South India's Drought Part 5: As Karnataka reels under severe water crisis, residents brace unofficial rationing

Editor's note: Firstpost will cover various aspects of the near-calamitous situation in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This is the fifth article from a nine-part series of ground reports on the ongoing water crisis in south India. In this piece, the author writes about how Karnataka is reeling under three consecutive years of drought and an acute shortage of drinking water. 

Three consecutive years of drought and now, a scorching heat wave, hitherto unknown to Karnataka. Temperatures in the state are soaring over the 40 degree Celsius mark, triggering a crippling water shortage and rising apprehensions.

North Karnataka is bearing the brunt. The heat is relentless. And despite the Congress government unleashing drought relief measures across the state, the situation is grim. The government has released funds to deputy commissioners to take up community works under MGNREGS and funds under calamity heads for taking up works such as digging of borewells and supply water through tankers from various sources near the respective villages.

Worse, Karnataka may face another year of drought if the latest weather forecast by private weather agency Skymet is to be believed. The agency has predicted below normal monsoon this year too.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) recently forecast a normal Southwest Monsoon in India. The IMD said that they expected 96 percent rainfall in the oncoming monsoon season, with a margin of five percent.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

C Puttanna, a meteorological expert from Bengaluru, who spoke to the author before the IMD forecast were out, said that El Nino (unusual warming of the surface waters of the Pacific) is likely to play a crucial role in 2017.

Three years of drought and unusually hot summers have already ravaged farm incomes pushing thousands of farmers to commit suicide in Karnataka. According to farmer leader and State Sugarcane Growers’ Federation chief Kurbur Shantakumar, more than 4,500 farmers have committed suicide in the past three years with 1,600 being the number from March 2016 to March 2017. “From January 2017 itself about 460 farmers have committed suicide,” he pointed out.

“Another year of drought could spell doom for the state,’’ said revenue officials overseeing drought relief works.

The temperature in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, which is the second largest arid region in the country, has touched the 40 degree mark. On 30 March, Kalaburagi’s temperature was 1.5 degrees above normal, hitting a sizzling 40.5 degrees Celsius while Vijayapura hovered 2.2 degrees above normal at 40.2 degrees Celsius. Ballari breached the 40-degree mark, reaching 40.2 degrees Celsius. Raichur followed close behind at 39 degrees Celsius, according to weather experts at the state revenue department.

Forecasts say that temperatures will continue to remain high in April and is expected to cross 45 degree Celsius in Kalaburagi, Raichur, Vijayapura and Ballari if the current dry spell continues for another two weeks or so.

The Malnad region, nestling in the Western Ghats, the catchment area for many rivers, is facing a rainfall deficit of 35 percent. The storage in most reservoirs has hit rock bottom — an indication of what to expect if this year’s monsoon is below normal. “Already the growth rate especially in the agriculture sector has hit a new low but a fourth straight drought year will be too much to tolerate,’’ said a senior revenue official.


Reservoir Max Storage Capacity (in tmc) Level on 13 April, 2017

(in tmc)

Level on 13 April, 2017

(in tmc)

Linganamakki 151.75 24.74 40.71
Supa 145.33 50.9 38.73
Varahi 31.1 8.13 8.3
Harangi 8.07 1.22 0.58
Hemavathi 35.76 1.74 3.71
Krishnaraja Sagar 45.05 4.27 6.86
Kabini 15.67 0.26 1.68
Bhadra 63.04 5.37 13.17
Tungabhadra 100.86 2.9 3.97
Ghataprabha 48.98 6.68 2.64
Malaprabha 34.35 3.06 2.77
Almatti 119.26 8.16 16.16
Narayanapura 26.14 4.79 7.17

(Source: Karnataka State Government)

Drinking Water Crisis In Bengaluru

The Cauvery basin’s reservoirs may be at dead storage levels but Bengaluru, Karnataka’s powerhouse, needs drinking water. The state government, for the time being, has dropped the idea of rationing drinking water in urban areas like Bengaluru. It is instead, drawing water from these reservoirs to augment water storage at water supply stations in both Bengaluru and Mysuru.

