Picture Courtesy: (Kurichhu Hydropower Plant) DGPC

Lack of rainfall in peak monsoon month hits hydro power and crops

July is supposed to be the peak monsoon season benefitting farmers and our hydro projects, but over the past two weeks, most parts of the country have seen largely dry weather and temperatures being above average in a heatwave.

A weather forecast from the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) says that this condition will persist into the next few days as normal monsoon rains are expected from only next week.

The Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) MD Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that normally July and August are supposed to the peak power production months when all units are fully engaged.

He said there will be a revenue loss if these dry conditions persist unless the monsoon lasts longer.

In the past in the month of July normally all projects would be producing power at full capacity with even a 10% additional load.

This means that even conservatively Bhutan should be generating 1020 MW from Tala, 720 MW from Mangdechu, 336 MW from Tala, 126 MW from Dagachu, 64 MW from Basochu and 60 MW from Kurichu. This should be a total of 2,326 MW and with the total of 10% additional generation it should be around 2,500 MW.

However, as of Friday evening Tala was generating only 759 MW, Mangdechu was at 466 MW, Chukha was at 275 MW, Dagachu is at 49 MW, Basochu is at 64 MW and Kurichu is at 66 MW for a total of only 1,669 MW.

This is 657 MW short if only the installed capacity is concerned and 831 MW short if the 10% additional generation is factored.

With the hydro sector already taking a two week hit, if the rains don’t come in by next week then the notional losses will only mount in its most productive month.

The only hope then is that there is steady rainfall in the coming months and the monsoon lasts longer.

The additional stress here is that the 2022-2023 budget already has the highest ever fiscal deficit on record of 11.25 percent or Nu 22.882 bn shortfall.

A drop in hydro revenue will impact the revenue forecast of the government.

The impact of the hot and dry season is also being felt in the agricultural sector. Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the ongoing dry monsoon has had a great impact on agriculture because, first the paddy transplant has been completed and when it is the peak season when water is needed, there is no rain.

“Water shortage is going to impact the productivity of the paddy. Secondly, it is chilli fruiting season, which needs continuous rain. Irrigation watering is not always effective for chilli in some regions. Water is hence crucial for chilli fruiting,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo added that with the lack of rainfall, all harvests will undoubtedly be affected, for all other crops. “Although we are worried, we are optimistic that it will rain soon,” Lyonpo added.

Meanwhile, as per the Bhutan RNR Statistics 2021, the major cereal crops grown in the country are paddy and maize.

In 2021 as compared to 2020, the domestic paddy harvested area declined by 23%, and the production by 25%. In 2021, the area of maize harvested fell by 27%, while the production fell by 25%.

The report says that in general, natural calamities are the primary cause of crop reduction. Other contributing factors include direct and indirect crop damage from pests, heavy pruning and fruit tree dieback, new varieties with lower yields, and a lack of fertilizers and irrigation.

According to National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) the dry weather and temperature above average might be ascribed, among other factors, to the monsoon’s break brought on by the effect of the low-pressure system and the position of the trough.

Chief of Weather and Climate Services Division (Dr) Singay Dorji said that maximum temperature observed was an average of 2.6 °C above the long term normal for July 2022.

“The high temperature on Thursday was 4.2 °C above average. The current dry weather is anticipated to last for a few more days. Typical monsoon rain is likely starting next week as the monsoon trough is likely to return to its normal position,” he said.

Meteorologist Tshering Lhamo said that given that the current situation is caused by the natural variations in the monsoon, it is difficult to attribute it to climate change.

“This is technically a monsoon season, but we are experiencing a break due to the position of the trough, low pressure, and other variables and we are currently experiencing a higher temperature due to less rainfall,” she said.

Hydrology Meteorology Officer Saroj Acharya said, “We have had higher temperature than that in the past so it is nothing alarming. So far none of the stations exceeded the historical highest maximum temperature. We are constantly monitoring the situation.”

As per NCHM, updates will be provided if there are significant changes in the forecast.

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