Photos: Kerala’s dams may have exacerbated the once-in-century floods

More than 5 million people in Kerala were affected and over 200 were killed amid torrential rain and floods in August. The flooding, dubbed the worst to hit the southern state in nearly a century, caused widespread damage to fields, homes and other infrastructure. As the rain intensified in mid-August state authorities were forced to release water from 35 dams to manage rising waters in reservoirs, a move sharply criticised by some water management experts, that has put a focus on reservoir operations and the need for better flood mapping and warning systems in India.

UPDATED ON OCT 12, 2018 09:42 AM IST 13 Photos
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A view of Cheruthoni dam with one open gate in Idukki, Kerala. More than 5 million people in Kerala were affected and over 200 killed in torrential rain and floods in August. The flooding, dubbed the worst to hit the state in nearly a century, caused massive damage. As rain intensified, authorities were forced to release water from 35 dams to manage rising levels in reservoirs, many of which are used to generate electricity. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

A view of Cheruthoni dam with one open gate in Idukki, Kerala. More than 5 million people in Kerala were affected and over 200 killed in torrential rain and floods in August. The flooding, dubbed the worst to hit the state in nearly a century, caused massive damage. As rain intensified, authorities were forced to release water from 35 dams to manage rising levels in reservoirs, many of which are used to generate electricity. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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Joby Pathrose, a farmer living a kilometre away from the Periyar river was woken in the night by the sound of rushing waters. Hours later everything he owned was submerged. “There was absolutely no warning from the government side,” Pathrose said, describing the flooding that hit his village of Okkal, on August 15. He says local authorities had advised his fields were safe, despite incessant rains at the peak of monsoon. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

Joby Pathrose, a farmer living a kilometre away from the Periyar river was woken in the night by the sound of rushing waters. Hours later everything he owned was submerged. “There was absolutely no warning from the government side,” Pathrose said, describing the flooding that hit his village of Okkal, on August 15. He says local authorities had advised his fields were safe, despite incessant rains at the peak of monsoon. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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The site of a landslide at Cheruthoni. Pathrose and others near the Periyar say the sudden opening of dam gates without proper warnings downstream was a big factor in the devastation. More than half a dozen experts who Reuters consulted were divided on the extent to which dam water spills contributed, but almost all, including Central Water Commission (CWC), said reservoirs levels had been too high. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

The site of a landslide at Cheruthoni. Pathrose and others near the Periyar say the sudden opening of dam gates without proper warnings downstream was a big factor in the devastation. More than half a dozen experts who Reuters consulted were divided on the extent to which dam water spills contributed, but almost all, including Central Water Commission (CWC), said reservoirs levels had been too high. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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People in the Aluva Shiva Temple complex after the opening of Idamalayar dam gate. “Because of this carelessness the disaster proportions were multiplied,” said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), an advocacy body for better water management practices. The sharply criticised release of dam water has put a focus on reservoir operations and the need for better mapping and warning systems. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

People in the Aluva Shiva Temple complex after the opening of Idamalayar dam gate. “Because of this carelessness the disaster proportions were multiplied,” said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), an advocacy body for better water management practices. The sharply criticised release of dam water has put a focus on reservoir operations and the need for better mapping and warning systems. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

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Reuters has learned the Idukki (above) and Idamalayar reservoirs have been running for years without emergency action plans --a basic requirement worldwide. They also lack “rule curves”, safety protocols that dictate the water level that can safely be maintained given seasonal factors. Recommended by the CWC, these aren’t yet legally mandated. CWC hopes a new dam safety bill, under consideration, will make operators more accountable. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

Reuters has learned the Idukki (above) and Idamalayar reservoirs have been running for years without emergency action plans --a basic requirement worldwide. They also lack “rule curves”, safety protocols that dictate the water level that can safely be maintained given seasonal factors. Recommended by the CWC, these aren’t yet legally mandated. CWC hopes a new dam safety bill, under consideration, will make operators more accountable. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 12, 2018 09:42 AM IST
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Reuters analysed historical data that shows both reservoirs were at more than 90% capacity on August 2, more than double their 10-year historical averages for that time of the year. Dam management experts said such levels were dangerously high for mid monsoon. Data also shows that if water levels had been lowered closer to historical averages two weeks prior they would have been able to absorb all the rain. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

Reuters analysed historical data that shows both reservoirs were at more than 90% capacity on August 2, more than double their 10-year historical averages for that time of the year. Dam management experts said such levels were dangerously high for mid monsoon. Data also shows that if water levels had been lowered closer to historical averages two weeks prior they would have been able to absorb all the rain. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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“The release could have started earlier so that by August 9 there would have been left-over capacities in the reservoirs to store the water,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, of the engineering firm IEA, who analysed some of the public data. N.S. Pillai, chairman of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) that manages most of Kerala’s big dams said that was a “highly hypothetical and imaginary conclusion.” (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

