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Aquatic ecosystem of J&K calling for rehabilitation

Prof.(Dr). R.D. Gupta
Aquatic ecosystems comprise of freshwater and marine habitats. The major examples of fresh water habitats are streams, rivers, springs, lakes, marshes and ponds. These days, however, fresh water ecosystems are very much threatened by their depletion and pollution. Moreover, many of the waterbodies or aquatic ecosystems of Jammu & Kashmir Union Territory are shrinking and degrading due to heavy siltation and lot of inflow of inorganic wastes and garbages into these aquatic ecosystems. As such these aquatic ecosystems call for their rehabilitation.
The most serious threat to the waterbodies is posed by the deforestation i.e., cutting or felling of forest trees illegally and vehemently, which as a result causes soil erosion. The excessive run-off the rain water along with denuded slope reduces its percolation into soil and sub-soil strata which as a consequence reduces recharging of main water aquifers. It is the main cause or reason why a number of water springs/baulies of Jammu region, especially lying on National Highway from Jammu to Srinagar and those of Kashmir valley have now totally dried up. The displacement of top soil due to soil erosion causes siltation not only in wetlands or wetland ecosystems but also causes premature siltation of the water reservation.
Shallowing of Dal and Wular Lakes: Continuous process of siltation aggravated by denudation of catchment area has rendered Dal Lake shallower day by day. The main catchment areas of Dal lake are Dachiga and Telbal, and entire catchment of the Kashmir valley upto Sopore is of the Wular Lakes. Denudation of hills/mountain due to whole-sale deforestation has increased silt flow into the lakes through different tributaries. It has not only reduced size and depth of the lakes but has also eased encroachment by bringing more and more areas a round Wular lake periphery under cultivation.
Overgrazing of the catchment is another factor which has caused severe erosion of top soil. Thus, the denudation of hill slops, hardening of soil by overgrazing of the pastures/grasslands and destruction of vegetative cover are responsible for causing excessive runoff and bringing down of the sediments including silt in Dal, Wular and the other lakes.
Rehabilitation of Aquatic Ecosystem

  1. Erosion Control: Intensive anti-erosion control measures in catchment areas are required to be
    initiated to stop soil erosion and siltation of water bodies. These measures include small engineering works like gully plugging, check damming, terracing, contour bunding, contour trenching, etc. Besides, biological measures such as vegetative spurs, stabilisation of slips, reforestation, afforestation, grazing and forest fires control, ban on felling of existing forest trees etc., are required to take up. 2. Pollution Control: All biotic interferences in the catchment of various water bodies like cattle tress-passers which spread cow dungs in areas and causes pollutions, must be stopped at any cost. Carcases of dead animals in the catchment areas are positive source of water pollution. To prevent this, the cattle rearers are fully warned to carry carcases of the animals immediately for throwing them an appropriate place.
    Discharge of human and cattle wastes (solids and liquids) into lakes should be totally banned by law. The municipal bodies should make suitable arrangement to dispose these wastes elsewhere and put up effluent treatment plants. Dal Lake, the Wular and other lakes, and the entire course of the river Jhelum need immediate and constant attention. Effluents of the house boats in Kashmir valley require disposal elsewhere. It is probably the biggest source of pollution.
    To save our famous lakes of Kashmir valley from further degradation a ‘Master Plan of Sanitation’ for the entire Kashmir valley situated along the lakes and the river must be drawn-up at the earliest and executed vigorously. Experiences from similar situations from the world over be gathered and expertise available there should be utilised. No piecemeal treat or isolated approaches will help matter. Cities like Srinagar, Sopore and Anantnag are dead cities and routine services of existing in capacitated municipal organisations are of no use. Big catastrophic epidemics in Kashmir valley are imminent and all efforts be made to avert them. Pollution is one single factor which is bound to end up all tourism into Kashmir valley.
    Encroachment Control: The water bodies of Kashmir valley particularly are under tremendous pressure of human population and the lakes are being encroached in broad day-light without any hindrance. The situation is out of control. There is no reverence for law. Commercial and residential buildings are coming up freely all along banks of the Dal lake and other lakes. Consequently, the area of the lakes is shrinking and level of pollution is rising.
    Along the banks of the Wular lake, cultivations are being extended into the lake as Siltation is accelerated from the soil erosion of its catchment area and fresh land is formed. The Wular lake is, thus, threatened out of existence.
    The so-called floating gardens of Dal lake are further encroaching the lake and causing pollution. Infact the Dal lake is stinking horribly and no longer hospitable and habitable by house boats.
    Eutrophication Control: The process of eutrophication in water bodies is highly accelerated as a direct consequence of increasing pollution from urban wastes. This threat to lakes cannot be resolved in isolation. While the first step should be to stop further pollution, rehabilitation measures like desilting, clearance of weeds etc., should be taken immediately. Eutrofication is converting lakes into marshes and further on towards peat formation and ultimately the obliteration of the lakes. Technologies available from world-over under similar conditions must be studied and applied judiciously in our situations. While a biological control of weeds may be considered on priority and evolved. The use of any weedicious would be a most negative approach and as such has to be guarded against. If a necessity of weedicides is required, neem based biocide is required to be followed. Development of catchment areas as recreational and picnic spots: Instead of allowing catchments to degrade and deteriorate further, plans should be drawn to develop them aesthetically by intensive tree planting measures introducing ornamental trees, flowering shrubs and herbs. It is possible only if areas are protected against grazing and other human interferences. This will definitely promote tourism. The tourists will be delighted to find wild animals and birds. Aquatic ecosystem based tourism has been a bright historic and traditional development.
    In the management of our water bodies, much could be learnt from Switzerland and Scandinavian countries. Their technologies, if followed, will be surely helpful to great extent.
    While the Nilnag lake is almost obliterated and is more a marsh now, it can still be rehabilitated through those measures:
    a) Protecting the vegetation of catchment. The catchment area may be fenced as it is a small area. Fencing will exclude all biotic interferences.
    b) Restoring lake to its against size as has been done in Sanasar lake. Deweeding and excavation should be done.
    c) Define boundary wall of the lake and construct a boundary-wall of stone or brick masonry providing path all along, for tourist and also resting points at a few places.
    d) Creating a beautiful landscape around.
    e) Village waste should not be dumped into lake. They should be disposed away from lakes and other water-bodies.
    (Former Chief Scientist KVK cum Associated Dean, SKUAST, Jammu)
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