Gearing up to tackle flood in Wullar

Gearing up to tackle flood in Wullar

Wullar, Asia's largest fresh water lake located between Bandipore and Sopore some 60 km from Srinagar,  is often termed the mother of all lakes in Kashmir due to its sheer size.
The lake is one of the six Indian wetlands designated as a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.

But now, like many other water bodies in the state in particular and the country in general, it is facing threat. Encroachments, siltation and presence of  thousands of willow trees inside the lake can cause a major flood in Kashmir in the near future.

Experts say if the government doesn’t take immediate steps to remove the willow trees and launch a massive dredging to desilt Wullar, it cannot modulate floods now, creating a dangerous situation in the valley. “Wullar has lost the capacity to regulate water flows due to siltation, encroachments, pollution and extensive plantations. The inordinate delay in restoration of Wullar is bound to raise level of ecological degradation. It could also result in escalation of conservation plan cost,” said Aijaz Rasool, a noted hydraulic engineer.

A senior official of the Flood Control department, wishing anonymity, said that as absorption basin of  Wullar is decreasing, “any increase in the water level of the lake will trigger simultaneous increase in upstream water level of rivers and lakes, threatening every town and district, including Srinagar.”

The lake, till a few decades ago, acted as a huge absorption basin for the annual floodwaters, maintaining a balance in the hydrographic system of the Valley.
However, due to massive encroachments and siltation, Wullar has been reduced from nearly 273 sq km some decades ago to less than 70 sq km.

Official figures state that nearly 70,000 kanals (one-eighth of an acre of land) of converted land of Wullar have been occupied illegally. Sadly, that includes
various government departments. The problem is compounded by continuous inflow of silt from nearby catchment areas which has turned a large chunk of the water body into a land mass.

The Jammu and Kashmir government with  financial help from the Centre has prepared a conservation and management plan for the lake. Under the plan, the state forest department proposes to fell thousands of trees and a massive dredging work will be
carried out in the coming months.

Officials said the Union Government has sanctioned a whopping Rs 120 crore under  the 13th Finance Commission for the conservation plan of  Wullar. The plan envisages the lake’s water and land resources management, bio-diversity conservation, livelihood improvement and institutional development. The plan also emphasises on eco-tourism as a potential tool to conserve the lake and its rich bio-diversity while providing economic incentives to the local community.

Additional Principal Chief Conservator Forests Abdul Razak Khan, who has been posted as Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Wullar, told Deccan Herald that they have completed 90 per cent demarcation work in the last six months.

“Survey for dredging work is in process and we have started it from Banyari to Saderkoot Payeen belt of the lake as it is critically silted area. In first phase, we will treat this 5-7 sq km stretch where there is less movement of water,” he said.

Khan revealed that they have already completed some work in the catchment areas. “We have targeted afforestation on more than 2,600 hectares and aided regeneration on more than 1,500 hectares in the next four years under catchment area treatment,” the OSD said.

Explaining in detail the action plan, Khan said: “We are waiting for water level to recede to take up chopping of the trees as they are inside the water.

After September, the water level will recede and in the first phase we have identified more than 18,000 willow trees for uprooting.”

According to the project report prepared by the Wetland International South Asia (WISA), about 45 per cent of population living in and around the lake is below poverty line.
The WISA report has highlighted issues which include absence of policies and strategies to guide coordinated action within the River Jhelum Basin, marginalisation of wetland dependent communities, absence of effective institutional mechanism for
coordination and implementation and lack of baseline information for planning and decision-making.

The report suggests that after the successful implementation of the project, the forest cover would go up to 40 per cent and there will be 70 per cent reduction in flooding due to increased water holding capacity.  In 1980s, Islamabad had raised objections over the
construction of Tulbul barrage on Wullar lake, terming it violation of Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

The Centre decided in 1984 to construct a 439-foot-long and 40-foot-wide barrage at the end of Wullar lake having a maximum storage capacity of 0.30 million acre-feet of water. Its aim was to regulate the release of water from the natural storage in the lake and maintain a minimum draught of 4.5 feet in the river up to Baramulla during the lean winter months.

After Pakistan’s objections, work was stopped on the barrage. A senior state official told Deccan Herald that the latest project report of felling of willow trees and dredging the lake has been shared with Islamabad. “Pakistan can’t raise any objection over dredging of the lake as it doesn’t violate any clause of the IWT,” he added.

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