By Frank Mugabi
THE River Nile will for the second time in three years undergo a landmark diversion as construction of the 250MW Bujagali Hydropower project gets into its final stage.
Top Bujagali Energy officials, the major sponsors of the multi-billion project, said the diversion that begun yesterday would involve the blocking of the east waterway of the river to allow works commence on the right and final embankment.
â€œThe west channel, which has been closed to river flow for the past three years to permit the construction of key structures, will be opened, while the east channel will be blocked upstream and downstream,â€ Bill Groth, the construction manager, said.
He noted that the water deflection activities that will take place for several weeks will eventually divert the entire river waters through the newly-constructed concrete spillway.
Once the river is diverted, the final phase of the construction will be achieved.
The river was first diverted in September 2007 to create a dry channel where the powerhouse would be erected.
About 90% of the structural concrete on the powerhouse has been completed, while almost all the required electrical mechanical equipment (98%) for it have been delivered on site, Groth said.
He described this as a â€œmilestoneâ€ in the construction of the hydroelectric power project which is expected to double the generation capacity and reduce dependency on the costly thermal generation.
â€œThis is an important phase because the powerhouse where the turbines are being installed is also approaching completion.
â€œWe expect the first unit generation of 50MW around October, which again is a milestone in this project,â€ Groth disclosed.
He added that after the first unit goes online, the remaining four units of 50 MW each will be commissioned consecutively after thorough tests.
The project is expected to be fully commissioned by April 2012.
Groth revealed that 75% of the total project is complete with 95% of the switchyard civil works done and 75% of the electromechanical works accomplished.
Groth urged rafters, kayakers, boaters, swimmers, fishermen and tour operators using the Upper Nile River to avoid the diversion area as the river flow will be highly turbulent and unpredictable during the water diversion.
â€œAfter February 15, it will not be possible to travel down the river past the project site.
â€œFor safety reasons, we advise all users to exit the river well upstream of the diversion area,â€ he said.
The deputy construction manager, Kenneth Kaheru, allayed fears that rafting, which is popular with tourists, would come to a complete end with the river diversion.
He said the rafting activities would move to downstream at the Kalagala offset which is being developed as a recreation and tourist attraction.