Friday, September 25, 2015

One Decade Too Late? No, Two Decades Too Late!

The government had recently said that I am one decade too late in bringing up the issue of the need to keep one river free flowing. But it transpires that I am not one, but two decades late. The recommendation to keep one river basin free of hydropower was apparently included in the first Bhutan Power System Master Plan, prepared and submitted in early 90’s by a World Bank/NORAD Consultant. The Consultant in question, Mr. John H. Gerstle, C.E., MNIF, wrote me the following mail yesterday morning. I have his permission to publish his mail so that, hopefully, the government may reconsider their decision.


Hi Yeshey;

I was very interested to learn recently of your efforts to ensure consideration of relevant issues in Bhutan’s hydropower planning.

My hydropower-related service in Bhutan took place as follows:

1985-1988    Advisor, Planning Commission, RGOB

1988-1990    Himalayan Regional Programme Advisor
                     Water Resources Management and Environment,
                     UNDP, Kathmandu

1990-2004    Consultant on Development of Guidelines for
                     Hydropower Planning and Impact Assessment,
                     National Environmental Secretariat/Planning
                     Commission, RGOB

                     Deputy Project Manager, Bhutan Power System
                     Master Plan Studies, with responsibility for
                     environmental impact concerns/recommendations

                     Environmental Advisor, Mangde Chhu Hydropower
                     Project Feasibility Investigations.

In my work with RGOB, I strongly encouraged the early determination of those rivers and river basins to be designated for hydropower development, and those to be preserved for environmental, social, cultural, tourism, recreational and other objectives.

Similarly, it was recommended that hydropower development be concentrated in a small number of river basins, to limit the extent of the impacts and the expense of new infrastructure development required for projects far away from each other. It was expected that such a concentration of hydropower development along some rivers would enable other rivers to be conserved and protected.

These recommendations were made in the reports of the first Bhutan Hydropower System Master Plan so that the consideration could be done at an early stage, before significant investments and commitments would make such decisions more difficult.

So - you might understand my concern with the current situation - that there are projects existing, under construction or planned for all of Bhutan’s major rivers.  While I certainly understand the political, economic and financial benefits associated with these projects, and the desire to ensure that Bhutan benefits fully from its resources, I wonder whether the full costs - in terms of environmental, social, cultural, aesthetic and other impacts - are being properly considered.

Many of these impacts cannot really be mitigated - or even suitably compensated - and sometimes they are only recognized when it is too late. I am thinking, for example, of a number of hydropower dams in the USA that are being dismantled and taken out at a cost of many millions of dollars - because of the belated recognition of their impacts and the true value of the rivers in their undisturbed state.

I hope that you find these thoughts helpful, and that your efforts are successful to ensure consideration of the full range of relevant aspects which will have such important consequences for Bhutan and its coming generations of citizens. Please feel free to use these comments as you see fit, and it would be fine with me if you want to identify me by name.

I will close by sending you (and Bhutan!) my best wishes.


John H. Gerstle, C.E., MNIF

Gerstle & Co LLC
Cellphone: 720-470-5408
920 Jasmine Circle
Boulder, Colorado 80304

1 comment:

  1. This indifference and inaction from government is starting to piss me....but keep the flag up...there should be a lengthy constructive discussion for a mutual benefit resolution...and liked your Carl Sagan quote... Regards from srilanka... Keel calm and keep fighting..