Saturday, August 04, 2012

Kerala faces drought scare

Moozhiyar dam in Pathanamthitta with low water levels. 	—DC
Drought-like conditions are staring at Kerala, spreading gloom and despair all around in a state, perennially blessed with copious monsoons that used to replenish the groundwater table and recharge natural aquifers.
The lush green idyll that poets so often extolled now is a thing of the past.
The biggest green paradox has been the much-vaunted 41 rivers, most of which are rivulets, compared to rivers in the northern plains.
The India Meteorology Department update says only 38 percent rainfall has been received this monsoon.
Kerala Government perhaps anticipated this. chief minister Oommen Chandy had initiated damage control measures, directing irrigation, water resources, power and revenue departments to draw up an action plan.
IMD has reported that rain deficits in major parts of the country are a growing concern and that August- September is likely to receive less rain.

“The situation in Kerala is very grim and even the capital city is going to face severe water shortage. We’ve decided to have a series of check dams in all districts so that available resources can be conserved”, water resources minister P.J. Joseph told Deccan Chronicle.
Kerala Water Authority managing director Ashok Kumar Singh has asked his officials to submit a district-wise report on water availability in respective reservoirs.
“We’ve taken steps to identify alternative sources of water and also whether water can be stored in quarries and if so, whether water quality is potable or not”, Mr Singh told DC.
The government is also keen to set up desalination plants in coastal areas, a pilot project to run with the assistance of Israel, a semi-arid and rain-deficient country that had made considerable progress in water management.
The Cabinet will have a special session on August 9 to evaluate a detailed memorandum to the Centre, seeking financial assistance to deal with drought-related drinking water problems and destruction of crops.
Low water levels to pull plug on power
The power situation in the state is worsening by the day with inflow to the dams trickling down alarmingly. The state may have to resort to load shedding if the situation did not improve in the coming days.
According to Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), the inflow to the hydel dams on Thursday (August 2) was just enough to produce 37 million units (MU) of power. The hydel dams have water left to produce 857.23 MU of power as on Thursday. The water level during the same time last year was high enough to produce over 2,000 MU.
Considering that the state consumes 55 MU power a day, the current water level would be enough only for 15 days. To counter the situation, the state has cut down the hydel power generation to the minimum. As much as 38 MU is sourced from the central grid daily.
KSEB sources said that the state would have to depend more on the costly power from NTPC Kayamkulam unit and BSES Kochi to meet the power deficit. The Centre has already informed the state government that it cannot supply more from the central grid, considering the power situation in other states.
Dry spell may wipe out freshwater fish varieties
The deficient monsoon is playing havoc with lives in all sorts of ways. Now, scientists say the lack of the south westerly rains will wipe out freshwater fish, a Malayali staple.
It is with the onset of monsoon that tropical freshwater fish breeds. Adult fish needs just eight to ten days for breeding.
“Deficient monsoon has affected the breeding of freshwater fish,” says Dr K.G. Padmakumar, associate director of the agriculture research station at Kumarakom.
“Breeding depends on sunlight and nutrients in rivers. With the flow of rainwater into ponds, watersheds and rivers, breeding is triggered by the dip in temperature.”
“It is a quick process. Following the discharge of freshwater in the wake of good rainfall, the fish gets the stimulus to breed”, he adds.
“We noticed that the fish has been restless and moving around in backwaters. It will retreat. This might happen in sea fishes also; as I noticed fatty sardines after the trawling ban this year. And the fish recruitment in the state is going to have a crisis in fishery,” Dr Padmakumar said.
Of the nearly 300 fish species assessed, as many as 97 small varieties in Western Ghats were found to be threatened.
Of them, 39 are in the Kerala region. Besides several fish seen just in Periyar and Chalakkudy rivers were found to be endangered.
A total of 54 species are assessed to be endangered while 31 species of freshwater fish have been assessed vulnerable.
Poor rains deplete natural aquifers
The State has received only 815 mm of rainfall in the first two months of monsoon as against the normal long-term average of 1,432 mm, leaving a deficit of 43 per cent, says the India Meteorological Department.
The deficit in rainfall is a matter of grave concern, says Dr P.V. Dinesan of the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, based in Kozhikode.
The gravity can be gauged from the acute scarcity of drinking water felt during summer months even in years of normal rainfall, he pointed out.
Natural aquifers, the main source of surface and groundwater in the State, depend on rains for recharging; the failure of the wet spell will lead to drying up of these sources. In such a background the failure of the wet spell in the current year will prove disastrous, Mr Dinesan said.
The long-term strategy should take into account peculiar features of the ecology of Kerala.
Some 70,000 million cubic meters of water is the normal runoff during the rains. Out of this, only around 7,200 million cubic meters is saved, Mr Dinesan pointed out.
The situation provided enormous scope for conserving and preserving rainwater in the state, he said.
States such as Kerala, with a history of a long dry spell, necessitate large reservoirs for storage during the rainy season.
But conventional methods of setting up huge storage facilities such as dams may prove impractical owing to environmental factors like the destruction of tropical forests.
The scope for setting up medium and large storage facilities in coastal regions is limited while stringent environmental norms prevent such facilities coming up in highland regions of the state.
This calls for out-of-the-box formulations for rainwater harvesting and a preservation system that agrees 

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