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Will Punjab turn desert in 15 years? Time to map the water woes

Fearing that Punjab may turn into a desert in 15 to 20 years and degradation of agricultural areas may become a severe problem, the Union ministry of water resources has instituted a study for mapping of aquifers (underground bed or layer yielding groundwater) up to 300 meters in the state.

punjab Updated: Oct 08, 2016 23:57 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
CGWB

Fearing that Punjab may turn into a desert in 15 to 20 years and degradation of agricultural areas may become a severe problem, the Union ministry of water resources has instituted a study for mapping of aquifers (underground bed or layer yielding groundwater) up to 300 meters in the state.

The study, to be conducted by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and completed by March next year, will identify and map aquifers at the micro level and quantify the available groundwater resources, besides analysing the quality of subsoil water available.

“We don’t want to come at a juncture where there is no groundwater left. It’s a matter of livelihood, so to save ourselves from the ensuing crisis, we have started mapping of the subsoil water, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, which are food bowls of the country,” said CGWB regional director SK Jain, who is leading the study.

Adding to the worry is 13 lakh tubewells in the state for which farmers are getting free electricity. Three-fourth of Punjab is dependent on subsoil water for agriculture and one-fourth on the canal water.

“By using aquifer maps, we can explain farmers about the depleting water table and ask them to look for an alternative to water-guzzling paddy,” said Jain, adding that gamma mapping and electrical resistivity techniques will be used for the purpose.

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The board has been continuously measuring the groundwater level, but it for the first time that mapping is being undertaken to quantify the available groundwater resources. “We will give block-wise figures so conservation plans and crop pattern could be planned accordingly,” he said.

ALARMING FALL

The groundwater depletion in Punjab was 55 centimetre in 2015. As per seasonal fluctuations recorded by the CGWB between January and May, 2016, 73% of wells monitored — covering 60% area of Punjab — witnessed a fall in the water level. Barring some isolated pockets, the water table goes down by 2 meters in the state annually.

Of the 142 blocks in the state, 110 have been rated as over exploited, particularly in central Punjab’s Sangrur, Barnala, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and Patiala districts. In 22 blocks of southwest Punjab, underground water is not fit for human consumption or irrigation and the area remains waterlogged during rains.

The alarm was raised for the first time in 1979 when groundwater levels started falling in central Punjab due to paddy cultivation. It recovered during the 1988 floods but since then, the decline has been uniform.

In early 2000, the water table started depleting alarmingly by a metre in the state, but the rate came down in 2010 when the state government enforced the rule not to allow paddy transplantation before June 15.