Magalla Wewa Reservoir and Ridi Bandi Ela

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

Magalla Wewa Reservoir is considered to be one of the sixteen reservoirs (known as Mahadaragalla Wewa) built by King Mahasen (276-303 CE). The Mahavamsa records that it was repaired during the reign of Parakrama Bahu I (1153-1186 AD) and later improved by a feeder canal starting from Daduru Oya, identified as the Ridi Bandi Ela. It is said that when Maha Parakramabahu reigned in the southern part of the country as a prince, he built 5 weirs across Deduru Oya, from which the water was diverted to the Magalla Reservoir by the weir called Sukara Nijjara. It is mentioned in the Chulavamsa that it was called Silver Bandi Ela because the masons who built it were paid in silver coins.

Citing Paduvasdev Vitti, some believe that the Magalla Wewa Reservoir was built by Prince Danda Shakya from India around 540 BCE and was further expanded during the reign of King Mahasen (276-303 AD).

Governor Henry Ward visited the Magalla Reservoir during his field trips in 1855 and 1857 and made recommendations to the British Government for its restoration. He mentioned that the village chief and the villagers also came to talk to him, so there was no difficulty in renovating the reservoir. He said, “One of the great advantages of this area is the presence of a large population and this is one of the elements necessary for the success of the reconstruction work. The same is true for many other reservoirs in the island that have grown wild.

However, it was only in 1873 that the restoration became a reality, as the government could not place much faith in the promises made by the locals.

From 1943-1955, the Irrigation Department restored the ancient Ridi Bendi Ela canal and provided the necessary facilities to make Magalla Wewa Reservoir fertile as it was in ancient times. Modern engineers have chosen the weir across Deduru Oya to divert water through Ridi Bendi Ela, which is 03 km below the ancient weir. This new access canal feeds Sri Magul, Halmilla, Thorapitiya, Kumbuk, Katagamuwa, and Elawaka reservoirs and reaches Magalla covering 20.4 km.

Captain Charles Sim, the Royal Engineer, who carried out technical feasibility and surveys in 1835 for the restoration of the Magalla Reservoir, has submitted an excellent report titled “Upon tank of Nicoverettia” dated March 12, 1857, about the condition of the reservoir, the local residents and the technical proposal for the restoration. The following observations are mentioned in the report.

“However, it has been a long time since harvesting of these croplands and it will take several years for the paddy fields to be cleared of the forest cover and ready to accept rice seed again. ……

By further reducing the estimate for this scheme, while serving the Government’s interests, the main objective is to restore the lake for the welfare of the community will no doubt stimulate the native to quench his toil.

While the Kandyans and natives look with admiration on our great industries of road-building and public works, and acknowledge our skill and power in all things, our interference with reservoirs and canals has hitherto been treated with indifference and insensibility. To us, who are accustomed to a country (Britain) which receives abundant rain in every season, the idea of ​​storing water in reservoirs as a provision for the future, if really considered, is of secondary importance in priority. But to the native people, it is all (reservoirs and canals) – their health, wealth, comfort, civilization etc.

In ancient times the great embankment of the Magalla Wewa was shown to have had the support of all, and at the present day it already shows similar interests by offering voluntary labour. It will therefore be a matter of regret if the people of Nicovertia are disappointed by any mishap in the hopes they have entertained the restoration of the lake..”

He further elaborates on the irrigable area, feeder canals, reservoir area, Biso Kotu and sluices.

“Its shape is irregular, extending over a long area. The area covered by the lake when it was in full condition would have been about 286 acres in perfect condition from the forest boundaries. The copy of the survey I made in 1835, which I submit with this report, is a sufficiently accurate test of any accepted calculation.

The extent of land which was earlier irrigated by the lake is now untraceable. However, it can be estimated that it was at least 300 amunas (or 600 acres). Because that amount of land can easily be brought back to cultivation, besides, according to a former governor, the property owned by the state is 100 amunas.

