Relearning the role of water in our cities

Rain is the modern-day tragedy in our cities: we desperately wait for the monsoons and when it rains, we weep because roads are flooded, life is disrupted. Mumbai, just a few months ago, was so thirsty for the monsoons that it was close to rationing its water supply. But then the rains came. The city did not rejoice. Instead, it went under water, all mixed with sewage and garbage, drowned in bad health. This scene is not very different in Delhi or any other city you can think of.

But the real tragedy is that in a few months, after the rains, our cities will be thirsting again. But then, rain is not part of our plan.

We believe we are all-powerful. Water greed will make us draw water from surrounding areas. Today, our cities get their water supply from further and further away – Delhi gets Ganga water from the Tehri dam, Bangalore is building the Cauvery IV project, pumping water 100km to the city, Chennai water will traverse 200km from the Krishna, Hyderabad from Manjira and so on. The point is that the urban industrial sector’s demand for water is growing by leaps and bounds. But this sector does little to augment its water resources, it does even less to conserve and minimize its use. Worse, because of the abysmal lack of sewage and waste treatment facilities, it degrades scarce water even further. But even after all this, its water greed is not met. Groundwater levels are declining precipitously in urban areas as people bore deeper in search of the water that municipalities cannot supply.

So, when it does not rain it cries and when it does rain, it cries. The cycle of water deprivation continues and we have done nothing to change our tomorrow.

This when we can do so much more. The water imperative is that cities must begin to value their rainfall endowment. This means implementing rainwater harvesting in each house and colony. But it also means relearning about the hundreds of tanks and ponds that nourished the city. Almost every city had a treasure of tanks, which provided it the important flood cushion and allowed it to recharge its groundwater reserves. But urban planners cannot see beyond land. So, land for water, has never been valued or protected. Today, these water bodies are a shame — encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over. The city forgot it needed water. It forgot its own lifeline.

Lakes are the vital sponges of the city. Every city gave its land for rain. Bangalore, at the beginning of the 1960s, had 262 lakes, now only 10 hold water. The Ahmedabad collector — on directions from the high court — listed 137 lakes in the city but also said that over 65 had been built over already. In Delhi, 508 water bodies were identified — again on court orders — but are not protected.

But to rethink the role of rain in our city, will require new learning in society. Just consider: builders and architects have simply never been taught how to hold water. They have been trained to see water as waste and to build systems to dispose of it as quickly as possible. German cities are learning from our experience. To save investment in building stormwater drains, the city charges a tax based on how much rainwater has been harvested by the household.

But this even this will not be enough. Each of our cities will have to learn the real value of rainwater: we will have to minimize water use and work on conservation and reuse. We will have to take our sewage and treat it so that we can recycle it — either for recharge or to make it fit for drinking.

Otherwise we will be the ultimate lost generation, which has forgotten the art of living with water. Our tragedy and our water crisis.

SUNITA NARAIN –  (The author is director of Centre for Science and Environment) – TOI

Monsoon slows, reservoirs dip 1%

New Delhi: As monsoon makes a sluggish progress, the combined live storage in 81 major reservoirs of the country dipped by one per cent in June to stand at 12 per cent of their designed capacity.

According to latest figures released by the Central Water Commission (CWC) today, the combined live storage in the 81 reservoirs at the beginning of monsoon on June one was 13 per cent of their designed capacity, but dipped to 12 per cent on June 24.

Out of the 81, there are 43 reservoirs where this year’s storage is 80 per cent or less than the average of previous 10 years. In the remaining 38 reservoirs, the storage is more than 80 per cent of the average of previous 10 years.

The storage position in Narmada, Cauvery and Krishna basins is better than average of previous 10 years.

West-flowing rivers of South and rivers of Kutch are flowing close to normal, but the storage position in Ganga, Indus, Mahanadi, Tapi, Sabarmati, Mahi and Godavari basins is deficient, the CWC said.

Monsoon rains, crucial for the country’s trillion-dollar economy, have been 16 per cent deficient and stagnant over central India so far this season but meteorologists are hopeful of a revival soon.

