The most ambitious water engineering project in the world is set to begin in India.

India plans to create the longest river in the world, 7,953 miles, to combat severe drought in central and southern India and frequent flooding in the north.  The river system at 7,953 miles is almost double that of the current longest river the Amazon, 4,345 miles.

1/3 of India struggles with drought from erratic monsoons and population density while an 1/8 struggles with frequent flooding, the canal system is expected to provide relief on both fronts. The urgency is keenly felt following weak monsoons the last couple of years. This is exacerbating drought conditions across the country affecting over 330 million Indians. The severe drought has led to riots, trains being used to ferry water, and walking marathons for supplies.

The world’s largest irrigation infrastructure project will interlink and change the flow of 30 major rivers. 14 Himalayan rivers in the north and 16 rivers in western, central, and southern India will be linked via 3,000 dams and 30 mega-canals This canal system will channel 46 trillion gallons of water annually, enough to supply over 100 mega-cities like New Delhi or Mumbai. To give some perspective on the shear amount of water rerouted from the northeast to west, central India, 1.46 million gallons per second will be routed. Hoover Dam is capable of almost 400,000 gallons per second at current water levels. Niagara Falls high flow rate is roughly 750,000 gallons per second and the average flow rate is roughly 500,000 gallons per second.

The project is estimated to cost $168 billion while doubling India’s power capacity and providing irrigation to over 86 million acres.

Project Concerns

Critics have voiced many concerns about the projects economic viability and environmental sustainability. Unofficial estimates say the project will displace 1.5 million people and use 257 thousand acres of natural forest. 14,500 acres is from the Panna Tiger Reserve, this amounts to 10% of its total area.

Chittenipattu Rajendran, from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, says “A river is not just a natural pipe through which water flows. It carries deposits and sediments. Dams trap sediments that are critical to habitats downstream.”

Despite these concerns, Prime Minister Modi has given the project his full backing and it is expected to get the green light imminently.

Source: BBC, The Diplomat

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