More than two years after Minister for Water Resources N.K. Premachandran announced that the government would write to the Centre seeking permission to increase the storage level of the Peppara dam by six metres, the initiative to augment the at-source availability of drinking water to the capital city remains on paper.
On June 16, 2008, Mr. Premachandran had told mediapersons at Peppara dam that it was imperative that the dam's storage capacity be raised so that there was enough water at source to supply additional water to Thiruvananthapuram through new schemes under the JICA and JNNURM projects.
Once these two projects are fully commissioned, the city will get 150 million litres more water daily. (The recently commissioned JICA plant at Aruvikkara is currently operating at half its capacity). The Peppara dam, which now can store 40 million metric cubed of water, will not be able to meet the additional demand.
Soon after the Minister's announcement, the Department of Water Resources forwarded a request to down the dam's shutters to the Forest Department. Since Peppara is a wildlife sanctuary, the State Board for Wildlife headed by the Chief Minister has to recommend the proposal to the national board headed by the Prime Minister. The clearance of the national board will go to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests which will issue the sanction to the State government.
When the proposal from the Water Resources Department came up for discussion at a meeting of the State Board in late 2009 some had argued for downing of shutters pointing out that the rapidly growing capital city had no other source of drinking water. Some Board members countered this by saying if Thiruvananthapuram could recycle at least a portion of its used water and if the conservation ethic is promoted, there would be no need for more water at source. Moreover, these members pointed out, the downing of Peppara's shutters would mean that 267 hectares of forest land inside the sanctuary would get submerged. The meeting decided to appoint a committee to study the issue and submit a report. It could not be immediately ascertained whether this report has been finalised.
Meanwhile, after discussions between Mr. Premachandran and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor a few months ago the Water Resources Department initiated another file on the Peppara issue. This file is still yet to find its way out of the Department. If the State does finally make a request to the Centre it would be its third such plea. Proposals sent in 2002 and 2004 were rejected.
If the shutters of the dam are downed, the height of the water stored in the dam will go up from 104.5 metres to 110.5 metres, which is the Full Reservoir Level. So the total water that can be stored in the dam will go up from 40 million metric cubed to 70 million metric cubed. When the dam was designed, the 267 hectares — which will go underwater if the shutters are downed — were also designated as its catchment area, in other words, earmarked for submergence.
But, when Peppara was notified as a wildlife sanctuary the FRL of the dam was notified as 104.5 metres and not as 110.5 metres — a bureaucratic error which is still unexplainable. Also, the dam's FRL was fixed at 110.5 metres even before the Forest Act was notified. That said, Thiruvananthapuram is yet to have a system to recycle its used water. It is water that gets filtered and treated at Aruvikkara that is used for drinking, bathing and for flushing toilets.
There are a number of engineers in the Kerala Water Authority who argue that even if a portion of the water that the city uses daily gets recycled there wouldn't be a ‘Peppara issue' to begin with.