According to statistics released by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the monsoon rains have been 16 per cent below normal for this season, mostly due to sluggish progress. The annual rains have not advanced since June 18 when they covered half of the country.

Financial Express

NCC cadets take out rally to save Cauvery

For a cause: Air Wing cadets taking out a rally in Tiruchi - Photo: M. Moorthy

TIRUCHI: NCC Air Wing cadets from various city schools and colleges took out a rally here on Wednesday as a campaign to save river Cauvery from pollution.

The ‘Save Cauvery River Rally’ was flagged off by R. Chandrasekaran, Headmaster, Srirangam Boys Higher Secondary School at the Amma Mandapam bathing ghat in Srirangam.

Around 100 Junior Division and Senior Division NCC cadets participated in the rally that was taken out via Gandhi Road to the Srirangam Boys Higher Secondary School.

Pamphlets distributed

The cadets distributed pamphlets to the public containing messages to save the river.Earlier, they undertook a cleaning operation at the Amma Mandapam bathing ghat area and appealed to the public to keep the river free from pollution.

Wing Commander M.S. Rao, Commanding Officer, 3 TN Air Squadron (Tech) NCC, Tiruchi and Associate NCC officers of schools and colleges participated.


Karnataka, where the mahseer is safe…

Fishing camps along the Cauvery have helped safeguard the habitat of the mahseer. Also, most of the poachers have been rehabilitated and are employed as guides and guards to patrol the river stretch at the fishing camps, reports Susheela Nair

Hurtling from the high mountains of the Brahmagiri range in Kodagu district, the bountiful Cauvery river flows across Karnataka, snaking through forested hilly tracts and agricultural fields. Some stretches of the omnipresent Cauvery between the Shivanasamudram waterfalls and Mekedatu, shelter the giant mahseer, the legendary sport fish of India. On the banks of this stretch of the river are three fishing camps Doddamakali, six km upstream, and Galibore, 16 km downstream of Bheemeshwari and all run by the state-owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd (JLR). These camps are all within a few hours drive from Bangalore. Anglers from all over the world make their annual pilgrimage to these exclusively reserved stretches to pit their wits against the mahseer while non-anglers revel in nature’s bounty.

Angling history can be traced back to the pre-independent days when the British used to ‘catch-and-kill’ the mahseer. With the construction of dams in the adjoining areas, the migration of the fish was restricted and even blocked in some places.

This contributed to the decline of the mahseer population. Moreover the villagers, mostly settlers indulged in netting, poisoning and using ordinary detonator with safety fuse thus destroying all aquatic life forms including fish fingerlings.

Explains Arun Srinivasan, President, WASI, “Realising the need to safeguard the habitat of the mahseer fish and the adjoining riverine stretches of forest, Wildlife Association of South India (WASI) set up temporary fishing camps in the mid-seventies. For the past thirty years, we have been involved in the protection of this stretch of the Cauvery river.”


Catch-and-release practice
“In the light of decreasing sizes and number of good specimens, we adopted the ‘catch-and-release’ practice, thus giving a fresh lease of life to the mighty mahseer. We have been protecting mahseer fishing by adopting conservation, stocking and management measures so as to stem the decline of mahseer population,” the WASI president adds. Subsequently JLR took over the river stretch by setting up a camp at Bheemeshwari in 1984.

The mahseer is the pride and joy of the Cauvery and Asia’s premier sporting fish. It is believed that the name has been formed from the Hindi words maha (great) and sir (head). It could equally have been derived from the Persian mahi (fish) and  sher (lion) but either way, the mahseer retains its status as king and the prize catch for all committed anglers.

In local parlance, it is known as bili meen. Catching the mahseer fish is easier said than done. The legendary fighting fish resists all attempts to catch it and there is a virtual tug-of-war between the angler and the fish for about 20-30 minutes. It can grow to over 100 lbs in weight, can easily swim upstream, against rapids, at over 20 knots, a truly spectacular sight amidst splendid scenery.

