By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
During the debates on the interstate river disputes the one term which often comes from the politicians is “water is going as a waste into the Sea”. Such words come from them because of the absence ‘ecological’ knowledge. They view form ‘economics’ forgetting the fact that ecology is the platform for the economy. What surprises is that while the other countries and international research institutions are worried about the very survival of the rivers the leaders of the state are fighting for their share in river waters without any contribution for the protection of the rivers.
All the experts on the water resources believe that lot of misuse has happened regarding the river waters because of ill planned construction of the dams across the rivers without considering the long term damages to the riverine and associated ecosystems. The peninsular rivers of south India once carried massive waters into the sea are presently struggling to complete their natural course of flow in meeting the Sea. The most important question the environmentalists engaged in the study of the rivers faced is, “how long the rivers will survive if the exploitation of rivers continue unabated and what will happen to the ecosystems associated with those rivers? The massive impact threatening the productive coastal ecosystems is well documented. The last stretch of the rivers are namesake rivers as it is not fresh water but the sewage and pollutants released by the cities and industries located on the banks of the rivers.
There is a feeling that the upper riparian state they are safe from the negative impacts of the “death of the river” as they feel ecosystem damage is at the river confluence area and will hit the delta only. River is a lotic ecosystem and if the fag end of the river dies because of the restricted flow of river water downstream, through the competitive construction of the dams to impound water, the time may not be far away for the negative impact of the ‘dead river’ reach the upper riparian States.
The major river institutes are worried about the dying rivers as they fear the increasing threats to the rivers from the climate change, population growth and pollution. As population grew and the politicians make false promises on water access to the gullible voters, ignoring the reduction of flow of waters in the rivers due to the anthropogenic activities, the fights between the states for water share is likely to increase. Without concern to the health of the rivers, reduced water flow in the rivers and threats being posed for the preservation of the integrity of the aquatic ecosystems new projects on the rivers are being taken up by the states. The researchers, across the world, foresee the dying up of the rivers in near future unless there is a change in the mindset of people and their leaders on the river water utilization.
River water flowing into the Sea is not a waste but is an important ecological phenomena happening to protect the coastal ecosystem and this should be noted by all the leaders especially the lower riparian states. Rivers have to carry freshwater into the Sea for the health of the coast. The absence of such fresh water flow is known to affect the coastal ecosystems especially the highly productive mangrove and mud flats. Report from the west coast where the river Narmada is not reaching the ocean for many months of the year records the moving in of the sea into the land leading to the increased salinity, soil degradation. The salt water intrusion into the ground is reportedly on the move hitting the industries in that area. Such intrusion has already reported in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. This is because the river water which pushes the sea water out through its natural flow is not happening because of impounding water in reservoirs in the upstream. All the deltas are predominantly agricultural areas producing paddy and currently shrimp culture is also undertaken in high intensity, contributing to salinity raise in the ground. The increase in salinity is likely hit the paddy production and these fields since not suited for any other crops will turn barren.
The estuarine ecosystem which includes the mangrove forests is highly productive harbouring the fish, shrimp, prawn etc. needs the continuous touch of freshwater to get the brackish water situation for their growth. The river flow keeps the salinity level and the brackish water becomes the ideal for the healthy growth of mangroves. Impounding of water at Farakka has affected drastically the growth of Sunderbans in Bengal. The environmentalists of Odisha are worried about the future of the Bhitrakanika wetland as the river Brahmani waters are being drawn for the industrial purpose leaving little chance for the brackish water environ needed for the mangroves.
The mangroves are home for diverse animal life and are wild life sanctuaries protected by Law. There are estuarine crocodiles, smooth coated otters, serpent eagles, fishing cats, jackals and over 100 bird species. The reduction in freshwater river flow and consequent increase in salinity is bound to stress the habitats of the fauna and may result in the man-wildlife conflict if the estuarine crocodiles start moving up the river where the brackish water situation is pushed to. More saline ground water means less production in agriculture and more serious the consequences for the people on either side of the river and the delta proper.
So understand the need for the natural out flow of the river into the Sea and never say that water is going as waste.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)