Depleted Umiam lake aggravates power crisis

Water level in Umiam at its lowest level

SHILLONG, May 16: The water level of the Umiam Lake is at its lowest and the hydroelectric plant would have to be shut down if it goes down by another foot.
“We are at now 3,165 feet, lower than the previous record of 3,170 feet. Another foot down and we will have to shut down the plant,” Power Minister AT Mondal said on Tuesday.
The unit cannot be run if the water level falls below the permissible limit, he explained.
But he hoped the situation would normalise when it starts raining more frequently, insisting that the existing power scenario in the state would continue for some time.
The load-shedding for Shillong and Tura is for eight hours and for areas beyond is for 10 hours.
“We are taking long-term measures but a power project takes a long time. Leshka started in the 1970s and was commissioned after the turn of the millennium,” Mondal said.
He said Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma is keen on minimising the power scarcity and exploring hydroelectric, thermal or any other option to meet the state’s energy needs. Medium-term and short-term measures are also being weighed, he added.
On the condition of the Umiam bridge, he said the state government has decided to get it inspected thoroughly by an IIT Guwahati team before going for retrofitting by a company chosen after bidding.
A team of experts from the IIT Guwahati had accompanied Mondal and other officials to inspect the bridge recently.
“On physical verification, everything seemed to be ok. But still, we have decided to let IIT apply all up-to-date methods such as the ultrasound drop-down hammer to assess the bridge,” he said.
He said during the checking for retrofitting, the bridge would be closed for up to eight hours on a particular date and the vehicles diverted to an alternative road.
Mondal said the formal inspection of the bridge by the IIT Guwahati team would be done soon.
He said the PWD has entrusted the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited with carving out an alternative route between Guwahati and Shillong when work on the bridge is undertaken.
“I think they are in an advanced stage for the alignment of the road which will bypass the bridge,” he added.
The Umiam Dam, which impounds the lake, was built by the Assam State Electricity Board in the early 1960s. The dam’s original purpose was to store water for hydroelectric power generation. The Umiam Stage I powerhouse, north of the lake, has four 9 MW turbine generators that started operating in 1965.
Umiam Stage I was the first reservoir-storage hydroelectric project commissioned in the Northeast. The plant, a run-of-river project with an original capacity of 8.4 MW, began operation in 1957. Three more stages of the Umiam project were subsequently built downstream.

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