Ancient Reservoirs of Ethimale, Kotiyagala and Panama

By Ms. Badra Kamaladasa (Former Director General of Department of Irrigation)
By Ms. Badra Kamaladasa (Former Director General of Department of Irrigation)

Wila Oya that commences its journey from the Helabada-Bowitiya mountain range in Moneragala joins the eastern sea at Panama in Ampara District. Wila Oya catchment gets its importance because its development history dates back to Dutugemunu era. Major irrigations schemes that are currently in operation in the Wila Oya catchment are Ethimale Wewa, Kotiyagala Wewa and Panama Wewa reservoirs. There are numerous minor tanks that could be traced in the survey sheets, of which most are now abandon.

According to folklore King Dutugemunu had entrusted his brother Saddhathissa the development of the East and South-east areas of the country. Prince Saddhathissa had developed the water resources in the area and had created an environment where people did not have to face food shortages.

King wanted to check the progress achieved and had sent a person with a bag full of paddy and wanted him to sell it. The person had walked in the entire area bu could not find any one who wanted to buy and had finally reported it to the King. King has realized all are self sufficient and had called back his brother with the message “enough brother” which means Ethi Male in Sinhala. After that area has been known as Ethimale and the irrigation reservoir in this area as as the Ethimale Wewa.

Ethimale Wewa Reservoir

However, this area had been deserted over many centuries later, until the Irrigation Department commenced development of the water resources in the beginning of the 1950s. In 1958 restoration work of Ethimale Wewa had commenced and 334 families selected from Badulla, Welimada and Moneragala were given land. By 1964 on completion of the canal systems water was released for cultivation.

Technology used to build the Ethimale Wewa was amazing. The earthen bund made to retain water had been constructed in three sections joining four different mountain hills. The water from the reservoir is not released to the paddy fields directly but to the Wila Oya and at an anicut 4.5 Km downstream, it is diverted through a canal system to the fields. The main canal runs two kilometers parallel to Wila Oya and only after that the water is released to fields through distributary canals. The water thus distributed is retained by few small reservoirs along the canal and thereafter released to adjoining fields from these reservoirs.

Geological investigations done by the Irrigation Department revealed that as per the geological formations in the area there is a likelihood of water seeping through the foundation or through the mountain hills. In 1984, the tank breached due to seepage at such a location between a hill and the bund. One who would have visited the area will remember the rock outcrops common in the area.

Kotiyagala Wewa Reservoir

There is information to believe that the Kotiyagala in Wila Oya basin also a historical irrigation reservoir. After restoring the reservoir in 1960 people in the area who had been engaged in Chena cultivation has been given lands under the scheme, by the Irrigation Department. There are about two hundred families in the scheme cultivating 450 acres of land.

Panama Wewa Reservoir

Panama Wewa reservoir is the lowest tank in the Wila Oya catchment. When information about the tank was sought by Irrigation Engineer Thileepan, the following important information has been provided by two farmers of the scheme Mr. Thehemi Heen Banda (94 years of age) and Mr. Wasantha Hami (93 years of age). I like to salute and wish both of them, who provided us with this valuable information, with good health and long life.

A person by the name Markandi had been visiting Panama from Batticalo area to sell sugar and tobacco in 1915-16. He had later brought a land and commenced cultivation. Happy with the returns he has extended his cultivation by adding land making a plot of 14 acres. Thereafter he has invested his personal money to build Panama Wewa. He had paid 50 cents for each cube (100 cubic feet) of earth put in to the bund. Later proctor Mr Subramanium also had contributed. Villagers who had land in the command area had also helped and a small reservoir capable of supporting the paddy fields had been built. During those times, irrigation headman controls the whole command area. He had assigned some lands to five farmers and had get them to work in the construction as well. Only seven feet of water was available and the bund top was very narrow and only a wide for a footpath.

People did not have gunny bags or baskets to carry earth. Soil was removed and transported using a vessel build from barks of Halmilla trees. This is in 1927. Construction extended from 1924 to 1933 and finally they were able to cultivate 18 acres of old land 400 acres of new lands. In 1944, during DS Senanayake era, a spill had been constructed using cement and tank had been renovated. Currently around 460 acres of paddy is cultivated. There is a building constructed to house watchers and to date there are watchers employed to look after the reservoir.

Wila Oya catchment consisting of 490 Sq Kms, gets an annual rainfall between 1400 to 1600 mm. Out of this two third falls during September to February, during Maha cultivation period and as a result in certain periods of the year Wila oya dries up. To address this Irrigation Department has framed several project proposals. One such is a medium level scheme named as Wila Oya reservoir. In addition there is also a proposal to augment the Wila Oya catchment through a transbasin canal diverting water from Kumbukkan Oya. This proposal is going to address the water shortages in both Ethimale and Kotiyagala schemes.

Also See

Map of Ethimale Wewa Reservoir

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Kotiyagala Wewa through Ethimale Wewa

From Buttala to Kotiyagala Wewa Reservoir
Via : Hulandawa
Distance : 52 km
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Time to spend: Between 15-30 minutes at each location
Directions : View here in Google Maps


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