''Had the dam operated in a way to keep the level below the recommended level, flood disaster could have been avoided,'' says Himanshu Thakkar. His argument is that the water flow in Mahanadi basin at Mundali barrage is 14.6 lakh cusec (cubic feet per second), way above the safe limit of 10 lakh cusec, as recommended by the August 2007 report of "the High Level Committee to Study Various Aspects of Water Usage for Hirakud Reservoir", appointed by the Orissa government.
Of the 14.6 lakh cusec water flowing in Mahanadi, over 4.62 lakh cusec is released by Hirakud dam. If the Dam had not released the water when the downstream areas were experiencing heavy rainfall, the amount of the flow at Mundali barrage would have remained within the safe limit of 10 lakh cusec as recommended by the High Level Hirakud Committee (HLHC), and there would have been no disaster.
The Dam operators are forced to release over 4.62 lakh cusec, because the water level at the dam has already reached the Full Reservoir Level of 630 feet on September 18, which should have reached that level 12 days later on September 30. And, the water level has reached the full level so fast, as the operators had consistently kept the water level very high, way above the recommended level, Mr Thakkar argues.
For example, on August 1, the recommended water level at Hirakud dam was 590 feet, but the actual level on that date was already way high at 607.5 feet. On August 13, the water level was 618.5 feet, against the recommended level of 606 feet. On September 10, the water level was 627 feet, just 3 feet below the full level, when the recommended level was only 623 feet.
Mr Thakkar says the Hirakud dam is one of the few dams of the countrty, where flood control cushion has been provided in its storage capacity. The idea is that the flood cushion portion of the storage should not be filled right till the end of the monsoon, which is in the first week of October.
By filling up the reservoir to full capacity before the end of monsoon, the dam operators have destroyed the flood control role of the Hirakud dam and thus brought an avoidable flood disaster on the people of Orissa. This disaster could have been avoided, had they operated the dam keeping in mind the flood cushion role of the reservoir, the environmentalist said.
He claimed that the Central Water Commission (CWC) had been using completely outdated figures of reservoir capacities. for Hirakud, while the HLHC has said that its live storage capacity in 2007 was down to 4.647 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) (down from 5.818 BCM at the time of start up in 1957), CWC's reservoir storage website (http://www.cwc.gov.in/Reservoir_level.htm) says the Hirakud's live storage capacity is 5.378 BCM.
''This is higher than that given by even CWC's own 1995 study of Hirakud siltation, which said the live capacity by that year had gone down to 4.934 BCM. It is also shocking that CWC's flood forecast site first time (during the current phase) mentioned the Mahanadi floods only on September 19, 2008, after the news was already out in the media. What is the value of such forecasts of CWC?,'' he sought to know.
Mr Thakkar demanded that the Orissa government come out with explanation to the people as to why this shocking manmade disaster was allowed to happen and what it would do to ensure that those who are responsible for the wrong operation of the Hirakud dam are held accountable.
The flood situation in the state meanwhile, continued to be grim with over five lakh people being in its grip in 150 Gram Panchayats.