A new water supply for Karachi called K-IV that should have been ready by this year is likely to never see the light of day—not just because it was badly designed and financially planned from inception but because an Ayub-era connecting canal needs to be upgraded to carry the water from the River Indus.
In the latest development in K-IV’s 18-year saga, the Sindh Cabinet has made some unpleasant decisions on what needs to be accomplished to get at least some of the job done.
K-IV in a nutshell
To recap, K-IV or K4 is the fourth of Karachi’s water supply projects since 1953. It was planned as a system of three canals that would be built one by one to carry new water supplies to Karachi’s existing KW&SB network.
The first canal would carry 260 million gallons a day from Keenjhar lake and the idea was to later build the last two canals to slowly ramp up supplies to 650 million gallons a day. Today Karachi’s people need 1,200 million gallons a day but get less than half.
By 2018 when construction hit major snags, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah halted work. He formed three committees of official engineers, top-tier bureaucrats and well-respected academics to examine the critical feedback elicited from independent engineering firm Nespak on Osmani & Co Ltd’s original designs of the canals. Osmani had won the contract to design K-IV in 2005 and the hope was that the first canal would be built by 2011 for Rs25 billion.
Sindh Cabinet decisions on K-IV
The 18-member Sindh Cabinet led by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met June 17 and approved the committee proposals on how to progress with the first canal.
The Technical Committee proposed that designer Osmani go over the hydraulics, stability of canal slopes, possibility of seepage in the deeper cross-sections, redesign the cross drainage system that carries run-off from the Kirthar hills when it will rain. It should do geotechnical testing where Nespak has identified and revisit the design for seismic analysis (given the risk of earthquakes).
The committee proposed the government should stick to the original route. Nespak had, however, raised questions about this choice. For the record, the CM told the cabinet that route “has always remained questionable.”
It passes through bad terrain, and goes through Bahria Town and very close to DHA City.
More importantly, the committee proposed that Osmani do all this fixing at no extra cost. It said that the FWO, which was constructing the canals, would get these reworked designs checked. Embarrassingly so, the committee said Osmani should get competent professionals on the job, given the problems Nespak has pointed out.
Once the reworked designs are ready, a revised PC-1 or budget proposal would have to be prepared. This means the whole process of building these canals is still going to cost the Sindh taxpayer more. The CM said he wanted the project completed as soon as possible and the local government department ensure the revised PC-I be submitted early so it can be discussed with the federal government. He stressed that it must ensure design corrections Nespak has pointed out.
One of the major problems with the planning so far was that essential pieces of the K-IV system were not factored in. This included pumping stations, power plants to run them and filtration plants to clean the water being supplied to the city. All of this has to be done now.
K-IV’s augmentation works were discussed while reassessing the way forward. Augmentation is, simply put, the way that the new canal will be connected to Karachi’s existing pipeline network. Fortunately, the Japanese had already drawn up these plans. The cabinet agreed that it would be funded by the World Bank, which is already working separately on the Karachi Water and Sewerage Services Improvement Project.
The committee flagged the quality of water from Keenjhar, for which it recommended the government task the Sindh Environment Protection Agency. And for the land needed for the K-IV infrastructure, it was agreed that the government would push to acquire it early.
In the cabinet meeting, the chief minister was candid about the problems K-IV has been facing due to faulty planning and implementation. He is faced with the unenviable task of completing this behemoth task. Not only are the sins of engineers and bureaucrats past coming to haunt his administration but he has to battle for more water quotas for Karachi to even get this project’s first drop into the city’s taps.
Earlier incorrect costing, financial and physical planning has compromised this project from inception. Departments kept revising costs to cover up earlier mistakes.
Murad Ali Shah’s administration will have to find the money to pay to finish K-IV. He noted that the earlier plans and budgets entirely skipped essential and supplementary components, which will now cause not only more delays but ramp up the cost. This time he wants the revised costs and modified design to ensure that no essential component is missed out.
All of the forums where K-IV was discussed accepted the design flaws and vulnerabilities Nespak identified—except its recommendation to change the route.
Where will this extra water come from?
