Dams · Wetlands

Uttarakhand Wetlands 2017: Nainital Lake Needs Urgent Attention

Uttarakhand is a land of picturesque landscape encompassing mountains, forests, rivers. The state also has many beautiful lakes which includes Bheem Tal, Devaria Tal, Dodi Tal, Roopkund, Hemkund, Kashni Tal, Kagbhushandi Lake, Kedar Tal, Naukuchia Tal, Naini Lake, The Nachiketa Tal, Satopanth Lake, Shyamla Tal, Sahastra Tal, Masar Tal, Sat Tal,  Vasuki Tal etc. http://www.uttarakhandtourism.net/lakes_of_uttarakhand.htm ­(Uttarakhand Tourism Web, as on 10 January 2018)

 As per National Wetlands Atlas 2011, there are 994 wetlands of various categories of which including 816 are small wetlands of less than 2.25 hectare area. The total area under the wetlands in the state is 103882 hectare which is 1.92 per cent of its total geographic area. River/stream is the most dominant one with 77.14 per cent share of wetlands with area 81033 hectare. Reservoirs/ Barrages are the second largest wetland category. http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/NWIA_Uttarakhand_Atlas.pdf http://wetland.u-sac.in/uttar_wetland.html

Drying Nainital Lake Needs Urgent Attention

Nainital district is blessed with seven gorgeous lakes namely Naini Lake (Eye lake), Sariyatal, Sattal (Seven Lakes), Khurpatal, Naukuchiyatal Lake (Nine Corner Lake), Bhimtal hence also known as Lake District of India. The most famous of them Naini Lake or Naintal is a natural freshwater body located amidst Nainital town.

Nainital
Google Earth Image showing lakes in Nainital 

Discovered in 1839, today the lake has become only source of potable water for entire town. Apart from being famed tourist destination, it supports rich aquatic biota including uncommon medicinal plants and endangered Mahseer fish.

However, for past many years, the lake is facing several threats. The depth of the lake has been reduced from 27.97 meters to 19.6 meters. The natural water sources feeding the lake have also been drying out fast owing to increasing concretization of its catchment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nainital_Lake (Wekipedia as on 12 January 2018)

Unprecedented Fall In Nainital Lake Level In 2017

The lake level started falling unusually in February 2017. In March, the lake water level dropped to its lowest ever. Following this, deltas earlier visible only in the dry months of the summer, were seen emerging in and around the lake area. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/uttarakhand/community/drying-naini-lake-poses-threat-to-nainital-town/371757.html (The Tribune 02 March 2017)

In May 2017, the water level in Naini lake kept on falling to registering an unprecedented 18 feet drop than the normal level. Experts attributed the phenomena to gradual concretization of catchment area and felling of trees leading to destruction of natural springs which in turn used to feed the lake.

As per a The Times of India report, out of the 60 natural springs feeding the lake 30 have dried up. There has reportedly been no comprehensive research in the last two decades of the changes required to preserve the lake and surrounding water bodies.

The report further says that, the lake and the town are unable to meet the needs of a burgeoning population and the increased tourist inflow. The water demand of the Nainital town has also increased from 6-7 million litres per day (MLD) to 16 MLD which is sourced from the lake, putting additional pressure on the lake.

 

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/naini-lake-drying-up-experts-worried-tourists-dismayed/articleshow/58829168.cms (The Times of India, 16 May 2017)

In March, the Nainial High Court asked the state government to get a report from the National Environmental Engineering Institute on the reasons of receding water level of the Naini lake. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/naini-lake-records-lowest-water-level-and-it-s-not-summer-yet-57497 (Down To Earth, 31 March 2017)

Catchment Revival Holds The Key

In another The Times of India report, experts raiseed concerns over dilapidated condition of Sukhatal lake, holding it as the main reason behind shrink of Nainital Lake. Sukhatal lake is barely 1.5 km from Nainital Lake. It feeds the lake after September when monsoon is over. Interestingly, 20 years ago, National Institute of Hydrology has presented evidences on the importance of Sukhatal for the survival of Nainital Lake, yet the authorities concerned remained in oblivion to the findings.

Nainital Maps
Google Map of Lakes in Nainital 

In April 2015, a study by Centre for Ecology Development and Research revealed that Sukhatal provides more than 40% subsurface flow to Nainital lake round the year, especially during drier months.