Water levels in the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) and Kabini reservoirs have plummeted to new lows. But the government does not have a choice. During peak summer, both Bengaluru and Mysuru will need water and it has become inevitable for water boards to draw water from dead storage of up to 5 tmc-feet to tackle the looming drinking water crisis in both these cities. Bengaluru needs 1,415 million litres of water a day and Mysuru’s demand is 472 million litres a day.

While the maximum capacity of the KRS dam is 124.8 feet, current storage has reached a mere 76 feet. Officials say that an unusually severe summer this year would mean that the water levels are expected to dip further and they anticipate a deficit of 2 to 3 tmc-feet of water in the next couple of months.

Water Resources Minister MB Patil says that in the event of a crisis, machines would be used to lift water from dead storage level in two reservoirs without harming aquatic life. However, he allayed fears of a severe water scarcity. “There is sufficient water to meet drinking requirements for the coming summer. There is no need to panic,’’ he said.

The ground reality though appears to be different in Bengaluru and other cities. Towns relying on Cauvery water have started bearing the brunt of water shortage. Water utilities have been flooded with a litany of complaints of reduced water supply, low pressure and contamination.

“Normally water supply in Bengaluru, Mysuru and other towns in the Cauvery basin is for three hours in the morning from 5.30 am to 8.30 am. But water supply has reduced to two hours and that too with low pressure. As a result, the residents located at the fag end of the distribution line are not getting proper water supply. Also, apart from quantity and duration of supply, the quality of water is not up to the mark,” complained many residents in the extended suburban areas of Bengaluru and Mysuru.

Frustrated residents complained that the water board has resorted to unofficial water rationing. P Shivaram, resident in an apartment complex in the posh locality off JP Nagar is angry. “Earlier, we were getting Cauvery water for more than three hours and now they have reduced it to one hour. Even this is erratic and on occasions, the water board fails to supply water,” he said.

The situation is worse in slums. Gowdappa, a mason worker who migrated to Bengaluru from Vijapura district in North Karnataka said they hardly get tap water in the slum. “We have to depend on tankers being pressed into service by the water board, but this facility we miss, as tankers’ schedule is erratic and we cannot lose work for want of water,” he complained.

Officials argue that complaints of reduced water supply and low pressure were due to increase in demand for Cauvery water owing to rising temperatures and defunct borewells in the city. “We have been pumping between 1,300 and 1,350 million litres a day of water. We have enough water to fulfill the city’s drinking water needs,” they insist.

A senior official in the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) spoke to Firstpost on condition of anonymity and said water supply cuts would only get “more drastic” in the next two-and-half-months before the monsoon sets in, if the prevailing drought situation worsens in the coming days. The board, acting on the state government’s orders, has reordered its water allocation priorities to keep slum dwellers happy ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls. “Old and leaking water supply pipelines and illegal slums which directly draw water from mains make the problem worse,” the official added.

The only silver lining to these problems is that the Kodagu district has been receiving intermittent rains in the past few days. If these wet spells continue, water level in the KRS reservoir would increase. An official source said that compared to last year, the rains in the corresponding period this year are double in Kodagu.

At the same time, drying up of existing borewells and failure to sink new borewells has forced the government to borrow new rigs to drill deep. According to experts, underground water resources below 1,000 feet remain untapped and the new rigs will sink to 2,000 feet to tap groundwater. Knee jerk reaction to resolve the immediate crisis? Yes, say the experts.

According to senior civil engineer MG Sudeep, this deep digging or drilling will definitely affect the earth’s crust and cause minor jolt to tectonic plates. “In the long run, this may lead to various disasters such as earthquakes and ripples in earth layers which in turn may affect big dams and water storages,” he warned. But a desperate citizenry means a desperate government, especially when it comes to life-giving water.

Part 1: Five states face severe water crisis made worse by the onset of summer
Part 2: Chennai slum dwellers forced to beg for water, authorities remain helpless
Part 3: Parched lands in Nagapattinam lead to distress migration
Part 4: Water crisis in Tamil Nadu is a manifestation of climate change, say experts

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Updated Date: May 02, 2017 14:21:47 IST

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