Perhaps most importantly, without which none of K-IV will ever become a reality, is the actual new water supplies from the River Indus for which the canal was being built in the first place. This is perhaps why the minutes of the cabinet meeting contained this alarming sentence: The KW&SB, Sindh government’s Project Steering Committee and Cabinet also agreed that the Sindh government “may approve the option of implementation of 260mgd of K-IV Project, instead of 650mgd.” (Our italics)
With the completion of K-III in 2005, Karachi had reached the end of its permitted allocation of 1,200 cusecs (650mgd) from the Indus River. The Japanese had clearly said in their exhaustive study of Karachi’s water needs that it would still need “another 1,200 cusecs, raising the total allocation to 2,400 cusecs.” The government would have to do this “under a national cause without affecting the water supply quota of the Thatta District for agriculture purposes.” This is one of the chief minister’s challenges. He cannot, despite pressure from any stakeholder, deprive Thatta of water to give to Karachi.
This water shortage reality is clearly mentioned in the minutes of the Cabinet meeting. “[N]o extra quota of 650mgd has been approved by IRSA for K-IV.” If Sindh wants to draw more water from the Indus River, it has to talk to the federal government.
The minutes state that the Sindh government has guaranteed at least the first canal’s 260mgd by upgrading the irrigation system—it won’t be able to go beyond this quota even though K-IV is supposed to be 650mgd in total.
“The Sindh government has decided to work on 260mgd water supply under K-IV,” confirmed committee member Roshan Shaikh while speaking to SAMAA Digital. “The other remaining two phases, consisting of 260mgd and 130mgd, are not in the plan of Sindh government right now, as the water availability is being an issue to induct 650mgd water for Karachi.”
What has emerged is that water for the first canal will only be able to reach Karachi if the connection to Keenjhar Lake is fixed. Nespak had pointed this out to the committee: “Water availability of 260mgd … is subject to the major rehabilitation of the existing irrigation system without which the same may not be possible to ensure.” It was talking about the 43km Kalri Baghar Feeder Upper canal built from 1950 to 1955 to carry 9,500 cusecs from Kotri barrage to take water from the Indus River and deposit it in Keenjhar lake (from where the Keenjhar Gujjo canal brings it to Karachi). Years of wear and tear and silt deposits means that KB Feeder Upper needs to be lined with concrete to stop seepage loss. In February, the CM had already mentioned setting aside Rs6 billion for this.
In 2017, a handout from CM House states that Nespak was being paid Rs35 million to prepare a report on enhancing the Kalri Baghar Feeder’s ability to carry water. The PC-1 was titled, ‘Water requirement for K-IV project Improvement of KB Feeder and Keenjhar Lake’ worth Rs21.508 billion. The PC-I was under scrutiny at that point. Nespak had even prepared a feasibility study on KB Feeder and Keenjhar Lake to suggest ways to upgrade it in preparation for K-IV.
Former KW&SB MD Asadullah Khan told SAMAA Digital, however that the work has not yet started, to his knowledge. “I do not know too much regarding the project, as the matter is pertaining to the Sindh Irrigation Department and consultant firm Nespak, but it is in my knowledge the upgradation work of KB feeder is not started yet…”
The other parts of the irrigation system that need to be upgraded include Keenjhar Lake itself. A spillway needs to be built for overflowing water when the lake fills up. Its embankments need to be raised. But some parts of these projects met political opposition as it affected farmland around the lake and water supplies to Thatta.
Notes of dissent: committee member disagreements
The Sindh Cabinet may have unanimously endorsed the committee proposals. But the minutes of the Cabinet meeting is a document that should ideally be read in conjunction with the dissenting notes attached by committee members who did not agree on important points.
Here is a quick summary, and below that their actual notes, for the record:
– Some water flow studies need to be done for comparison as it will have bearing on how the KW&SB will decide the price of water
– International experts should vet the reworked design and not the FWO (as the cabinet decided)
– The committee recommendations were made without its members even visiting K-IV’s site despite asking
– Nespak’s points should be taken seriously.
