Mission Dal lake

Vice-chairperson of Lakes and Waterways Development Authority of Jammu & Kashmir, Irfan Yasin, speaks on the state authority's efforts to save the famous Dal lake of Srinagar and the challenges ahead. A study conducted recently shows how the efforts have helped in drastically improving the lake's water quality

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 22 March 2013

IrfanYasinOn the threats to the Dal lake in Srinagar

Houses located in peripheral area of the lake are the major source of pollution. There are nearly 60,000 people residing in the patches of land in the lake. Apart from it, there are 700 houseboats which turn into hotels in the tourism period.

The Dal Lake has a 75 km of catchment area, which is without tree cover and the main source of water for this lake by bringing floods. This flood brings silt and solid waste, which makes the lake shallow and affects its hydrology.

The third problem is clogging of channels leading to stagnation of lake water. There are 38 channels through which water maintains its flow. These channels act as a navigation route for locals.

Another problem is blocking of fresh water springs. These springs lie within the catchment area or upper parts of it, becoming source of water for the lake.

The main headache for the government is to control the waste water from houses. The cumulative effect of all these problems pushed the lake to eutrophication, a state where level of dissolved oxygen drops drastically, affecting flora and fauna of a water body. 

Are these channels you mentioned natural or man-made? What is the source of water for this lake?

Most of the channels are natural and a few are man-made. People used it for navigation.  Ninety per cent of the lake water is snow melt from the catchment area.

Is the lake area shrinking because of encroachment?

Yes! It has shrunk over a period of time. Our old document show the lake area was 25.56 sq km which now has shrunk to around 24 sq km, as revealed by satellite image. The water area is around 19 sq km.

What are the interventions or efforts made by the lake authority to clean Dal lake?

The first intervention was made in late 1970s. The then chief minister, Sheikh Abdulla, started an initiative to focus on the development of the lake as Srinagar was identified with its lake. His approach was multi-pronged, based on biodiversity, generation of employment, and tourism. So, a New Zealand firm was hired in the 1990s for the study of the lake. The Dal lake was looking after by different government departments at that time. In 1997, the government started thinking about need for a single institution and this multi-functional (lakes and waterways)  authority was established.

No comprehensive intervention was made because of funds shortage. The important works undertaken before 1997 was plantation in catchment areas by forest department, anti-soil erosion measures, settling basin and de-silting. After 1997, the interventions were more organised, like periodic checking of pollution, rehabilitation of people in eight new colonies; IIT Roorkee prepared a detailed project report in 2002 which got approval from government in 2005. The total estimated cost of the project was around Rs 300 crore. This development is being supervised by the high court through a public interest petition filed in 2002. The new project included installing a new trunk sewer line of 170 km, a secondary sewer line and a lateral sewer line connected to house toilets. We will increase our capacity to treat sewage up to 36 million litres by the end of this March.   

We have engineered new wetlands as the natural wetland has shrunk because of urbanization. We planted 1.6 million saplings, undertook moisture retention exercise and constructed small check dams to check siltation in catchment areas. As many as 52 of the 54 blocked springs have been reopened. We created a number of traps in the extremities of the lake to catch solid waste and treat it. We periodically check pollution of lake.

The monitoring unit of authority has been set up to evaluate our efforts. We have back water channel for flushing of the lake. The surrounding people blocked many of these flushing channels over a period of time. It is now unblocked. We flush the lake 16 times a year. One channel that was blocked and converted into road; it was an ecological disaster. 

Is there any recent study done to evaluate your efforts?

A recent study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute at Nagpur, following a high court order, has data which  is encouraging. The report said that all these efforts have increased the area of water, 73 per cent of lake water is safe and 40 per cent of water is excellent, at par with international standards. Only 17 per cent of water is in bad condition.

What kind of challenges is your organisation facing? Is there any initiative to start a community-oriented programme to educate people?

Rehabilitation of tens of thousands of people is a major challenge for us. We are unable to get people involved in this project. They grow vegetables, their livelihood depends on it. We do not have any programme to educate them and make them aware. These are another challenges. People still throw animal carcasses, dump garbage; the tourists throw polythene bags, and other non-biodegradable items. We failed to make people think that this programme is for them.

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