In addition to the main dam, there were two small dams to hold back the water in Magalla Wewa. The main dam spans 792 yards and has a height of 23 feet and a base of 115 feet. It is now firmly established as a natural site, and is completely covered with large growth shrubs and trees. Footpaths have formed on the embankment due to the movement of cattle and they have sunk and require a small amount of repair. Near one end of the lake is an ancient sluice and a channel to discharge water from it. The portion facing the sluice is properly fixed with huge stones without mortar. Running for14 feet it opens into the Biso Kotuwa or square well, after which it passes 95 feet under the embankment.

The small embankment is 230 meters long and 20 feet high. Like the other, it consists of a Biso Kotuwa and a stone sluice and is still in good condition.

The dam built to collect the water has been swept away by the flood, rendering the reservoir obsolete. Instead of a sprawling reservoir, the lake has shrunk to a mere pond, thickly covered with lotuses and other water plants. Although no house can be seen nearby, the area of ​​90 acres is seen to be cultivated in places. During heavy rains, the natives can secure the required quantity of water through one sluice or when the reservoir rises to a certain level. .”

It is commendable that this comprehensive report has provided good information about the ancient Magalla reservoir and has set the stage for the restoration work to be carried out well.

At present (in 2024), the total capacity of Magalla reservoir is 7,480 acre-feet. The total cultivated area of ​​the system is 2,723 hectares, including some areas cultivated under feeder canals (about 900 hectares). The number of farming families benefiting from irrigation water is 2,769. The irrigation scheme consists of three main canals namely the Right Bank (RB) Canal, the Left Bank (LB) Canal and the Middle Canal. This reservoir also meets the drinking water requirement of Nikaveratiya City and the urban area.

Around the year 2000, there was a leak in the old main sluice and the irrigation engineers managed to prevent a disaster.

It is observed that the reservoir has to be filled four times to meet the water requirement of one season. The main problem in the Magalla scheme was that the limited capacity of the Magalla reservoir was not enough to provide irrigation for 72 hectares for two cropping seasons as Deduru Oya also dries up in certain months. Since the Deduru Oya Reservoir, which was started in 2014, was able to release a constant volume of water into the Deduru Oya, the Ridi Bendi Ela canal diverted enough water to the Magalla reservoir and successfully solved this problem.

Magalla – Ridi Bandi Ela is the first irrigation scheme selected by the government to implement a pilot project of managing an irrigation system in a public-private partnership. The Ridi Bandi Ela Canal Farming Company was incorporated in September 1998 as a public limited company under the Companies Act No. 17 of 1982. The company was empowered to make optimal use of all inputs including land and water. The government invested a lot of money and expertise in this pilot project from 1997-2000. According to financial documents, the company had issued to 2,285 shareholders with a capital value of Rs 860,290 by the end of 2007. The company started various business activities including a group loan program, seed paddy production and supply. Fertilizers and agrochemicals, poultry farming, vegetable seed production, ornamental fish program and various business activities were taken up to enhance the livelihood of the farming community. However, the pilot project failed after about a decade due to numerous weaknesses in financial management and auditing.

The town of Nikaveratiya is enveloped in the serene beauty of the Magalla Reservoir. But the reservoir is more of a lifeline to the community than a picturesque setting, providing benefits across all aspects of everyday life. Indeed this reservoir is not only a local treasure but also a national treasure and it shows the skill and ability of the people who built it.

Preservation of this national treasure is not only the responsibility of the government but also the duty of the direct beneficiaries and every citizen who preserves the natural wonders of their homeland for future generations.

Also See

Map of Magalla Wewa Reservoir

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Traveling Directions to Magalla Wewa Reservoir

From Kurunegala to Magalla Wewa Reservoir
Via : Kabithigollewa
Distance : 40 KM
Travel Time : 1 Hours
Time To spent : 20-30 Minutes
Route : See Google Maps Here


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