporary dam.

However, as the technicians have not been able to reach the project site so far, there is confusion about the future of the project.

Bringing water to Kathmandu from the project does not look easy during this rainy season as there may be safety issues in the work that can be done inside the tunnel as per the schedule.