India File

South Karnataka has turned dry as well

A J Vinayak | Updated on October 08, 2018 Published on October 08, 2018

Where’s the water? A jeep is driven across a stream at Todikana village in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada.   -  HS_MANJUNATH

Could be due to weedicides destroying grass cover, and excess construction

What’s happening in Karnataka, which too faced monsoon fury just a month or so back? Kodagu district was battered and Cauvery had crossed the danger mark at various locations; now that water has disappeared as though the floods hadn’t occurred at all.

When people meet, the first point of discussion is the drastic fall in water level in rivers, streams, open wells and forest springs.

Bhagamandala, located eight km downstream of Talacauvery, is known for its Triveni Sangama (a sacred confluence of rivers Kaveri and Kannike). Locals say the mythical Sujyothi also joins these two at sangama. According to Babu Rai, a local who accompanied this reporter during a visit to Bhagamandala, the water level has gone down significantly in the sangama this year. “We are witnessing the water level of February now itself,” he says, adding the region had witnessed excess rainfall this year, compared to the previous years.

Hareesh KG, whose house is located near the Bethri Bridge built across the Cauvery on Madikeri-Virajpet road, says the bridge got submerged for three days in August this year, after a decade. But in September there was a drastic fall to water levels seen in April-May. And this, despite the fact that the region received above average rainfall this year, inundating coffee plantations.

The situation is no different in the Dakshina Kannada district.

Binu Francis from Koynadu village (located 26 km from Madikeri) in Dakshina Kannada district, who took this reporter to the Payaswini River flowing in his village, says silt has accumulated in the river following the recent landslips on Sampaje ghat section of the Mangaluru-Madikeri highway.

Though the water level in the river was around 12 feet all these years, it is 3-4 ft this year. Even silt accumulation does not explain such a drop, he points out.

A visit to Todikana village in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada district only reinforces the picture.

Janardhana, who lives in the village, says the stream adjoining the village temple is known for its unique fish species. People do not catch or eat this fish, as they feel it is sacred. When this fresh water stream goes almost dry during summer, villagers make it a point to pump fresh water into the stream to help the fish survive.

Now, though, the stream has depleted water levels, normally seen only in January, in September itself.

There was a landslip in the recent monsoon in a location three km upstream. This could be a reason, he says, though he’s not sure.

Narayana, who accompanied this reporter into the forests surrounding Todikana village, says the water springs are also not visible in the forest this year. Also, the flow of water in the forest streams is less compared to previous years.

Delayed monsoon break

Devaraja Reddy, a hydro-geologist from Chitradurga district, who has worked extensively on water harvesting projects in various parts of Karnataka, says several factors have contributed to the recent decline in water level in various waterbodies.

Talking to BusinessLine, he says one of the reasons is the high-intensity rainfall leading to floods in many areas during August and a long break of nearly 35 days this year, compared with a break of four-five days in the previous years.

Backing this view, PGSN Prasad, a farmer from Balila village in Dakshina Kannada district, who has been keeping daily rainfall records of his village since 1976, says his place, which received 1,443 mm rainfall in August this year, received the lowest rainfall of 109 mm in September this year. The previous lowest rainfall was 143 mm rainfall in 1982. In fact, his village is located at the foothills of the Western Ghats.

Reddy says the long break in rain led to increase in temperature. This, in turn, led to the evaporation of water from most water resources. Stating that water percolation has also come down in many areas, he says the downpour in August did not seep much into the earth.

Role of weedicides

Grass does an effective job in recharging water table in the earth. Grass immediately deposits rain – in the range of 1 mm to 10 mm – into the earth.

But there has been decline in the grass cover due to the use of weedicides in the plantations over the last two-three years. People use weedicides as an easy way out for their farm operations, as it reduces dependence on farm labour.

Hareesh feels tourism and commercial activities in Kodagu have led to either vanishing of water bodies or the water sources being covered by concrete floors.

As a result, all-season sources of water are losing their capacity to feed rivers. Even small streams and rivulets are drying up quickly. As the green cover vanishes, there is no possibility of rain water draining into the earth, he says.

Too many borewells

Reddy cautions that borewells that did not yield water can lead to decline in water table in a radius of 250 metres, if they are not sealed scientifically.

Vasanth Bhat, a farmer from Todikana, blames indiscriminate drilling of borewells in most parts of Dakshina Kannada for the decline in water level, both in rivers and open wells. Villagers who took initiatives to drill borewells in their lands did not show the same enthusiasm to recharge them during the monsoon.

The decline in water level is mainly because of a chain of interconnected links, adds Reddy. While people try to look for reasons to explain the receding water levels, they are hoping there’ll be fresh rain to put an end to their worries.

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Published on October 08, 2018
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