Technology, passion meet nature here

Technology, passion meet nature here

Koyna dam is as tall as a 33-storey building

Technology, passion meet nature here

Employees have to be alert 24x7 at dam site

Dams in earthquake prone zones are not uncommon in India as 672 such structures are located in most seismically active areas. Koyna dam is one among hundreds of  projects located in seismic zone. Generally, people in charge of dams in those areas are always on tenterhooks as earthquakes could result in structural damage. If the damage is extensive it might lead to loss of lives of people living downstream.

“Koyna is a unique project. It’s a lifeline, a cradle of nature and is excellent in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, administration and hard work. Besides, there are challenges constantly,” Anil Rane, junior executive engineer of the project, told DH. “It is not just a dam, not just a power station but a university in itself… people across India and the world come to study the dam….it's actually Koyna university,” he added.

Here nature meets technology. It was conceived around the period when Hoover dam, which is located on the border of Nevada and Arizona in the US, was built between 1931 and 1936. However, Koyna dam was constructed  much later and is far more unique and complex than any other dam.

In fact, the Koyna dam and Koklewadi dam are the major constituents of the Koyna Hydro-Electric Project (KHP), which is the largest hydroelectric power station in India with a generation capacity of 1,960 MW.

The dam and the project are in the Satara district in Maharashtra and spreads to the Ratnagiri district in coastal Konkan region. “Koynanagar, Mahabaleshwar and Kaas have a special place as far as tourism in Satara is concerned,” Siddhi Pawar, a councillor of Satara Municipal Council, said.

Visitors are treated to breathtaking views and amazing landscape. A narrow two-lane road leads to the dam. The two must-see places  are the Pandit Nehru Memorial Garden from where one gets a top view of the majestic dam and the Shivaji Sagar lake and the guest house from where the visitor can get the grand view of the dam when water is released.

 The lush green jungle around the dam makes the view awesome. The river turns olive green during the dry months and a bluish-brown during the monsoon. Height of the dam from the river bed to the top is almost equal to a 33-storeyed building. There is an inspection gallery in the middle of the structure. “There are stress meters, strain meters and thermo meters,” Rane said and all of them provide specific inputs.

“We have a real time data acquisition system. The system measures almost everything--water pressure, flow and turbidity, soil movement, tilt, displacement, strain, load, vibration, overburden, generated power, machine status, and many other parameters and details are available on computers,” he said. “We have a network and those who want data can use it  and monitor it,” he pointed out.

The employees have to be always alert. “We have to be alert 24x7...we can’t lower our guard,” said a senior employee. “Everyone's job is clearly defined and there are standard operating procedures,” he said. Around 300 employees are involved in the dam maintenance and power generation operations.

The Koyna river starts from the popular hill station of Mahabaleshwar, which is the source of the Krishna river that flows across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Four other rivers that originate from the hills are the Koyna, Venna (Veni), Savitri, and Gayatri.

Part of the Shivaji Sagar lake and its surroundings come under the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary nestled in Western Ghats, a Unesco World Heritage site. Not far away is Kaas plateau, a biodiversity hotspot, known for various types of seasonal wild flowers and a number of species of endemic butterflies.

Rane said hydel generation is a complex process. The water is drawn from head race tunnels situated below the reservoir. Then it passes through vertical pressure shafts to the underground powerhouses.

He said, “The spillway of the dam is located at the centre. It has 6 radial gates. The dam plays a vital role of flood controlling in monsoon,” he said. “We can control the gates manually also,” he added.

All the components of the project such as powerhouses, head race and tail race tunnels,
pressure shafts are constructed underground and that make them more interesting. “We generate power and irrigate fields and also provide drinking water…we conserve nature,” said A Sankpal, a junior engineer, working at the project.

Across all stages of the dam, 14 to 18 turbines are operational. “A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy,” said Sankpal.

The dam has withstood many earthquakes and the devastating 1967 Koynanagar earthquake
resulted in some cracks in the structure. They were repaired and the dam is as good or rather better than before. At the same  dam project, first and second lake-tapping of Asia  were conducted in 1999 and 2012. There are now expansion plans for the project and another 400 MW is to be added.

In 1960, the then Prime Minister the late Jawaharlal Nehru had visited the dam and in his memory a garden has been named after him. The dam has a viewing gallery, a small museum and an audio-video presentation room.

After dam tour, one gets an impression that the authorities should start dam tourism with adequate checks.

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