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Recent earthquake brings disagreement over a new Mullaperiyar Dam to a head

IDUKKI DISTRICT, India 11/29/11 (PennWell) – Four moderate earthquake tremors recently occurring in the catchment area of Mullaperiyar Dam in India have again raised concerns regarding safety of the 116-year-old dam.

According to a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 or higher could make the dam collapse, potentially killing more than 4 million people in the Idukki, Emakulam, Kattayam and Alappazha districts. Tremors recorded in the district over the past 12 months have ranged from 2.4 to 3.8 in magnitude.

However, the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu cannot come to an agreement about Mullaperiyar Dam.

The dam and the 450 million cubic meters of water it impounds are located in Kerala, but a 999-year lease that dates to the dam’s completion in 1895 stipulates that the waters serve Tamil Nadu. The agreement also states that the dam is operated by Tamil Nadu.

Increasing water demands in Tamil Nadu led that state’s government to push for increasing the height of the dam to 142 feet from 136 feet, but the region’s frequent seismic activity and recent flooding have brought the safety of the existing structure into question.

Kerala wants to build a new dam, but Tamil Nadu fears this might decrease its water supply. Kerala officials hope a written assurance given by its Water Resources Ministry on Nov. 28 will satisfy Tamil Nadu. Under the new agreement, the government of Kerala would finance a new dam 1,500 feet downstream from the existing one, while Tamil Nadu would be guaranteed the same amount of water it currently receives.

“We are not against Tamil Nadu’s interest,” Kerala chief minister Chandy says. “We are ready to give them water.”

The issue was presented to Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh on Nov. 29.

India’s central government has been hesitant to take a stance so far, instead arguing that it is a matter between the two states.

Construction of the new dam is expected to cost Rs 600 crore.

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