Alarming Groundwater Depletion Fuelling Water Crisis in Kashmir

Social media might be lately witnessing water body cleanliness drives from different parts of the valley, but experts say that time has come for Kashmir to move beyond optics and cosmetic measures to seriously fix pollution problem for the welfare of water bodies.

By Swati Joshi

ONCE a main source of fresh water in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Kehmil stream—originating from Shamshabari range near the Line of Control—got choked with pollution and overgrown population with time. With the result, many villagers are facing the constant water woes.

But the problem isn’t confined to north only.

In central and south Kashmir, many water bodies have already been devoured by urbanization. Natural ponds and fountains are no longer in sight. The soothing water canals have now become pungent pool of sewerage channels. Many community-level wells have long gone dry — indicating the depletion of groundwater table.

According to Ground Water Year Book 2016-17, none of the 23 wells analyzed for the May 2016 report in Kashmir have shown water level more than 20.0 meters below ground level (m bgl).

“The water level less than 2.0 m bgl has been recorded in 14 (60.87 percent) wells, seven wells (30.43 percent) have shown depth to the water level in the range 2-5 m bgl, whereas 1 well (4.35 percent) has shown water level in the range of 5-10 m bgl, 1 (4.35 percent) well has registered deeper water level i.e., 10-20 m bgl,” the report notes.

It also draws a comparison between May 2016 results with November 2015 results. The report suggests that out of 22 stations showing a rise in water levels, 11 wells (50 percent) have shown rise whereas only 10 have shown a decline in water levels.

The report concludes that a majority of the valley areas show a rise in the water levels except for small patches in Kupwara and Srinagar districts.

In Srinagar, a decline more than 4 m bgl has been observed.

In some parts of Kashmir, the groundwater is depleting at an alarming rate, says Rayees Ahmad Pir, Hydrogeologist at Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Water Resources.

“Groundwater can be found at shallow aquifers in the valley,” Rayees says, “but it’s absent in deep aquifers.”

An aquifer is a body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit groundwater.

One of the causes of groundwater depletion, the hydrogeologist says, is the strong intensity and least frequency, of rain in Kashmir.

“Rainfall which used to continue for one month earlier is happening within hours of a day now,” Rayees says.

According to a research by Kashmir’s Earth Scientist Sumira Nazir Zaz, precipitation in J&K associated with monsoons and western disturbances has been decreasing significantly from last 30 years.

Due to short and severe rain, the water does not remain at a place and most of it goes as surface runoff, continues Rayees.

“Surface percolation is the only way through which groundwater gets recharged,” he says. “The more the frequent precipitation, the better would be the groundwater level.”

What’s equally escalating this impending water crisis is reduced snowfall and retreating glaciers.

“The snow in the mountains is a critical water source and the snowmelt percolates and recharges the groundwater,” the hydro-geologist says.

Irfan Rashid, Assistant Professor of Geoinformatics at Kashmir University, says glaciers across Himalaya are receding like never before.

According to his research, Kashmir’s largest glacier, Kolahoi is melting rapidly due to climatic changes prevalent in the region. The glacier has lost 23 percent since 1962, and has fragmented into smaller parts.

While these receding glaciers have today made the valley a melting pot, the growing pollution in groundwater is also aiding Kashmir’s upcoming water crisis.

“People throw garbage that mixes with water and some portion of it reaches groundwater,” Rayees continues. “If this mindless practice continues, then time is not far when even the groundwater won’t be worth drinking.”

Kashmir has also seen a trend where most of the farmers have converted their paddy fields into orchards for economic benefits.

According to research done by KU professor Irfan Rashid, irrigation-intensive agriculture in the Lidder watershed area has shrunk by 39 percent, whereas the orchards have expanded by 177 percent from 1980 to 2017.

“The conversion of irrigation-intensive agriculture lands (rice paddy) to less water-intensive orchards are attributed to economic considerations and depleting streamflow,” Rashid’s research reveals.

Though economically beneficial, the production of horticultural crops creates many environmental problems.

For paddy fields, the farmers used the surface water from ponds, rivers, and streams, a portion of which percolated into the ground, says Rayees.

“But with more farmers going for orchard, one of the sources to renew groundwater is reduced,” the hydrogeologist says.

According to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 11 states across India currently have a state groundwater department—a nodal agency for groundwater investigation and construction of groundwater structures.

“Kashmir should also have a groundwater department to analyze the quality of groundwater and to keep a check on irregular activities deteriorating the groundwater,” Rayees says.

Apart from this, the hydrogeologist suggests to rejuvenate the catchment area of springs and ponds, and using artificial recharge structures like check dam and contour farming techniques to recharge groundwater.

“Kashmir is still in the safe zone as compared to other states but the future is uncertain,” Rayees says.

“With so many changes in the environment, preventing groundwater depletion and pollution should be one of the major concerns of the government and individuals.”

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