Major milestone achieved in Uma Oya project


A 3.7 km tunnel linking the two dams of the Uma Oya irrigation and power project is now complete, a major milestone in the multi-million-dollar scheme to bring much-needed water and electricity to Sri Lanka’s arid southeast.

One of the biggest development and construction projects in Sri Lanka, Uma Oya aims to provide water for drinking, industry and irrigation in the southeastern dry zone of the South Asian island and generate much-needed hydro-electric power.

"The breakthrough was achieved on January 14 and the tunnel excavation is now complete," Iranian contractor Farab said. "This is a major milestone in the completion of the Uma Oya project and everyone involved should be congratulated for this great achievement."

The project consists of a hydro-electric power plant, three tunnels with a collective length of 23 km, and the Puhulpa and Dyraaba dams, which span the two main tributaries of the Uma Oya River. When operational, the power plant will add 120 MW to Sri Lanka’s electricity generating capacity.

The tunnels connect the dams which will regulate the release of water downstream and take water to the power generation unit.

"The link tunnel joins the dams at Pohulpola and Dyraaba to give a bigger reservoir of water to feed the 15 km headrace tunnel which takes the water to the underground power house," said David Lees, chief site supervisor of Amberg, a Swiss engineering firm working on the project.

Sowing the seeds of hard work

According to Sri Lankan officials, the Uma Oya mega project will spur development and play a key role in the growth of arid and under-privileged agricultural districts of southeastern Sri Lanka.

"The Sri Lankan government is aiming to carry out a number of industrial plans in the area after the completion of the Uma Oya project," said Harin Fernardo, a former chief minister of Uva province and Sri Lanka’s current minister of telecommunication. "The plans will create new jobs and business opportunities."

People who live in south eastern Sri Lanka are badly hurt by lack of rainfall. Most are dependent on agriculture for a living and do not have access to enough water to drink or to water their crops.

"There are more than 30,000 hectares of agricultural land in the area that cannot be fully utilised due to the lack of irrigation facilities and water shortages," said Udaya R. Seneviratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Mahawali Development and Environment.

"Through this project not only will these lands be fully exploited, but another 5,000 hectares of new land will be developed for cultivation", he said.

Large-scale infrastructure projects like Uma Oya, however, do not come without cost.

"Farab and its subcontractors took every measure possible to minimise the impact of the construction work", said Lees adding that the extremely complex and unique geology of Sri Lanka and the large scale of the project made it impossible to foresee every underground hazard.

"With mega projects like Uma Oya to some extent damage cannot be avoided. But, people should know that the issues they are facing are temporary and they will realise the value of the project once it is implemented," said Seneviratne.

The Sri Lankan government and Farab have taken steps to compensate those affected by the construction work. According to Farab, despite the challenges, construction work is in full swing.

"Construction work of two out of three tunnels is completed," the company said. "The excavation of the 15 km headrace tunnel, which is by far the longest tunnel to be built in Sri Lanka, is over 50 percent complete."

The project’s two dams are still under construction. Work on the Dyraaba dam is already more than 80 percent complete and Farab started the construction of Puhulpola dam in early October.

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