In June 2016, in a bid to save Sukhataal, the HC had ordered the removal of encroachments, and directed IIT-Roorkee to submit a detailed project report (DPR) about beautification and recharge of Sukhataal area. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/revive-sukhatal-for-naini-lake-survival-suggest-experts/articleshow/58739314.cms (The Times of India, 19 May 2017)

According to an environmentalist, changes in rainfall patterns and the drying up of almost half the 60 natural water springs feeding the lake have also contributed to the problem. Illegal felling of trees in the area – particularly water-conserving oaks – has not helped either. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/green-activists-cry-out-as-neglect-illegal-structures-take-toll-on-nainital-lake/story-KVWjwcdT8x6pWsBINILbTK.html (The Hindustan Times, 16 May 2017)

Support To Save Naini Lake Campaign 

Later in the same month, expressing concern on the issue governor K K Paul  held a meeting with commissioner (Kumaon) D Senthyl Pandian and officials of the PWD, Lake Development Authority, irrigation department and other departments.

Before this, renowned classical singer Shubha Mudgal and more than 1,200 others signed a petition on ‘change.org’ urging CM Trivendra Singh Rawat to save the Naini lake. The online campaign got support of cricketer Mohd Kaif, actor Neil Nitin Mukesh, author Namita Gokhale & Pushpesh Pant.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/guv-directs-officials-to-take-measure-to-save-naini-lake/articleshow/58846025.cms (The Times of India, 26 May 2017)

About 1,000 of citizens took part in a ‘barefoot silent march’ on the Mall road in Nainital from Tallital to Mallital. The walk was joined by locals as well as tourists. Holding banners, posters, placards, the marchers appealed to people and the government to save Nainital.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/thousand-walk-barefoot-to-back-save-naini-lake-drive/articleshow/58983995.cms (The Times of India, 03 June 2017)

Hinting at bigger issue associated with climate change, the India Meteorological Department record suggested fall in monsoon rain in the hill area. As per IMD the average rainfall in Nainital district between June and September is 1,439.1 mm, which dropped to 1,268 mm in 2016.

Amid this, the city administration decided to  remove over 20,000 tonnes of debris from the lake to increase storage by one crore litres. The administration has already removed close to 10,000 tonnes of debris with the help of JCB machines. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/locals-hope-monsoons-will-restore-water-levels-of-nainital-lake/story-LaRoTCrW64CFQXgkcPxRGP.html (The Hindustan Times, 8 June 2017)

In June, a CM statement revealed that the State Govt had already released Rs 3 crore for restoration of the lake. Mulling to seek more help from the Center, the CM asked concerned agencies to prepare a detailed project report for its conservation. The CM has also asked scientists and experts to survey and submit a report on how Naini lake can be preserved. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttarakhand-cm-trivendra-singh-rawat-sanctions-rs-3-crore-for-the-revival-of-naini-lake-4696711/ (The Indian Express, 9 June 2017)

Concerned over depletion of Nainital Lake’s water-level, experts have asked the state government to declare Nainital as an eco-sensitive zone and bar any construction work near the water body. The proposals were made at a recent meeting between officials from the state government and experts. Rakesh Kumar, national additional secretary of United Nations Development Programme and a participant at the meeting, said that the UNDP would now involve itself in the rejuvenation of the lake. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/govt-urged-to-declare-nainital-as-eco-sensitive-zone-to-protect-naini-lake/story-PtLlL3HWDWhb5HUj3BY8ZJ.html (The Hindustan Times, 14 June 2017)

After assuming the charge, the State Government has given the responsibility of the maintenance of the lake to the irrigation department from the PWD. In June, the Governor also hosted a seminar on the conservation of the lake at Raj Bhawan. http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/brainstorming-session-held-to-save-naini-lake.html (The Pioneer, 21 June 2017)

In Sept 2017, PWD prepared a proposal seeking Rs 7 crore funds for the lake under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. The proposal has been sent to the irrigation dept which will forward it to the state govt and then to the Centre for approval. The money will also be used or maintenance of the canal system which recharges the lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/rs-7-crore-to-be-pumped-in-for-rejuvenation-of-naini-lake/articleshow/60413556.cms (The Times of India, 7 Sept 2017)

The Disastrous Landslide of 1880

The lake has been extensively described in Namita Gokhale’s novel Things to Leave Behind released last year. The novel gives broad account of devastating landslide of Sept 16, 1880 that altered the very face and contours of Nainital lake. Here are some details of the incident as mentioned in the novel, giving some clue about the magnitude of the disaster.

