September 22 is World River Day - Gomti – Perennial life-giver to seasonal panacea
In its initial 90 kilometres, River Gomti, one of the most important rivers of central Uttar Pradesh, has all but run dry and even after a healthy monsoon, the water level in the river is abysmally low. Once a perennial source of water, the Gomti has now been reduced to a seasonal river, flowing for only a few months a year.
At its origin, in Gomat Taal, in Madhotanda (Pilibhit district), the river has been reduced to a pond with no apparent flow and the width of the river reduced to less than five meters across. “It is hard to believe at Gomat Taal that a river emerges from here. You can hardly notice the river there because most of it has been encroached by farms,” said Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University associate professor (environment management and planning) Venkatesh Dutta. In an extensive study he did on the River Gomti in 2011 he found that the condition of the river has gone only from bad to worse since that time.
As it moves downwards from Gomat Taal, the state of the river doesn’t improve, for the banks of the river again witness huge encroachments by farmlands, inhibiting the natural flow of water.
This has further impacted the river flow, fed by rain and underground water. “(Unlike the Ganga) the Gomti does not receive any water from melting snow, and relies solely on rain and underground water. Due to encroachments and a depleting water table, the river is being impacted. When the river banks are exposed, they are encroached upon, drastically reducing the catchment area of the river. Secondly, the level of underground water, which also contributes to the health of a river, has also reduced dangerously over the years (again due to farming along its banks and these farms using the underground water for irrigation), making the river a seasonal.”
Almost 85% share of the fresh water goes towards irrigation of our farms. Most of this is groundwater. With development in drilling and pump-technology, water is being pulled from deeper and deeper aquifers, leading to a massive lowering of the groundwater levels. What happens then is that instead of the groundwater feeding the river, the river ends up trying to replenish the water table. This has robbed water from our rain-fed rivers.
In the 90-kilometre stretch from Gomat Taal to Ekkornath in Shahajahnpur, the problem is amplified by increased farming activity along the banks, on land exposed by a depleted river.
Sukhdeep Singh, head of a farmers’ group in Shahjahanpur, said that the impact of the depleting water flow has started showing signs, and there are fears that it could impact agriculture patterns in the area within a short time. “Only five or six years ago, we used to get water at 50-60 feet depth all through the year. Now, during summer, the water level drops to 100-120 feet. Falling water levels have forced us to employ and pay pump operators to get irrigation water.”
Experts believe that the only way to fix this problem is to revive the Gomti by clearing it’s catchment area.
There are many unhealthy water bodies, wetlands and streams in Pilibhit, Hardoi, Sitapur and Lakhimpur Kheri districts. Experts suggest that first these water bodies need to be restored and regenerated. Once the water table in the area rises after being recharged by these water bodies, it will help bring back water into the Gomti. Water-guzzling crops like ‘satha rice’ should be banned in these districts for the time being, as they take up a lot of the groundwater.
“Desilting of the river to increase its depth and width from its origin to Ekkornath should be done to maintain the flow in the dry stretch. We also need to work on a restoration plan for smaller tributaries and channels that feed the Gomti,” said Dutta
Experts also suggest connecting the Sharda Canal system to augment additional flow of water through a link canal at the origin of the Gomti in Pilibhit. This will rejuvenate the dry stretch of the first 90 kilometres. Improving the forest cover along the Gomti is the other way to improve the sustainability of the river. Currently, the forest cover along the river stands at an abysmal 4.01% which must be at least 10%.
Other rivers, similar problem
Most of India’s perennial rivers are becoming seasonal rivers with fragmented and intermittent flow, Dutta said. This trend is disturbing, especially for plain-fed rivers of India such as the Gomti, Ramganga, Chambal, Ken, Betwa and others, whose only source is rainfall and groundwater.
The flow of the River Ramganga alone has dropped by 65% between 2000 and 2018, Dutta said. River Krishna is the fourth-biggest river of India in terms of water inflows and river basin area, but its flow is getting thinner with each passing year. Krishna river delta is on the verge of becoming a desert due to over-allocation of its waters to several irrigation projects. Similarly, River Cauvery is under severe stress and going dry at several places during summer for the last many years.
1)Farming, construction encroachments along river affecting natural flow of water.
2)Depletion in groundwater further reducing water level in river
3)No de-silting, which further reduces river depth and affects marine life.
4)Pollution of river
1)Clearing river banks of encroachments and de-silting drives to be carried out.
2)Reviving other natural water bodies like streams, ponds near the river and charging the underground water table.
3)De-silting drive to be undertaken.
4)Reducing pollution in the river by stopping sewage from entering the river .
Immediate corrective steps
-Linking Gomti with Sharda Canal to increase river water level as well as the groundwater table
-Rejuvenating Gomat Tal from where the river originates