Parched and thirsty: Every hill station in Uttarakhand on the way to becoming Shimla

Parched and thirsty: Every hill station in Uttarakhand on the way to becoming Shimla

Water crisis

Dehradun: Are hill stations in Uttarakhand turning into another Shimla — parched and thirsty? Experts believe so. Himachal Pradesh’s capital is grappling with the worst-ever water crisis. Residents are foregoing daily showers, some schools have declared holidays, price of a water tanker has more than doubled to Rs 4000, and supply has been reduced to once in three to four days. Small battles over water have been reported to have broken out in localities and there have been incidents of people stealing water from neighbours’ tanks. All this and more could very well become a reality at the tourist spots in mountain state of Uttarakhand. “All tourists spots dotting the state’s hilly landscape, be it Nainital, Mussoorie or Ranikhet, will soon be in the grip of an acute water crisis like Shimla, if measures are not taken on a war footing to conserve rainwater and check runoff,” warned H P Uniyal, advisor, state planning commission and former chief general manager, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan (water works department). “No different will be the situation in urban, peri-urban and in some rural areas. Water riots can crop up anytime, if timely measures for water conservation are not taken,” he warned. The expert attributed the “imminent possibility” of most urban areas in the Uttarakhand hills getting caught in the grip of acute water crisis to the absence of proper conservation strategies. “In absence of proper conservation measures most rainwater goes as runoff without percolating through the subterranean aquifers. Consequently, groundwater is not recharged, which has resulted in natural springs drying up and water in spring fed rivers depleting fast,” he said. Uniyal said the condition of snow-fed rivers originating from the central Himalayan region (Uttarakhand), “is, however, better” in comparison. “But name any prominent non-glacial river — be it Aglad, Bandal, Kosi or Nayar — they all are drying up. Their flow has turned into a trickle as natural springs that feed those streams are receding fast owing to ground aquifers not getting recharged,” he added. As a result, in Pauri district alone, a whopping 50% supply of potable water from 75% of the gravity and pumping schemes has receded since 2005. It is a matter of concern, Uniyal said. A state-wide study on water situation authored by him goes on to validate his worry. As per the study, some 2, 800 spring-fed water supply schemes had been set up in the state since 2005. “However, the duration saw a massive reduction in water supplied through 10,000 gravity and pumping schemes across the state,” notes the study. All those futuristic schemes, Uniyal said, were conceived in view of an anticipated increase in population for the next 20-30 years. “But the water supplying capacity of all those schemes slipped back owing to the receding discharge in natural springs that fed them, which is a matter of concern,” he said. Unbridled use of potable water for purposes other than drinking is another reason for the state staring at an acute water crisis. As per the “Government of India norms”, the limit of potable water supply to urban areas comes to 135 litres per capita per day. “However, in Uttarakhand, 80% of that total quantity of precious potable water is wasted in activities such as flushing (of toilets), washing and gardening,” he said. According to Uniyal, he recently submitted a manual to the state government suggesting measures aimed at checking the wastage of potable water and conserving rainwater. One of the suggestions enlisted in the guide pertains to rooftop rainwater harvesting. “We suggested the measure so that storage of rainwater besides percolating through the ground could also be used for purposes of flushing of toilets, washing and gardening.” Water resource minister Prakash Pant said the emphasis was now on both conserving rainwater and also augmenting natural springs. “In keeping with that concept a World Bank aided scheme has been launched in the state. Under the scheme, as many as 660 habitations in rural areas and some 859 habitations in urban and peri-urban areas have been targeted. The scheme is being implemented in some 35 urban areas,” he said. Nainital has already started witnessing the effects of unbridled constructions and population explosion with the only source of water for the hill station — the iconic Naini Lake — slowly drying up. The depth of the lake, which was said to have been around 93 feet during British era, had decreased to 78 feet by the mid-70s. its primary source of recharge, another lake a kilometer up on the hill, has been reduced to half its size due to constructions coming up on its bed. The runoff too now doesn’t always reach Naini Lake owing to constructions coming up on the hill slopes. Authorities have already curtailed withdrawal of water from the lake — from 18 million litres per day (MLD) a year ago to 8 MLD now. Similarly, the unprecedented crisis in Shimla, experts say, has come up as warning of what the consequences of degradation of natural resources — reckless felling of trees, unplanned and illegal constructions leading to drying up of water sources — can be.

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