2012-13 was described by the Maharashtra government as the worst drought in the state since 1972. Weather scientists are predicting that conditions are fast developing that seems like a repeat of 2012. The Reserve Bank of India has already warned the states about the possibility of El Nino and be ready for the worse. Maharashtra could take several steps to be ready for this developing situation, including using its available water storage in reservoirs around the state prudently.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we need to be alert to weather predictions and reservoir storages. Especially for Maharashtra. At this time last year, following poor 2012 monsoon, many of the bigger reservoirs were at 0% live storage for months (Ujani, Jayakwadi, several projects in Marathwada, etc). A satisfactory monsoon 2013 and some small contribution from the ill-fated hailstorms has resulted in better status of Maharashtra reservoirs storages at this point in time.
However, Maharashtra (like the country) needs to be extra cautious with using the available resources. Several institutes and bodies like Skymet, Buraeu of Meteorology, Australia, National Weather Service USA, etc. are predicting a strong possibility of El Nino effect this year, which generally results in poor monsoons. Sky met is specifically saying that this year may be a repeat of 2012 poor monsoons. The report also states that Vidarbha, Marathwada and Central Maharashtra, could face monsoon deficit. Bureau of Meteorology, Australia has issued notice stating a 70% or more chance of El Nino this year. They state “Although the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently neutral, surface and sub-surface ocean temperatures have warmed considerably in recent weeks, consistent with a state of rapid transition. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicate continued warming of the central Pacific Ocean in coming months. Most models predict sea surface temperatures will reach El Niño thresholds during the coming season.” A similar prediction has been made by US agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Centre. While some weather scientists are saying that we should not panic and wait for IMD’s (India Meteorological Department) official forecast on April 25 and the next one in June, however, it would certainly be useful to be careful from now onwards.
According to the latest Central Water Commission (CWC) Reservoir bulletin of 090414 regarding water levels in 85 selected major reservoirs in India, the 12 major reservoirs of Maharashtra have a combined storage of 4.471 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) which is still good 38.73% of live storage capacity of 11.544 BCM. This is down from 6.522 BCM (over 50%) on Feb 6, 2014. It is not clear where this huge 2 BCM water has been used up in these two months.
However, Maharashtra is indeed lucky to have this 4.471 BCM water in 12 major reservoirs at this time. We need to use this prudently in view of the forecast that situation similar to what prevailed in 2012 when Maharashtra experienced bad drought could get repeated in coming monsoon. Government needs to take advance steps to ensure that storage capacity is not frittered away and there is less land under water intensive sugarcane and such other crops. Media, civil society and independent observers need to be vigilant in this regard to ensure that mistakes of 2012 are not repeated and available resources are used wisely.
In terms of wise water management and effective use of available reservoir storage, waiting for June IMD forecast will be much too late. It will be wiser if water management is cautious starting from now. At this time, already some regions are facing water scarcity.
Maharashtra farmers are already in dire states due to 2012 drought followed by hailstorms and the disastrous impacts of extreme weather events in 2014. Another drought possibility is bad news, but impacts can be reduced with wise planning and prudent advance steps. Maharashtra Water Resources Department Website provides further details about storage position. Let us look at basin-wise water storage position.
Marathwada: In Marathwada, the overall live storage is 31% on 17th April 2014, including Major, Medium and Minor storages. However, this gives a misleading picture as many dams with better storages (like Vishnupuri) are placed at the end of the basin.
Dams like Manjra, Lower Terna and Seena Kolegao are already at 0 live storage, while Jayakwadi is at 15% (It was at 0%, along with six other dams of Marathwada even before this time last year).
In the upstream of Godavari Basin, Kadwa sub basin is showing severe water scarcity already. The region consists of premier onion and grape growing belt of Maharashtra, as well as wine processing centre. The chronically drought affected town of Manmad lies here and last year, it received water after 51 days in March from the upstream Palkhed Dam. Surprisingly, Palkhed is currently at 5% Live Storage, when this time last year it was at 19% live storage. Water releases from Palkhed were extremely contentious last year. This year with even lesser storage, things may flare up again and wise water management, curb on non-essential uses (in dry period) like wine industry, preventing siphoning water from canals for cash crops, etc., needs to be observed to avoid stress in coming two months or more. Kadwa Dam shows a dipping live storage at 2%, while Nilwande Dam in downstream Ahmednagar shows just 3% against 7% last year.
Vidarbha shows a better picture at 58% live storage, Lowest being Bagh Kalisarar inn Bhandar at zero live storage. Now this project, though in heavy rainfall region of Bhandara has been at 0 live storage since January for the past 6 years! Either the information about the project is incorrect, or the dam has serious issues which need urgent attention.
Ujani which was at 110% LS earlier this year after many years because of the monsoon in 2013 is now showing LS of 22% on April 17. Two irrigation rotations have been released from the dam. It was reported that last rotation was used up largely by sugarcane, leaving little for other crops. Ujani was at sub-zero storage (-39%) at this time last year. According to that standard, it has a good storage now, which should be used very cautiously. Solapur has added several new sugar factories this year, in addition to the 28 factories and the area under sugarcane has increased tremendously because of good rainfall. Keeping the possibility of a weak monsoon in 2014, water to sugarcane must be controlled and curtailed, else we will see a repeat of 2013, only on a larger scale.
1920 MW Koyana Hydropower Project: Surprisingly in Koyana, the reservoir level this year is worse off than last year at the same time, which is not the case for any other Maharashtra reservoir in CWC bulletin. While this year it is at 30%, last year it was at 47% as on April 9.
Falling Groundwater tables: Recent GSDA report has warned that groundwater levels in more than 2700 villages in Maharashtra has fallen below 1 meter than the average levels in the past 5 years. This is definitely alarming as groundwater is the water lifeline of rural Maharashtra. Out of the 2700 villages, levels in nearly 1200 villages have fallen below two or even three meters (for 497 villages).
Sugarcane: Area under sugarcane has increased in Maharashtra following good rains in 2013. This cane will demand more water in its lifecycle in farm and also for crushing. Agricultural Minister of India too did not find it appropriate to curb the wide spread plantation of sugarcane in drought prone areas even when national and global sugar prices were falling.It is estimated that current year may see more than 10,00,000 hectares of sugarcane which will demand water.The government has not even taken its own promise of enforcing drip to sugarcane.
There seem to be turbulent times ahead and it will be advisable if water management in Maharashtra tightens up to respond to upcoming challenges. The fact that there is useful water storage in some reservoirs and that warning is available in advance could be blessings if necessary steps are taken.
Parineeta Dandekar, firstname.lastname@example.org
Himanshu Thakkar, email@example.com
 These 12 reservoir include: Jayakwadi, Ujani, Koyna, Khadakwasla, Isapur, Mula, Yeldari, Girna, Upper Vaitarna, Upper Tapi, Pench and Upper Wardha.