Water: coast in the red

PTI file photo for representation

Children from Koraga colony in Malali, near Export Promotion Investment Park in Ganjimutt on Mangaluru’s outskirts, have been forced to drop out of school in order to fetch water. A teacher serving in government first grade college in Mangaluru had to apply leave and remain at home to ensure that the water tanker did not skip her house in her absence.

On July 11, taps in and around Mangaluru ran dry, even as the India Meteorological Department (IMD) recorded the district’s average rainfall on that day as 50.6 mm. This paradox reflects the situation in coastal districts. This monsoon, the supply of water to Mangaluru was disrupted for the second time flooding residents with memories of the parched summer they had suffered a few weeks ago.

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Mangaluru City Corporation (MCC) had tried to tide over the water crisis by sinking 11 new public borewells (increasing the total to 141 borewells in MCC limits) and cleaning 48 public open wells. It is the mismanagement of water which has worsened the crisis, according to experts.

Decades ago, structures such as earthen bund, tanks, salt water exclusion dams not only met the water needs but also sustained groundwater resources. The 1973 SK District Gazetteer mentions that there were 2,400 tanks owned by government and 30,870 privately owned irrigation tanks in the district.

Experts had recommended a slew of interventions to achieve ‘a long-time stability for sustainable use of water’ and also guidelines for proper use of water resources available in coastal districts at a seminar on water management for coastal districts organised in Mangalore University in March 1994.

Salinity ingress

The recommendations gathered dust and the dependence on rivers for drinking water increased over the years resulting in the wastage, diversion, encroachment of surface water. The salinity ingress of coastal aquifers and inland salinity problem also precipitated the water crisis. Thus the underground water table this year (see box) witnessed a drastic fall in Dakshina Kannada (which receives annually around 3789.9 mm rainfall) in Udupi (4000 mm rainfall) and Uttara Kannada (2750 mm rainfall). P Janaki, senior geologist at Groundwater Department, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, informs that groundwater level in Mangaluru had gone down from 12.01 m in June 2018 to 22.37 m in June 2019. In Puttur, the groundwater table had dipped drastically from 3.43 m in 2018 to 13.46 m in June 2019.

The average drop from 2.7 m onwards and the recoup of groundwater level being 0.4 m in this monsoon is an indication that the coastal districts are in a critical condition.

“It is not just the loss of water but also the loss of aquifers that has caused this situation,” explains scientist M P Hitnal of Mines and Geology Department in Karwar. The neglect of traditional water sources is another reason for the plight, experts say.

Janaki says if the coastal districts continue to tide over the water crisis by sinking more borewells, the residents will have nothing but only sea water left to consume. Experts believe that rainwater harvesting at all levels and the efficient use of water are the only ways to address the situation.

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