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Issues in water conservation
Feb 20, 2014

The issues are listed as:

A. Groundwater overuse: 

Extraction of groundwater in excess of its replenishment is a serious problem and leads to significant declines in the groundwater table.  In Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan the incidence of over-exploitation is very high and the situation is becoming critical.

A major problem of water table depletion is the deterioration in quality which has a large impact on the health of large sections of the population which heavily depends on groundwater. In Gujarat, groundwater provides most domestic and more than three-quarter of the irrigation water. Over-extraction has caused the water table to fall by as much as 40 to 60 metres in many places, the yield of wells has decreased, cost of water pumping has increased, and in many cases wells are being abandoned. Groundwater mining in Gujarat and Rajasthan has resulted in fluoride contamination particularly endangering the poor in these areas.

Besides depletion, pollution of aquifers through human activity constitutes another major problem. Most groundwater structures are privately owned, and therefore, are outside the purview of direct state regulation. Measures to regulate groundwater extraction chiefly through restrictions on credit or electricity have had limited impact. On the contrary, wherever the water table is high, affluent farmers use diesel pumps if electricity is in short supply. In the legal framework, for the management of groundwater in India, there are no de jure rights to groundwater; de facto, all landowners have the right to the groundwater in their land. Thus, groundwater is viewed essentially as an add-on to the land. As a consequence, there is no limit to the amount of groundwater a landowner can extract from his land.

B. Waste disposal

Industrial effluents: In industrial clusters in the country, only 1/6th of the capacity required for the treatment of effluents exists. The problem is worse in the case of small scale industries because of their capacity limitations and financial constraints. This would require installation of adequate number of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs). Most of the major industries have effluent treatment plants for industrial effluents, but running with limited efficiencies. Better operation and maintenance and enforcement mechanisms are required to meet the stipulated standards.

Municipal sewage: As reported by the CPCB, against an estimated sewage generation of about 38254 million litres per day (MLD) from Class I cities and Class II towns of the country, the available treatment capacity is for 11787 MLD, which is only 31% of the sewage generated. Inefficiencies and under-utilization of existing sewage treatment infrastructure further adds to the problem.

Agricultural wastewater: Routine application of fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture and runoff generated is increasingly being recognized as significant source of water pollution. Sediments (loose soil) washed off the fields is the largest source of non-point agricultural pollution, which needs to be controlled through erosion control techniques to reduce runoff flows and retain soil on the fields. In order to address the above mentioned issues of water pollution, several Ministries are involved. MoEF, under the National River Conservation Plan, supplements the efforts of the State Governments in augmenting the sewerage and sewage treatment infrastructures. Ministry of Urban Development facilitates setting up sewage treatment facilities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission (JNNURM) and other schemes such as Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT). Urban local bodies also have a key role to play in treating the municipal sewage. An integrated and well-coordinated approach among various agencies is required to be followed for effectively addressing this issue which is inter-sectoral in nature.

C. The impact of dams on fisheries and wildlife

Fishery alongside the rivers usually declines due to changes in river flow, deterioration of water quality, water temperature changes, loss of spawning grounds and barriers to fish migration. A reservoir fishery, sometimes snore productive than the previous fishery alongside the river, however, is created.

In rivers with biologically productive estuaries, both marine and estuarine fish and shellfish suffer from changes in water flow and quality. Changes in freshwater flows and thus the salinity balance in an estuary will alter species distribution and breeding patterns of fish. Changes in nutrient levels and a decrease in the quality of the river water can also have profound impacts on the productivity of an estuary. These changes can also have major effects on marine species which feed or spend part of their life cycle in the estuary, or are influenced by water quality changes in the coastal areas.

The greatest impact on wildlife will come from loss of habitat resulting from reservoir filling and land use changes in the catchment area. Migratory patterns of wildlife may be disrupted by the reservoir and associated developments. Aquatic fauna, including waterfowl, amphibians and reptiles can increase because of the reservoir.

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