“The Victoria Hotel was carried away in a torrent of mud and stone, and 151 people were killed in the Assembly Hall area by the lake. Then there was another rumble and a flash of lightning combined with the longest, loudest thunder anyone could ever remember hearing.

The lake was calling to the mountains, and now it was Bells Department Store that fell under the force of stone and boulder. Those trying to extricate those who were trapped, were pulled along with the debris, as rolls of fabric and haberdashery hurtled down with them: fruit bowls and neckties, cravats and silk cushions, all accompanying them to the bottom of the lake as comfort for the next life.

The boulders fell crashing towards the lake, borne along in slurries of warm mud, carrying with them all that they met on the way. The fire in the old woman’s gunny and wood hut was extinguished. In the dark, she could hear the horses whinnying and rearing in panic.

nainital-landslide-1_091516033721.jpg

The topography of Naineetal changed overnight. The temple of Naina Devi, where the eyes of Sati had fallen after Vishnu had interrupted her husband Shiva’s frenzied dance, was submerged in a mess of boulders, mud, rocks, trees and flesh. Seventeen horses were trapped in the debris. The old woman who had heard the mountain speak was silent forever.” https://www.dailyo.in/arts/nainital-landslide-kumaon-pahari-things-to-leave-behind-1880/story/1/12933.html (Daily O, 15 Sept 2016)  

Referring to the incident, again, Peter Smetacek in July 2017, Daily O article, penned some more interesting and informative details about the lake.

“Nainital was discovered by the British in 1839. Peter Barron, the sugar mill owner who discovered it, enthused that it was the most beautiful place he had seen in the course of a 1,200-mile trek through this part of the Himalaya.

Determined to get his hands on it, he attempted to get the land transferred to his name. He was stalled in this process by the local landowner or thokdaar, who claimed that the area actually belonged to his family since time immemorial.

The main reason the thokdaar attempted to stall the British in their possession of the lake was that the lake is holy. It is mentioned in the Skanda Purana as “Tri Rishi Sarovar”, the spot where three rishis, Pulaha, Pulastya and Atri, attracted water from Lake Mansarovar in Tibet to quench their thirst, forming the lake. It is also considered one of the 64 Shakti Peeths of Sanathan Dharma, where the left eye of Sati fell. It was therefore the duty of the thokdaar to protect these holy precincts from heathen.

Peter Barron was, if nothing else, a resourceful man. Finding that his application was stalled, he had a boat carried up to the lake and launched it. Local people had heard about the proposed launch and had gathered in large numbers to see the first boat on the lake. Barron noted that he took the boat on a quick round and returned to the spot where the thokdaar stood.

Inviting him into the boat, Barron took him to “what looked quite the deepest part of the lake”. Pulling out a deed of relinquishment from his pocket, he asked the thokdaar to sign it or “take immediate possession of his property”.  The thokdaar looked over the side, muttered something about it being very deep at that point and signed the deed. Thus, Nainital was opened for development. In a few decades, Nainital became a popular hill station. In due course, it became the summer capital of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.”

Peter goes on to describing the causes affecting the lake adversely.

“This year, the lake level has dropped alarmingly despite normal rainfall for the simple reason that the subsurface seepage, which would normally have entered the lake and maintained its level during the dry season, was not permitted to percolate into the soil because of the proportionately large area that has been constructed upon.

The reason is simple: the Lake Development Authority, tasked with ensuring that building laws are applied, is not doing its work. Accusations of corruption are rampant.

In addition to passing orders banning construction that government officers are unwilling to implement, the high court might consider taking action against those officers responsible for preventing illegal constructions in the area.”

Chorabari Lake That Caused Kedarnath Disaster, Turns Dry

On the morning of June 17, 2013, Chorabari lake breached its banks, bringing a massive flash flood down the slope to the temple town of Kedarnath. Presently, a thin thread of water trickles down the middle of the lake bed and drains out through the broken embankments. The lake where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed – leading to its official name Gandhi Sarovar – is now a collection of mud and sand. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/10/16/death-of-a-killer-lake/ (The Third Pole, 17 Oct. 2017) 

The Chorabari lake is almost dry now [ image by: Hridayesh Joshi]

Scientists from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology say that the Chorabari Lake has no hope of being revived for at least the next 100 years.  As per WIHG scientists such a large part of the lower embankment of Lake has broken that day that it cannot be rebuilt now.

