The India Meteorological Department points out that for the country as a whole, cumulative rainfall during this year’s monsoon upto 22 June has been 18 per cent below the long period average. Although hopes are high that the monsoon will revive by the next month, the situation at hand would spell doom for rain dependent farmers. A review of the reservoirs of India also shows the poor state of affairs, as far as water availability is concerned. Depleting and poorly replenished, reservoirs are either running dry or nearly so, further aggravating the situation.
On Thursday, June 23, 2016, Central Water Commission (CWC) released their weekly reservoir storage bulletin wherein it showed how water levels in major reservoirs of the country are alarmingly low. CWC monitors 91 reservoirs in India with total live storage capacity of 157.799 BCM. The present live storage recorded is 23.202 BCM, which is merely 15 per cent of total live storage capacity of these reservoirs marking a steep decline in water availability.
According to Dr. Rakhi Parijat, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Miranda House, University of Delhi, “the ratio of available water and water consumption is very disproportionate. With the increase in consumption level, water availability is decreasing and thus water available in reservoirs is also less.”
Reservoirs supply water for drinking and irrigation throughout the country. As per the CWC report the water level in the southern region is worst hit, as compared to other regions, with only 9 per cent of the total live storage capacity of 31 reservoirs being available. Nine reservoirs are left with no water at the moment, of which six are in Maharashtra, one in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (combined project in both States) and two in Karnataka. Maharashtra is already facing drought like conditions. Live storage of reservoirs in other regions has declined as well. In the northern region live storage in reservoirs is just 24 per cent of its total capacity, followed by 16 per cent in the eastern, 9 per cent in western and 20 per cent live storage in central region.
May is considered end of summer, with the monsoonal activity starting thereafter. Thus comparing the latest CWC data against the 26.05.2016 report it is seen that the present water storage in reservoirs has gone down further from 26.816 in May to 23.202 BCM by the 23rd of July instead of swinging upward. The number of reservoirs with declining water levels increased in Maharashtra from five to six reservoirs, as well as Karnataka where one more dam marked zero live storage. According to Dr. Ajit Tyagi, Air Vice Marshal (Retd), Former Director General, Indian Meteorological Department, “the levels of reservoirs have gone down consistently as rains have not been sufficient, coupled with the fact that the uptake in the summer season is always exceptionally high.”
The region wise report of CWC shows percent of total live storage of reservoirs of different areas of India. Although most of the regions have been experiencing a declining trend, the northern region marks a rise of 2 per cent in total live storage of all its reservoirs. Tyagi notes, “the region is snow fed, and increased summer melting and intermittent rains has possibly resulted in the marginal increase of water resources in the reservoirs of this area.”
Parijat further adds “monsoon dependence however is a twin menace. Low rainfall will lead to water deficit and drought like conditions. On the other hand, surplus of it can be troublesome.” Talking about the Chennai floods she asserts how “excess rainwater got wasted and gave rise to a disaster, which could rather be well utilized, if conserved. A system should be devised in order to divert the surplus water to deficit areas.”
Parijat opines that our present conservation strategies are lagging behind and water is not appropriately used. She suggests that traditionally conservation system has been in our culture and says “we had efficient conservation strategies which included system of baolis, wells, etc. The drought prone area like Rajasthan, efficient water conservation techniques was well developed, which helped them survive in even in the dry season. But today conservation part is long lost somewhere. Water percolation is zero in urban areas. Earlier our system had been so that water table got easily recharged. But urban seeping is a rare phenomenon these days. Since infiltration is not happening in cities, level of groundwater table is also reducing.” She also highlighted the deteriorating status of water bodies and how polluted they are, as some of them have now reached their filtration capacity. Moreover she expressed her concern for freshwater wastage. She says, “with the changes in our environment, we should enhance our knowledge system too and move towards conservation.”
As the country receives the largest share of rainfall during this season, the reservoirs too receive most of their water share from monsoon rains. Tyagi, is of the opinion that, “rainfall till now has not been sufficient because of which the reservoirs are still dry”.
Besides, Indian Meteorological Department announced that monsoon in 2016 is likely to be ‘above normal’, which may increase the water levels. In a monsoon dependent country, deficit in rainfall can bring abrupt challenges. One of such challenge is lack of water in reservoirs which will drastically impact the whole country. But in case of abundant rainfall it is imperative that water management is given utmost priority in order to tap excess water for future consumption.