Expert – The New Indian Express
Express press service
BENGALURU: Environmentalists and conservationists have pointed out that linking rivers will lead to serious environmental consequences. Professor TV Ramachandra, Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Center for Ecological Sciences, IISc, believes that large-scale river link projects will spell the end of the regional economy with the scarcity of water and food, which will have an impact on sustainable living. Excerpts:
What do you think of the government’s announcement on the river link project?
The proposed large-scale river connection projects are neither technically feasible, nor environmentally friendly, nor economically viable. Changing the natural course of the rivers will be disastrous and affect the livelihood of the region. The prevalence of invasive species is leading to the erosion of native aquatic biodiversity and will impact the livelihoods of local people. Therefore, before large-scale projects are proposed or undertaken, we need a social and ecological audit of previous projects. For example, the Telugu Ganga project was implemented in the 1980s to supply 15 tmcft of Krishna pond water to Chennai. But after its implementation, Chennai has a maximum of 3.8 tmcft of water. The lack of accountability and transparency regarding failed projects has encouraged decision-makers to opt for such proposals, which will only benefit a small part (a set of consultants, contractors and engineers) of society. while depriving the majority of the local population of water and food security. population in river basins.
Why do you think the government is making such an announcement now?
The country has faced a severe water crisis due to mismanagement of water resources over the past century. Water has become an emotional issue. Every politician/government tries to take advantage of this and falls prey to the illogical and unscientific proposals launched by some part of the society to take advantage of the water scarcity situation.
Will he open a Pandora’s box, as there are so many interstate conflicts?
Certainly. Such projects that lack rigor or scientific scrutiny will set the stage for disaster. Poor management of river basins will lead to the decline of the water retention capacity of watersheds, leading to the conversion of perennial streams into intermittent or seasonal streams, which will further aggravate the situation of water scarcity. water leading to more inter- and intra-state conflicts.
When there are issues like Mahadayi and Mekedatu, what do you think will happen with that?
Societal conflicts will always benefit decision makers. Hence, these issues are kept alive. Some previous interventions in the Malaprabha Basin have led to the catchment losing its ability to hold water, which has contributed to water scarcity. Instead of rectifying the problem in the Malaprabha catchment, a proposal has arisen to divert water from Mahadayi, contributing to further degradation of both catchments.
The Mekedatu project leads to the flooding of approximately 4,700 hectares of forests, including the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (submerges 65% of the spatial extent of the sanctuary) with many endemic species of flora and fauna. Instead of a decentralized water harvesting option, such foolish projects are pushed. For example, the city of Bengaluru (spatial extent of 740 km²), with an annual rainfall of 700–850 mm, receives about 15 tmcft of water while the city requires about 18 tmcft of water. The best option is rainwater harvesting at individual (rooftop) and community (via lakes) level. To meet local water demand, rejuvenate lakes, improve water storage capacity and improve groundwater recharge. Currently, 45% of Bengaluru’s water needs are met from groundwater sources, and this will be the best and most viable option.
Is it worth investing so much in river connection projects?
Natural capital accounting and valuation of ecosystem services reveal that forests provide services – Provisioning services (tangible benefits) worth Rs 2.19 lakh per hectare per year, Regulating services of a value of Rs 3.31 lakh per hectare/year, Cultural Services worth Rs 1.05 lakh per hectare/year and the total ecosystem supply value of the forest ecosystem is Rs 6.56 lakh per hectare / year. So, with this value, compared to what the government is talking about investing, we can understand that it is not worth the investment. The NPV (Net Present Value) of forestry assets is Rs 80 billion. Given the value of forest ecosystems, it is prudent not to disturb the vital ecosystem.
Is there an alternative?
There are solutions such as decentralized water harvesting through lakes and reservoirs, wastewater treatment, watershed programs through engineering and ecological treatment that will improve the water retention capacity of the watershed. All of these are achievable and cost-effective, which improves job opportunities.