One of the committee members was Muhammad Shafqat Ejaz, who is a professor of Civil Engineering at NED University. His technical note said, “M/s OCL to carry out detailed hydraulic analysis of 260mgd flow as conduit flow from pumping location at DM 28Km with HDPI or economically suitable material and compare economically with free surface flow system modified as per (i)-(viii) above.”
He felt, “[t]his will give the lifecycle comparison of the two systems as it will be having repercussions on setting the water tariff and subsidy to be given over a period of operations. The danger of debris flow to free surface flow system in the event of rainfall/storms will also be eliminated in the cut areas.” SAMAA Digital contacted Prof. Ejaz for an explanation but was unable to persuade him to break it down.
The technical jargon aside, even a layperson can glean from his note that he was recommending a comparison between two types of water flowing mechanisms as he felt it would have an impact on water pricing.
For his part, the chairman of the Sub-Committee and secretary of the Technical Committee, Asadullah Khan, who at the time was also KW&SB MD (since removed), wanted the third-party vetting to be done by international experts and not the FWO. “It is recommended that after incorporating all the shortcomings in the original design by M/s OCL, the third-party validation must be carried out through international experts rather than the FWO for confirming the modified design of M/s OCL,” his dissenting note said. He felt that the project’s risk assessment must be carried out by a reputable international or local firm.
The Special Secretary (Technical) for Local Government, Syed Muhammad Taha, on both committess, said in his dissenting note that he and other committee members had not visited the site even though they had demanded it. He felt that the correct analysis of the Nespak report must be incorporated in the Osmani design and M/s OCL take responsibility for what was pointed out.
Taha added that although the canal route is not properly justified, the Technical Committee could consider it on merit and it be ultimately decided by the KW&SB governing body and then the Sindh government.
The dissenting note from Khurram Shehzad, the Project Manager (100mgd) KW&SB, said: “Since the recommendations are merely based on presentations, discussions, Nespak observations on the Design Report and replies of OCL without conducting any site visit, I would like to agree to disagree with the recommendations made in 5(c) of the report to get the third-party validation from the FWO other than an international consultant.”
Nespak’s report in some matters contradicts its international associate M/s Deltares, which renders the report dubious and may require third-party validation of the modified design report (to be submitted by Osmani) to be carried out through a well-renowned international consultant that specialises in this field.
Pritam Das, a superintendent engineer with the Sindh irrigation department, said: Most members of the Sub-Committee have not inspected the site. “In my view, no technical comments may be made without visiting an engineering project. The hydraulic model of the project may be made for vetting. Nespak has recommended looking for an alternate route. That should not be ignored.”
A KW&SB senior officer on condition of anonymity told SAMAA Digital that Osmani lacked competent, professional and skilled engineers. “Osmani has not been able to rectify the flaws in K-IV’s design during the last 15 years, so how will it be possible to modify the design of the project on the identification of Nespak in two months?” he said.
Chronology: K-IV design review at a glance
Nov 2018: CM visits K-IV site and wants a third-party to independently check K-IV’s design.
Jan 2019: Stakeholders meet at HQ V Corps.
Feb 2019: Stakeholders agree to have third-party validation.
March 2019: Sindh government asks Nespak to independently check the Osmani design.
June 2019: Nespak gives its findings to KW&SB.
Aug 2019: Nespak presents report to CM and governor.
Sept 2019: KW&SB sends Nespak’s findings to Osmani.
Oct 2019: Osmani raises objections to Nespak’s points. CM and Commander V Corps chair a meeting with Nespak and Osmani presenting their case.
Nov 2019: Sindh government forms Technical Committee to scrutinize Nespak findings.
Dec 2019: Nespak responds to Osmani objections, gives its report.
Jan 2020: Technical Committee and Sub-Committee, Nespak and Osmani all meet. Technical Committee wraps up its report for Sindh government.
May 2020: KW&SB members meet at local government department, recommend sending the case to the Project Steering Committee.
June 2020: Project Steering Committee sends Technical Committee recommendations to Cabinet for a final decision.
June 2020: Sindh Cabinet unanimously approves the way forward. Sindh Secretary for Planning conveys developments to Islamabad (secretary for Ministry of Planning & Development).
July 2020: Local Government Secretary updates the chairman of Planning & Development.
With writing and editing by Mahim Maher