“The release could have started earlier so that by August 9 there would have been left-over capacities in the reservoirs to store the water,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, of the engineering firm IEA, who analysed some of the public data. N.S. Pillai, chairman of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) that manages most of Kerala’s big dams said that was a “highly hypothetical and imaginary conclusion.” (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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Dozens of flood victims, living along the ‎244 km Periyar, said they faced no floods despite torrential rain in late July and early August. All said waters rose overnight on August 15. Water management experts note that authorities and KSEB issued an alert on Idukki’s water levels on July 31, when the reservoir was 92% full, but only began a slow release on August 9, when levels were at 98%. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

Dozens of flood victims, living along the ‎244 km Periyar, said they faced no floods despite torrential rain in late July and early August. All said waters rose overnight on August 15. Water management experts note that authorities and KSEB issued an alert on Idukki’s water levels on July 31, when the reservoir was 92% full, but only began a slow release on August 9, when levels were at 98%. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

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Workers construct a temporary bridge in Munnar. While opposition parties in Kerala have demanded a judicial probe into the release of dam water, state officials have blamed the India Meteorological Department (IMD) for poor forecasts and the release of water into Idukki reservoir from Mullaperiyar - a dam managed by Tamil Nadu - for exacerbating flooding. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

Workers construct a temporary bridge in Munnar. While opposition parties in Kerala have demanded a judicial probe into the release of dam water, state officials have blamed the India Meteorological Department (IMD) for poor forecasts and the release of water into Idukki reservoir from Mullaperiyar - a dam managed by Tamil Nadu - for exacerbating flooding. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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Partially submerged trucks are surrounded by floodwaters, on the outskirts of Kochi. In court filings, Tamil Nadu said water released from the Mullaperiyar dam only constituted a small part of the spill from the much bigger Idukki reservoir. The IMD has also responded, saying it “issued all necessary severe weather warnings”. KSEB’s Pillai said forecasts failed to predict the intensity of the rain. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

Partially submerged trucks are surrounded by floodwaters, on the outskirts of Kochi. In court filings, Tamil Nadu said water released from the Mullaperiyar dam only constituted a small part of the spill from the much bigger Idukki reservoir. The IMD has also responded, saying it “issued all necessary severe weather warnings”. KSEB’s Pillai said forecasts failed to predict the intensity of the rain. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

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In January, CWC published guidelines for preparing operating manuals for dams, citing examples of plans to prevent the need for “heavy peak flood releases in panic”. Kerala’s revenue secretary and head of disaster management, P.H. Kurien, said he has twice written to KSEB requesting emergency action plans but has yet to receive them. KSEB’s Pillai said they were still being prepared. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

In January, CWC published guidelines for preparing operating manuals for dams, citing examples of plans to prevent the need for “heavy peak flood releases in panic”. Kerala’s revenue secretary and head of disaster management, P.H. Kurien, said he has twice written to KSEB requesting emergency action plans but has yet to receive them. KSEB’s Pillai said they were still being prepared. (Sivaram V / REUTERS)

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A supply truck transports boats to flooded areas through waterlogged Aluva. Authorities in towns visited by Reuters, meanwhile, say that evacuation warnings were given. “We made repeated microphone announcements about the opening of dam gates and asked people to move to safe places,” said N.R. Jayaraj, deputy superintendent of police in Aluva, a town on the Periyar’s banks that was badly hit by the floods. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

A supply truck transports boats to flooded areas through waterlogged Aluva. Authorities in towns visited by Reuters, meanwhile, say that evacuation warnings were given. “We made repeated microphone announcements about the opening of dam gates and asked people to move to safe places,” said N.R. Jayaraj, deputy superintendent of police in Aluva, a town on the Periyar’s banks that was badly hit by the floods. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

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Many people interviewed by Reuters close to the Periyar said they got no warnings, while those that did said information given was inadequate. “We were told the dam gates would be opened and we’d have to be alert, but no one was warned to expect this much water,” said K.C. Anupama, who works at a school in Neriamangalam, adding the school is 20 feet above the river and was still flooded. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

Many people interviewed by Reuters close to the Periyar said they got no warnings, while those that did said information given was inadequate. “We were told the dam gates would be opened and we’d have to be alert, but no one was warned to expect this much water,” said K.C. Anupama, who works at a school in Neriamangalam, adding the school is 20 feet above the river and was still flooded. (Sivaram V / REUTERS File)

UPDATED ON OCT 12, 2018 09:42 AM IST
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