By William DowellApril 10, 2014
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (April 10, 2014) -- Water is essential for survival, and in southern Afghanistan, survival hinges on the 250-mile-long Arghandab River and its reservoir.
The reservoir was created with the 1952 completion of the United States-funded, earthen Dahla Dam. Built by the Afghans, it originally held 83 billion gallons of water, just under 1/100th the volume of Lake Mead along the U.S.'s Colorado River.
Three decades of war and neglect left the dam, and its network of irrigating canals across Kandahar province, silted and in ruins.
"Water is life. This water will help everyone in the region," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Engineer Danielle Lovellette, about the project she is overseeing to increase reservoir capacity. The project is estimated to affect up to two million people, most in Kandahar province.
Hillsides surrounding the dam are teeming with white-painted rocks, which show where deadly mines were once located and now cleared. Those clearing operations were the first step in the Corps of Engineers two-phase construction plan that will ultimately raise the dam about 25 feet, boosting reservoir holding capacity and increasing water for irrigation and consumption.
"With the clearing operations done we've started Phase One, which is extending the outlet tunnel and eventually building a new valve house," said Lovellette. "These are necessary because when the dam is raised its footprint will grow, covering where these are currently located."
When completed nearly 60 years ago, the dam helped turn the region into Afghanistan's breadbasket, known for growing enough fruit and vegetables to not only feed the country but provide exports. Now, the intake and outlet works don't operate correctly and sediment reduced the reservoir's capacity by one-third to one-half, according to estimates.
Towards the end of most summers, the reservoir is depleted, leaving little for people or farmers downstream. According to Helmand and Arghandab Valley Authority, or HAVA, officials, the water supply doesn't even reach 30 percent of irrigation canals refurbished by the Canadian International Development Agency over the past several years.
"The Canadians rehabilitated many of the irrigation canals south of Dahla Dam as part of their Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project," said Corps Kandahar Resident Office officer in charge Maj. Jeffery Ward. "Projects like those by the Canadians, those of other countries and the U.S. all interconnect. Once we complete phase two, these projects will all come together and greatly increase irrigation and drinking water in Southern Afghanistan."
The effect should be widespread. Arghandab canal, southern Arghandab canal, Baba Wali canal and the south and north Tarnak canals carry water from the Dahla Dam reservoir. The Arghandab River divides into 55 streams and the canals divide into an additional 55 streams, irrigating lands across Afghanistan's agricultural heartland.
HAVA officials say the dam now irrigates nearly 98,000 acres of land, but when completed, those numbers should increase to 150,000 acres. Raising the dam will also help supply Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, which has a population of about 500,000 people.
"Agricultural provides employment for the Afghans," said Ward. "If they're able to employ more people and produce crops for themselves and export, it allows them to have a fulfilling life. Doing this will help them feel more stable and peaceful without a need to become part of the bad element in country."
According to Lovellette, hearing all the good things than can come from this project makes it a very feel-good project. "It definitely gives you chills," she said. "The contractors are very passionate about it as well. It's nice to work with people who are passionate about the project."
The contractor's passion goes beyond working on the dam, they are also helping Afghanistan by offering three programs for its workers. Bryan 77, a joint venture between U.S.-based Bryan Construction and Turkish-based 77 Construction, is offering local workers a literacy course and basic English and Turkish language courses. The programs are being offered to construction workers and protection staff. They are also working on providing welding, auto electric and similar vocational courses in the future.
Dahla Dam Phase 1 is on schedule for July 2015 completion and Phase 2, the actual raising of the dam, in 2017.