Sad reminder of what results from ill-conceived legislation
Today “mini-hydro” appears to be one of the “in” things in a country where the terrain and streams that often flow down its hillsides make an exploitation of those water resources something practical.
I do have what used to be a fairly substantial stream flowing through and out of my land. This stream used to be completely within the land owned by my grandfather, and my father and an uncle after him until the advent of the Kobbekaduwa “Land Reforms”. What happened subsequent to this piece of legislation is, unfortunately, history.
But I digress. Long before I was born, my grandfather had constructed a dam which trapped the waters of the stream in a little reservoir, about 12 feet at the deepest point. The water then was carried out of this dam, in a galvanized pipe of about 6 inches in diameter, straight down, a drop of several hundred feet, to the factory of one division of the estate he then owned. Here the water was jetted on to a pelton which acted much like a water wheel and drove a series of belts and pulleys which, during the day, turned the rollers through which the rubber sheets were rolled and, at night, ran a dynamo that produced enough electricity to light up my grandfather’s not inconsiderable home at the very top of the hill. In addition, the water power was applied to drive a wood-heated cocoa bean dryer which was used in wet weather when the beans could not be spread out on mats to dry in the sun.
As far as the ecologically-friendly use of this resource, it should be noted that none of the water was diverted from its flow , except for its journey from the dam to the factory and back into the stream.
And what is there of all of this today?
The dam, thanks to excellent construction is undamaged, though the reservoir itself is silted to a point where there is barely two feet of water at its deepest point. The pipe that carried the water to the pelton has disappeared, sold as scrap iron. The steel pulleys and other equipment that powered the rubber rollers etc. also made their final journey to the scrap yard many moons ago. In fact, the entire factory/production facility no longer exists. Incidentally, there are no cocoa beans to cure because the plantation that produced this crop no longer exists, Guinea B grass having taken the place of Theobroma Cacao. There are no rubber sheets to roll either because 90% of the rubber plantation has also gone the way of all the other vegetation in this land, to be replaced (again) by the self-same Guinea B grass and secondary jungle.
Another result of the devastation of the vegetation in the watershed of this and other streams in the area is a significant drop in the flow levels except during the height of the rainy seasons.
But even if there is no crop to which water power could be applied in the production, and the flow is but a fraction of what it was in the “bad old colonial days”, electricity, which is an increasingly expensive commodity in this country, could still have been generated at virtually no cost using a renewable resource.
The destruction that was wrought by the so-called “Land Reforms” has only left a dam, built by a “foreigner” who made Sri Lanka his permanent home and raised seven children with his Sinhalese wife.
This is but a sad reminder of what results from ill-conceived legislation driven by malice. What is sadder yet is that this tragic state of affairs is being compounded by practices that are causing additional damage to the environment through large scale pollution, all practised with impunity and often by local political authorities or with their acquiescence. But those are other stories for another time.