Further a site visit by The Times of India to the lake found that the lake bed is now completely dry and only a thin stream of water crosses the sand and flows down from a new path made by the burst lake. The lake is estimated to have formed around 15 to 17,000 years ago by rain water and snow melting from the surrounding mountains. In the past few decades, scientists had found only 4-5 m of water level in the lake.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/lake-that-caused-kedar-floods-now-dry-will-take-100-yrs-to-restore/articleshow/61134966.cms (The Times of India, 18 Oct 2017) 

70% Wetlands In Degraded Condition

In a shocking revelation, a Worldwide Fund for Nature report has noted that over 60 (nearly 70%) wetlands out of the total 85 it surveyed have “degraded due to sheer neglect”. The studied wetlands include Jhilmil in Haridwar, Dodital in Uttarkashi as well as Garudtal in Kumaon. The study report has been submitted to the state govt along with recommendations.

Image result for wwf uttarakhand wetland study

The study explains that the wetlands were degraded for various reasons such as excessive tourism pressure with trekkers camping at the site and spreading filth and pollutants in the water body; extreme grazing pressure by shepherds; other man-induced effects and natural calamities.

As per S A Hussain scientist Wildlife Institute of India, even though Uttarakhand has some unique and scenic wetlands at high altitude, the state never applied to get them recognised as ‘Wetlands of International importance’ as per the Ramsar Convention. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/over-70-wetlands-in-ukhand-in-degraded-condition-wwf-report/articleshow/56940881.cms (The Times of India, 3 Feb 2017)

Wetlands Birds Also Need Protection Like Tigers And Elephants

The wetlands, lakes, ponds and riverbanks present a splendid spectacle with thousands of water birds chirping and frisking in wetlands during winter.  As per bird scientist species of migratory avifauna, such as bar headed geese, ruddy shelduck, egret, pallas’s gull, white wagtail, western osprey, cormorants, mallard & gadwall, visit the wetlands of Uttarakhand.

Besides this trans Himalayan migratory birds, there are local migrants, such as warblers, larks, buntings, finches & flycatchers, which descend from the high altitudes of the Himalayas to plains down below. As the warmer days arrive in March, these winged guests, both latitudinal and altitudinal, bid adieu to their wintery abodes to return to their original habitats far off.

The bird scientists express concern that during recent years the migratory fowls have started coming late and their number is also dwindling. Ashutosh Singh, an ornithologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, says that the late arrival of migratory birds may be due to late onset of winter in their native places on account of global warming, while the depletion in their numbers may be partly due to  disasters, such as storms and floods, at their stopovers in their fly path and partly due to poaching and degradation in their winter habitats.

The birders say that since avifauna is a vital part of eco-system, the governments need to pay the same attention to their conservation as they give to the conservation of fauna, such as tigers and elephants. http://www.uniindia.com/migratory-birds-make-their-way-to-wetlands-in-u-khand/states/news/1090652.html (United News of India, 29 Dec 2017)

Nainital Lake; 2018 Brings No Change In Scenario

As per the latest report, water level of Nainital lake has started falling again. Following consecutive dropping of water level for last two years, the matter has assumed alarming proportions in 2017.  And given the scanty to almost no rainfall in winter, it seems the famed lake would turn drier in 2018. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/after-monsoon-cheers-dip-in-lake-level-swells-nainital-water-worries/story-STgIJ2XovND3gd1HeRguzM.html (The Hindustan Times, 14 January 2018)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

 

2 thoughts on “Uttarakhand Wetlands 2017: Nainital Lake Needs Urgent Attention

  1. Hey,

    That’s another amazing post on sandrp.in. Thanks for that post.

    All of the topics which you mentioned about Nainital will be very helpful for the travelers who visit it. We purastays totally agree for that and would like to contribute further to the users who are now reading this article.

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    All the best.

    Like

    1. Many thanks. just had a quick look at your blog. Plz provide some insight into environment issues related to the area on your blog. May be also link to our blog if you find it useful.

      Like

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