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Phewa lake dried up drastically after decades. Locals suspect foul play, but authorities call for calm

The lake’s water level on Friday shrunk dramatically concerning locals. Photo: Sudarshan Ranjit Photo: Sudarshan Ranjit

Ninety-three-year-old Mangali Jalari, from Khahare, Pokhara, has seen it all. During her lifetime, Pokhara has transformed from a small village to Nepal’s major city and its tourist hub. The whole city has transformed as has the Phewa lake.

On Friday, when she heard about the lake’s water shrinking, she left her house to see it for herself. She had seen the water shrink before, but the scene, at the lake, on Friday shocked her. 

“Things have been bad before. But, this is disheartening,” Jalari told Onlinekhabar.

Having seen the lake even before a dam was constructed, Jalari says this is the worst she has seen in her lifetime. She says the construction of the dam had affected the water level, but not to an extent as it was seen on Friday.

The dam, with the financial help from India, was constructed in 1961 for irrigation and hydropower purposes. The nearly 300-metre-long and 46-foot-high 11-door dam broke down in 1975.

“It was quite the scene. After the dam broke, it brought with it concrete structures and trees into the lake,” says Jalari. “I remember walking to Tal Barahi (a shrine at the centre of the lake). You can imagine how low the water level was.”

But, things improved in a few years’ time as the dam was repaired under the leadership of then Prime Minister Kirtinidhi Bista. The repair work of the dam started in 1977 and was complete by 1981 and was inaugurated by the Minister for Water Resources Pashupati Shumsher Rana. Since the incident in 1975, Jalari does not recall the water level being as low what she saw on Friday.

“Maybe there was some problem with the dam because there is no other reason why the water level decreased as it has.”

Jalari is not the only person who is shocked by the sudden shrinking of the lake. A lot of netizens of Pokhara are also showing concerns. The concern is valid as the lake has shrunk at a time when the government is measuring the periphery of the lake.

The Water Resources and Irrigation Development Division Office, Kaski, has said that this is due to repair works at the dam which, in the past 40 years, has not been repaired. The office says the level has decreased as it is working on a rubber shield and downstream site which controls the flow of the water.

“The plan was to decrease the water level by two metres,” says Kiran Acharya, an engineer who works at the division office. “But after everyone raised their concern, we’ve decided to only decrease it by a metre. Whether or not we can continue the repair work by doing so is  being assessed.”

The dam was constructed in 1961. Photo: Sudarshan Ranjit.

He says that the office would work on the dam by decreasing the water level by a metre for the next four to five days after which they will come to a concrete decision.

He says that if they decrease the water level by three metres, it will be similar to the level it reached when it broke down in 1975.

Acharya says that the water level decrease was due to technical reasons and calls for calmness.

Khimlal Gautam from Survey office, Kaski, has asked people not to believe in fake news about encroachment.

However, Gyan Bahadur Jalari says due to the decrease, a lot of fish have died. Along with the fishermen, boat operators have also criticised the officials for not informing them about this earlier. 

The Rs 10-million contract for the dam’s repair has been given to Haribasu Construction Company from Parbat.

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Amrit Subedi is a Pokhara-based correspondent for Onlinekhabar.

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