Every time a fish is caught, a camp attendant helps the angler remove it from the water, tie its mouth with a nylon rope, weigh it and pose for a photograph! And, immediately after, the rope is removed and the fish is let back into the river.

Situated on the banks of the river Cauvery, the Cauvery Fishing Camp (CFC) is an ideal picnic spot for nature enthusiasts, river lovers and a paradise for hardcore anglers. Every year, head guide of a fishing holidays company David Plummer escorts a limited number of anglers to these camps which combine the thrill of hooking one of the world’s finest game fish, the mahseer, with the rugged existence of camp life. The camp activities  revolve around the ubiquitous Cauvery river which flows sinuously through the varied terrain of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.  Birding, bonfire, coracle rides, camping one the sandy banks of the river, trekking, wildlife safaris, white water rafting and bird watching are all part of the wilderness escapade.

Conservation of the mahseer
According to N D Tiwari, IFS, Managing Director, JLR, “Besides contributing to the tourism coffers, angling tourism supports conservation of the mahseer.

“The setting up of anti-poaching camps along the river has curtailed poaching and helped in protection of the river and the aqua species. The size of the fish has grown over the years from 32 pounds to 106 pounds because of protection. Most of the poachers have been rehabilitated and are employed as gillies (guides) and guards to patrol the river stretch at the fishing camps.” Since they are familiar with every tract of the forests, know every inch of the river, where each eddy and whirlpool lies, where the fish likes to school, they have proved themselves able guides. “We help anglers with our knowledge of the waters as we are experienced fishermen ourselves,” said Bhola, a rehabilitated poacher-turned-river guide at Bheemeshwari.

Lured by the social acceptance, security and steady income and the fact that their future is intimately connected with the well-being of the endangered mahseer and its habitat, they are concerned and involved in the protection.

The Coorg Wildlife Society (CWS), another voluntary organisation engaged in protecting mahseer fishing in the Cauvery (i.e. Valnoor in Coorg district,) with a lease on 28 km of this river has been stocking young mahseer in this stretch since 1993. The CWS protects this stretch of the river, issues fishing licenses, organises sport fishing and maintains fish catch statistics.

According to AJT John Singh, eminent wildlife scientist, “If the grand old giant Tor mussullah still exists, it is only because of the farsighted conservation measures adopted  by JLR and NGOs like WASI and CWS with their unique eco-tourism and catch-and-release programmes. This is an excellent model worth emulating throughout the different ranges of different species of mahseer in the country, which would mutually benefit the fish, the habitat and the local people.”

From Deccan Herald

Bangalore: Sand mining weakening bridges foundation

CHIKMAGALUR: Sand mining on the banks of Hemavathi river, which is the main tributary of Cauvery, has become detrimental to the eight bridges constructed across Hemavathi river in Mudigere taluk.

This was evident from the letter written to the PWD superintendent engineer, Hassan division, by the executive engineer of Chikmagalur district.

In his letter, Chikmagalur district executive engineer said that extraction of sand using heavy earthmovers has started weakening the eight bridges, which have been the main conduit to communication in Malnad region. He said depletion of sand bed has caused damage to the very foundation of bridges and the rampant extraction has exposed the foundation. If the extractions are not stopped soon, the bridges may start weakening and may be damaged.

Elaborating on the details of the damage, he said sand extraction in and around the bridges has been prohibited but the miners have been doing it forcing the water currents to deplete the sand deposited at the foundation of the bridges.

Many huge pits have been formed due to the perineal extraction of sand and this was also one of the reason for the flow of sand deposited under the columns of the bridges. He has urged the higherups to put a total ban on the sand extraction in the river to safeguard the bridgess. The bridges on Hemavathi river constructed at Kittalegandi, Hichalli, Jogannanakere, Bettadamane and other four have already started weakening. The issue has also led to political vituperations between Chikmagalur MLA and Mudigere MLA and the row is still on.

From TOI

Cauvery River – Norway pledges Rs 7 crore for ClimaRice project

Norway has pledged an estimated Rs. 7 crore for a project studying the impact of climate change on agriculture and rice production in the Cauvery delta in Thanjavur and Krishna delta of Andhra Pradesh, according to the Norwegian Minister for Agriculture and Food Lars Peder Brekk.

