Flood Warning System for the Sutlej River in Remote Northern India

by Jerad D. Bales,
Michael D. Kane,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008: Ahupua'A


Through a collaborative effort of the Central Water Commission (CWC) of India, the U.S. Agency for International Development (which provided funding for the project), Riverside Technology, and the U.S. Geological Survey, a pilot flash-flood warning system is being implemented for the upper Sutlej River basin in northern India. Floods in 2000 and 2005 were responsible for dozens of fatalities along this river. During the 2005 flood, 14 bridges on the sole highway through the Sutlej valley were destroyed, and ground transportation into and out of many villages was lost for months. The Sutlej River, which originates in remote regions of China, is prone to extreme flashfloods resulting from localized cloudbursts, the failure of debris dams, or sudden glacial outburst.Hence, floods can be independent of weather and, therefore, difficult to forecast. As a result, a flood-warning system is needed to measure, transmit, and forecast water levels at remote upstream points in order to assist in flood mitigation. A data-collection and telemetry network composed of four stage gages along an approximately 150-km reach of the river was installed by CWC. Some of the gages are read manually at hourly intervals, and data are reported by cellphone to the CWC office in Shimla by observers. The travel time of a flood wave through this reach of the river generally is less than 4 hours. The flood-warning system receives and archives data and performs simple flood-routing calculations in order to estimate time of arrival of the flood wave. This system now provides warning of critical flooding conditions on the Sutlej River occurring at Khab (an observation station near the India ? China border) and gives sufficient notice to local officials to prevent fatalities. The flood-warning system also allows operators of the Nathpa Jakhri hydropower project located about 150 km downstream from Khab to take the appropriate action to prevent damage to the facilities. As this is a pilot or demonstration project, the flood-warning system was designed for easy implementation in other Indian basins by CWC personnel. These combined efforts will reduce the vulnerability of citizens in the upper Sutlej River basin to flash floods, improve warning capabilities of the CWC of India, and increase long-term collaboration between Indian and U.S. hydrologists and meteorologists.

Subject Headings: Floods | Rivers and streams | Developing countries | Disaster warning systems | Project management | Basins | Highway bridges | Asia | India | China

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