Melamchi water has finally entered Kathmandu Valley.
After a decades-long wait and missing countless deadlines, water from the Melamchi river in Sindhupalchok district has finally made it to Kathmandu.
Water from Melamchi River, which is being diverted to quench the thirst of Capital residents, on Saturday afternoon reached Sundarijal, marking a milestone for the elusive project, which has been marred by years of delays, corruption, and mismanagement.
“Melamchi water reaching Sundrijal is a new beginning,” said Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, speaking at an event organised to mark the arrival of water at Sundarijal. “A long dream of bringing water from Melamchi to Kathmandu Valley has come true today. This is a happy day as we have succeeded in bringing drinking water for a large number of the population.”
The water from Melamchi reached Sundarijal as part of the tunnel testing process. The Melamchi Water Supply Project had started testing its 26.3 km tunnel by releasing water into it on February 22. The water was released into the main tunnel in the intake area at Helambu Rural Municipality-1, Sindhupalchok.
After 12 days of its journey from Sindhupalchok through the long tunnel, the Melamchi water reached Sundarijal, in Gokarneshwar Municipality, northeast of Kathmandu.
According to Madhav Belbase, secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply, 260 litres of water was released into the tunnel per second for the test.
“Although the project was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have made remarkable progress,” said Belbase. “After a tiring wait and immense efforts, we have reached a crucial state of supplying water to Kathmandu Valley.”
The water from Melamchi will not reach the homes of Valley residents immediately. The water was supplied for cleaning the tunnel. The wastewater will be slowly flushed into the Bagmati river.
“The water that came at Sundarijal was for flushing the tunnel and is a significant development,” said Tiresh Prasad Khatri, executive director of the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, the government body that oversees the water supply project. “It shows there are no major defects inside the tunnel.”
According to Khatri, only five percent of the tunnel’s water carrying capacity was used for the test in the initial phase. “The tunnel testing is likely to go for nearly two months before the water can be put into the water treatment plant at Sundarijal.”
Two water treatment plants—each with a capacity of 85 million litres—have been built for storing and treating the water before it is distributed to the Valley residents. Most works for supplying water to the households like laying pipes, constructing nine reservoir tanks for storing water before distribution has been completed.
Government officials estimate it will take at least two more months before the Valley residents will get Melamchi water at their households.
The project had conducted a similar test in July last year. But the test resulted in a disaster when the high-velocity water burst-open a control gate, killing two employees. This time, a group of four experts had studied the tunnel, intake structure, and water control gate and submitted a report to the ministry and the board.
The national pride project is expected to divert 170 million litres of water daily to the Valley from Melamchi River in Sindhupalchok district in the first phase. In the second phase, the project is estimated to fetch 170 million litres of water each from Yangri and Larke rivers, supplying 510 million litres of water daily to Kathmandu Valley.
The project has long been embroiled in controversy and plagued by several delays over the years. After the Italy-based Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) abandoned the project in December 2018 over a financial dispute with the government, a Chinese contractor was hired in September 2019 for completing the remaining works.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic further hit the progress when the much-awaited project was on course to meet a fresh deadline of mid-July, 2020 for supplying water to Katmandu.
Then Water Supply Minister Bina Magar, in February last year, had vowed that Melamchi water would reach Valley by the end of the fiscal year 2019-2020.
For now, the Melamchi water will be slowly released into the Bagmati river. The water coming from Melamchi will be then held for a few more days and once the tunnel is full, it will be completely flushed into Bagmati on March 10.
“More water will be dropped into the Bagmati from March 10, meaning Shivaratri festival devotees can bathe in relatively clean water. This will also help in cleaning the Bagmati river,” said Oli.
“For now, the Melamchi water has been released into the river. The arrival of water at Sundarijal guarantees that Melamchi water has reached Kathmandu and will be reaching the doorsteps of Kathmandu residents soon.”