Addressing a farmers’ day meeting at the Saraswathi Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Puzhutheri village in Karur district on Wednesday, Mr. Brekk outlined that the preliminary works under the expanded ClimaRice II project commenced in November last and the programme as such would go on for three years.

ClimaRice, an initiative supported by Government of Norway, assesses the rice ecosystem sensitivity to climate change by using high-resolution regional model simulations and simultaneously understand the hydrological changes in the Cauvery river basin.

In ClimaRice I different technologies including alternative cropping systems, alternate wetting and drying, system of rice intensification and direct sowing were being validated in fields in real time conditions.

The emphasis on ClimRice II would be on validating and replicating pioneering practices on the fields of model farmers towards formulating integrated response to complex climate change issues impacting agriculture in general and rice production, in particular.

ClimaRice II is a sequel to the successful ClimaRice I implemented between 2008 and 2010 in the Cauvery delta of Tamil Nadu.

“The related challenge of food insecurity and climate change means that we must produce more food in a sustainable and climate-friendly way,’’ Mr. Brekk underlined.

The Norwegian Minister stressed on cooperation between his country and India in sharing experience of workable solutions by promoting dialogue between farmers, researchers and other stakeholders to have environmentally sustainable technology that could produce flexible measures for climate adaption to meet the needs of farmers under different local conditions.

ClimaRice project was a good example of how that could be done, he pointed out.

Speaking on the occasion the Minister for Agriculture Veerapandi S. Arumugam said that the State Government was responsive to the issues impacting climate change and the plan to establish 385 automatic weather stations, one in every union of the State, was one among them. Already 224 stations had been set up while the rest would be established in the current year.

“We’ll be seeking more funds for agriculture related projects and activities in the coming budget taking into account the challenges and requirements ahead of us,’’ Mr. Arumugam observed.

First Secretary at the Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, Ole Reidar Bergum, pointed out that environmental issues have been high on the Indo-Norwegian bilateral agenda and the countries had a good and dynamic cooperation in the areas of renewable energy, climate change and biodiversity. There was vibrant bilateral research collaboration between Indian and Norwegian scientists and research institutions, he said adding ClimaRice was among the prominent initiatives in the project portfolio.

Minister for Transport K.N. Nehru, District Collectors (J. Uma Maheswari (Karur) and T. Soundaiah (Tiruchi), Whoeltime Member of the State Planning Commission G. Kumaravelu and chairman of the Saraswathi Krishi Vigyan Kendra K.N. Ramajayam were among those who spoke.

L. Renganathan From THE HINDU

Tamil Nadu farmers to benefit from Norway project

CHENNAI: Farmers in the delta regions of the Krishna and Cauvery rivers will soon benefit from a project that aims at reducing water consumption in paddy cultivation by 25% without compromising on the quality or quantum of yield.

IIT-Delhi is working on a proposal to collaborate with Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. Other partners in the project include the city-based MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the International Water management Institute in Colombo.

“We will employ dry and wet systems of paddy cultivation alternately, and try out a system of rice intensification without compromising on the yield,” said Udaya Sekhar Nagothu, India head of Bioforsk.

The first phase of the project, on an outlay of 5,00,000 Norwegian kroners (one kroner is Rs 7.8), began in November 2009. “The main proposal will be submitted in July to the Norwegian embassy in Delhi since the project is funded by the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs,” said Lars Peder Brekk, minister for agriculture and food, Norway. “The project will take off in November,” he added.

This is not the first time that Bioforsk and IIT-Delhi have collaborated. Last March, the two began a study on the impact of climate change on the Godavari basins. However, the ongoing project focussing on select areas of the Krishna and Cauvery river basins is a much bigger project. “We will look at the various components and validate the types of cultivation,” said Nagothu.

“Biosforsk has undertaken studies with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. We are also working with professor AK Gosain of the Civil Engineering department, IIT-Delhi,” said Brekk.

From TOI