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Water reservoirs run alarmingly low amid hot weather: Data

By, New Delhi
May 20, 2024 12:24 AM IST

Water storage in 150 reservoirs at a 5-year low due to hot weather and poor monsoon, worsening shortages in 16 states, impacting power generation.

Hot weather and the knock-on effects of a poor monsoon in 2023 have pushed water storage in 150 centrally monitored reservoirs to their lowest level in five years, worsening water shortages in at least 16 states and shrinking hydro-power generation to a record low, official data showed on Sunday.

The dire levels have worsened water shortages in 16 states. (AP)
The dire levels have worsened water shortages in 16 states. (AP)

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Storage in these nationally important water bodies — critical for drinking, irrigation and power generation — is now only one-fourth of their total capacity, having declined consecutively for 32 weeks.

Parched conditions have triggered severe drinking water crises in cities such as Bengaluru, Coimbatore, Chennai and Hyderabad. A prolonged dry spell has triggered Kerala’s worst drought in 40 years, according to the state government. In Hyderabad, Osmania University has ordered its hostels and messes shut due to “water and electricity shortage”, according to a notice by the chief warden, which HT has reviewed.

The water level last week in the 150 reservoirs was a mere 25% of the total live capacity of 179 billion cubic metres (BCM) at 45.2 BCM, according to data from the Central Water Commission. In the corresponding period a year ago, the storage was 58 BCM.

Live capacity, a hydrological parameter, refers to the usable volume of water, in contrast to dead storage, which is the bottom-most zone of a water body.

Karnataka has been struggling with water shortage since February. Blistering temperatures, far exceeding 40°C, have dried up lakes and water bodies in south India. Several reservoirs in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are also on the verge of drying out, a Union water department official said.

Last week, the only reservoir in Bihar went dry or reached its dead-storage level, as did Uttarakhand’s Nanak Sagar reservoir.

Levels in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka have been progressively dropping, prompting farmers to dig deeper wells. Parched conditions have shrivelled the state’s short-duration paddy crop. “In Kerala, there has been extensive damage to paddy, pepper, cardamom, vegetables, coffee and cocoa,” said AK Roy of the state’s horticulture board.

Lower water levels in reservoirs have impacted hydro-power generation in the country, which declined to a five-year low of 146 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), according to data from Grid-India. As a result, hydro power’s share in total power output fell to a record low of 8.3% during the year ended March 31.

The southwest monsoon, which delivers 70% of India’s annual rainfall, was 6% deficient in 2023, while the northeast (winter) monsoon that drenches southern states was 13% short.

The poor rains had been stoked by last year’s peaking El Nino weather pattern, whose effects ripple around the globe. El Nino is marked by an abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean and brings dry weather to the Indian subcontinent.

To be sure, on April 15, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the monsoon this year would be above normal. The IMD said the rains will be a surplus 106%. According to the IMD’s classification, monsoon showers are considered average or normal if they are between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 87cm (35 inches) for the four-month season.

In Bangaluru, the shortage, exacerbated by weak winter monsoon rains, has prompted residents and local authorities to ration water use, as households chase exorbitantly priced tanker supplies.

Even manufacturing and services firms have taken a hit. “Workers are not turning up and business has been impacted. We are desperately waiting for the summer monsoon to arrive,” said Chethan Hegde of the Bengaluru chapter of the National Restaurants Association of India.

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Although this year’s monsoon is forecast to be robust, the ongoing dry spell could delay sowing of crops in the upcoming kharif or summer-sown season. “The problem is current moisture soil levels are totally depleted. Sufficient rains will be required to replenish soil moisture,” a scientist at a state-run agriculture body said.

The June-September rain-bearing season is critical for Asia’s third-largest economy as nearly half of the country’s net-sown area heavily relies on the summer monsoon. Almost half the population depends on a farm-based income.

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