The El Nino weather pattern, likely to dissipate by June 2024, is having a telling effect on the storage in India’s 150 major reservoirs with the water level declining for the 21st week in a row on Thursday. But, more disconcertingly, nearly 60 per cent of them have water less than 50 per cent of their capacity, data from the Central Water Commission (CWC) show. 

According to CWC’s weekly bulletin on live storage status of reservoirs this week, the level in 14 States is below normal. Of the 89 reservoirs where the storage is less than 50 per cent, the level in 66 is below 40 per cent. A majority of these are in the southern region. 

Per the bulletin, the storage in the major reservoirs declined to 77.399 billion cubic metres (BCM), which is 43 per cent of the 178.784 BCM capacity. During the same period, the storage was 83 per cent and the average in the last 10 years was 94 per cent. 

The situation in the northern and southern regions is worrisome with the storage dropping to 37 per cent and 28 per cent of the capacity, respectively. 

Some respite

What is offering hope to the northern region is the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast that an intense spell of rain, set to begin on Thursday night, will continue till Sunday with peak intensity on Friday and Saturday. This is on account of western disturbance turning into a cyclonic circulation.

However, there is no such ray of hope for the South, which has been the worst affected by the emergence of El Nino in June 2023. According to the IMD, at least 63 per cent of 711 districts, which share weather data, experience deficit, large deficit or no rainfall since the beginning of 2024.

While standing rabi crops especially in the South, due for harvest around April, face threat, questions now hang over the zaid (summer) crop as well as timely kharif sowing if the South-West monsoon does not set in on time this year. 

While El Nino will likely dissipate by June, La Nina, which will bring more rain leading to floods, is predicted to emerge during June-August by various global weather models.

Also read: La Nina has developed more often than El Nino since 1997-98, says Australian weather firm

In the southern region, 31 of the 42 reservoirs were filled below 50 per cent of capacity. The storage was 14.991 BCM, which is 28 per cent (30 per cent last week) of the 53.334 BCM capacity. 

Among the States, only Kerala had 2 per cent above normal level, while Telangana joined Tamil Nadu (-20 per cent), Karnataka (-28 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (-49 per cent) among the States with lower than normal storage. 

In the northern region, 9 of the 10 reservoirs were filled less than 50 per cent of the capacity. The storage level was 7.222 BCM, which is 37 per cent (40 per cent) of the 19.663 BCM.

All three States — Punjab, Himachal and Rajasthan — had storage below normal with the level in Punjab and Rajasthan being 16 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, below normal. 

In the eastern region, 10 of the 23 reservoirs had storage lower than 50 per cent of the capacity. The region also has the two reservoirs in the country that are filled to capacity. The level this week was 54 per cent (56 per cent) of the 20.430 BCM at 11.024 BCM. 

The level in Bihar was 44 per cent below normal, while it was in the double digits in West Bengal, Odisha and Nagaland. 

Also read: Developing world more vulnerable to El Nino risks 

 Of the 49 reservoirs in the western region, the storage in 22 was less than 50 per cent of the capacity. The level this week was 53 per cent (55%) of the 37.130 BCM capacity at 19.731 BCM. The storage in Maharashtra was 11 per cent below normal.

In the central region, the level in 17 of the 26 reservoirs was below 50 per cent of the capacity. The data showed that they were filled to 51 per cent (53 per cent) of the 48.227 BCM at 24.433 BCM. The storage in Uttar Pradesh (-33 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (-22 per cent) was of concern. 

The reservoirs’ status in March will hinge on how the weather pans out. The IMD will likely issue its forecast for March on Friday.