• Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

As India reels under a water crisis, a CSE survey unveils some good news: the country’s lakes and ponds are on a revival route

ByNE India Broadcast

Jun 27, 2024 #CSE

India’s waterbodies are marking a turnaround: many of those that had been severely polluted or encroached upon or had dried up over the years, are now being revived and rejuvenated, thanks to a basket of government schemes as well as private and community initiatives – finds a new nation-wide survey done by researchers at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The findings of the survey, captured in a book titled ‘Back from the Brink: Rejuvenating India’s lakes, ponds and tanks – a compendium of success stories’, was released here today at a national symposium.

Speaking at the event, CSE director general Sunita Narain said: “We need to relearn the art of the waterbody, of our lakes, tanks and ponds. It is an opportunity for us – we can turn around the water story of India, particularly in today’s time of climate change; this is what this book from CSE tells us. But there is a lot more that needs to be done. We need to scale up our work for investing in local water systems to capture every drop of rain so that we can build local resilience against drought. In our cities, we need to revive our lakes and ponds, the sponges that will allow us to harvest the rain-flood and ensure it does not turn into wasted water. We need to protect our forests and green spaces as this is how water recharge will increase.”

Narain added: “It is also critical in these times of water stress not only to make sure that wastewater – sewage – is treated, but it is recycled and reused. It is here the waterbodies that we protect in our cities, the same ponds and tanks that we use to divert and harvest rainwater, could be used to channelise the treated sewage and, in turn, recharge groundwater.”

The CSE survey

Over a period of about a year, a CSE team reviewed 250 waterbodies – created and/or restored under 22 state-level programmes and five Central schemes – in four distinct ecological regions of India: Indo-Gangetic plains, the desert, coastal plains and the Deccan plateau. The schemes and programmes that have been covered include Mission Amrit Sarovar, AMRUT 2.0, the City of Lakes project in Delhi, and the Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Thittam (AGAMT) scheme of Tamil Nadu, among others. Out of the 250 waterbodies reviewed, about 140 stood out as best cases.

Depinder S Kapur, programme director of CSE’s water programme, said: “India has 2,424,540 waterbodies, according to the country’s first census of these water resources which was published last year. Over 97 per cent of these are located in rural areas. These waterbodies, their catchments and their feeder channels act as critical groundwater recharge zones, control flooding, and are home to unique biodiversity.”

He added: “The CSE survey and the resulting publication – our compendium of case studies – focuses on the lakes, ponds and tanks among these waterbodies that are used by communities. It is a documentation, a celebration of the successful revival of these waterbodies – of what has worked, what hasn’t, and what more can be done.”

Sushmita Sengupta, senior programme manager, water programme, CSE and the lead writer of Back from the Brink, said: “What we have found is that political and bureaucratic-administrative will, along with community involvement, has been instrumental in successful revival of waterbodies. Some of the best restoration work has happened where district collectors or local political leaders have taken a special interest.”

She added: “Among the programmes and schemes, Mission Amrit Sarovar has certainly turned the tide, while state-level projects have played a key role as well. A beginning has been made to stem the decline – but the momentum needs to be sustained. The CSE survey and our publication also proposes a set of recommendations to do just that.”

What is the way ahead?

  • Treat wastewater before it enters a waterbody: Lakes and waterbodies, in most cases, have become receptacles for untreated wastewater and sewage. The solution lies in treating the wastewater before it enters the waterbodies and tracking so that no faecal sludge enters the waterbody. Says Kapur: “The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) 2.0 has the provision of recycling and reuse of the wastewater along with the rejuvenation of waterbodies. Funds under this Mission can be used effectively by all states to restore the waterbodies.”

  • Look at every waterbody holistically: The waterbody, catchment and its feeder channels should be treated together for rejuvenation. The actual boundaries of the catchment, waterbody and feeder channels need to be mapped. Aquifer mapping at the regional and local scales will help in understanding the requirements for ensuring scientific restoration for increasing groundwater level and mitigating floods.

  • Create a database, identify the waterbodies: City- or district-level administrations in India rarely have any idea about the number of waterbodies they have. Cities tend to omit encroached and silted waterbodies from the list. To plan for restoration of waterbodies, it should be mandatory for each state to identify, record and compile the total number of lakes and waterbodies within its boundaries.

  • Develop a menu of technologies: This should be made available for treating wastewater and abatement of pollution in waterbodies.

  • Ensure maintenance and monitoring: MGNREGS funds and finances under the 15th Finance Commission (FFC), for one, can be used for ensuring sustainability of the revival projects. Says Sengupta: “Gram panchayats can use a part of the FFC funds for maintaining ponds. For sustainability of any rejuvenation or restoration project, maintenance and monitoring should be made an integral part of the project—a portion of the funding should be blocked only for this.”

The CSE symposium brought together a number of practitioners — waterbody managers, project proponents, initiators and drivers – who have been at the forefront of this mission to revive India’s waterbodies.

Concluding the discussions, Narain noted: “We must look at lakes once again as a major source for water security, as well as a way for flood mitigation and drought management. Lakes cannot be saved if our sewage is not managed – a reinvention of sewage management system is, therefore, required, especially when it comes to urban waterbodies. We need to learn from experiences on the ground where programmes and schemes have worked, and how and why. We must learn because in this age of climate change there will be more rain – but also more floods and droughts if we do not harvest the rain.”

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