The Jaffna Peninsula Plus: Fundamental Water Issues

Jeevan Thiagarajah,  courtesy of Daily News, 31 July 2017, where the essay is entitled “Jaffna: Dead or alive”

Many things can be inferred in the title today! The intent is to say Jaffna can become an arid dessert if it runs out of water. The Jaffna Peninsula is unique in geology and aquifer conditions. The limestone is an important aquifer, and together with thin sand layers form an extensive cover providing a source of drinking water and irrigation across the Jaffna Peninsula. The suitability of water for any use is determined not only by the total amount of salt present in the water but also by the type of salt that is present.

The concept of recharging groundwater aquifers is based on scientific methods developed and used globally based on the Hydrologic Cycle and interactions of Ground Water and Surface Water. The need for recharge is indicated when springs start to go dry, pumping lifts in wells increase, or shallower wells go dry. Several types of structural measures for groundwater recharge may be planned either as multiple purpose structures or solely for recharge.

Water supply proposal

  1. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole had interviewed – Dr. Kasilingam Vigneswaran, an acknowledged authority on water who delivered the first Eng. M. Rathinam Memorial Lecture last week. Here are some of his selected responses –

* Going back to the history of the Iranamadu Reservoir, Kanagarayan Aru has a total catchment of 350 square miles of which 227 square miles are intercepted by Iranamadu Reservoir. It was first constructed in 1922 to a capacity of 40,000 acre feet. Subsequently, it was raised in 1951, 1954 and finally in 1975 to a capacity of 106,500 acre feet. When the current raising to a capacity of 120,000 acre feet was contemplated in 2005, there was a tacit understanding that the additional capacity of 13,500 acre feet would be made available for supplying domestic water to the Jaffna Peninsula as well as to the Kilinochchi town and other townships of Kilinochchi district such as Pallai, Pooneryn, Elephant Pass, Paranthan and Ariviyalnagar where the Kilinochchi Campus is.

There was no intention whatsoever of denying the rights the farmers of Iranamadu which they already enjoyed. Kalapoham (Maha) cultivation of the 20,000 acres would never be affected. Only the Sirupoham (Yala) cultivation extent could be lower during a drought year. Ironically, some 60% of the owners of the paddy lands of Iranamadu are residents of Jaffna Peninsula and they are also objecting to the water supply proposal.

* There is a distinct possibility from Parangi Aru which has a catchment of 325 square miles. We could have Upper Parangi Aru Reservoir with a catchment area of 128 square miles and a capacity of 24,300 acre feet (30 mcm). This would be suited not only to supply water to the Jaffna Peninsula but also to Mankulam and other townships between Mankulam and Jaffna. The current irrigation engineer Jaffna has also offered very good advice.


* Recharge and water saving in households by rainwater harvesting, having infiltration wells, using water permeable paving and reducing water wastage.

* Recharge and water saving by farmers through Drip & Sprinkler Irrigation reduce sgro-chemical use, Organic farming and flood water harvesting.

* Sustainable solutions – Regain Groundwater Resources by Development of Lagoon Schemes, Development of SWE Schemes, Development of Valukkaiaru, Modified River for Jaffna, Development of Ponds, Preserve Limestone & Sand Dunes, Limit usage of Agrochemicals, Implement Sewage System, Rainwater Harvesting, use of infiltration wells, flood water harvesting and reduce water wastage through awareness.



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