Climate Change

Drought to deluge: Kodagu was parched 3 months ago, now receives extreme rainfall

The district has received double the amount of August’s rainfall in just nine days

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 09 August 2019
Vehicular movement is disrupted at Malabar Road in Kodagu's Virajpet due to flooding. Kodagu has received double the amount of August's rain in the last nine days. Photo: Darshan Devaiah B P/@DarshanDevaiahB/Twitter

Karnataka’s Kodagu district, the origin of the Cauvery river, is currently battling with floods after having experienced drought in May this year. Moreover, it received more than double of its average August rainfall in just nine days.

Between August 1 and August 9, the district got 36.8 inches (920 millimetres) of rainfall. The average rainfall for Kodagu in August is around 15 inches.

In August 2018 too, the district had received extremely heavy rainfall which caused disasters like landslides that killed 11 people. But even in that month, the rainfall was a mere 19 inches.

“Last August, the rain was incessant. But this year, it has been continuous, with heavy downpour in the last 48 hours, which is a cause of concern,” Kodagu-based agri-meteorologist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Sahana Hegde told Down to Earth.

This is the first time South Kodagu has received more rainfall than the North, she added.

In some parts of the district like Napoklu, 30 inches (762 mm) of rainfall was recorded in the last 24 hours.

In July 2019, Kodagu received 13.4 inches (335 mm) of rainfall, which was deficient. The average rainfall in the month of July for the district is 18 inches (450 mm).

Karnataka had 10 per cent deficit rainfall till the end of July, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre Director, D S Srinivasan Reddy told Down To Earth.

“But in the last nine days, rainfall has changed the average of the whole state. Karnataka now has nine per cent excess rainfall,” said Reddy.

Death of a river

Between March and May this year, Kodagu was facing a drought-like situation.

The underlying reason is that the catchment of the Cauvery has been unable to hold water. There are a variety of reasons for this development including degradation of the Cauvery’s catchment, Kodagu’s newly-established plantation economy, change in land-use patterns along the river, tourism, climate change and illegal sand mining.

Paddy farming has become unviable in the region as the cost of production for the crop has risen. Consequently, the numerous rice paddies which have dotted the region since centuries, are now diminishing.

For instance, in 2010-11, 35,000 hectares (ha) of land in the catchment of the Cauvery and its tributaries — Hemavati and Lakshmanteerth — were under paddy cultivation. By 2018, this had reduced to 27,000 ha.

These paddy fields had acted as natural feeders to the Cauvery. With paddy farming decreasing, the vacant land has either been diverted for non-agricultural use or for a plantation economy.

Karnataka’s plantation economy has been booming. The area under plantations of crops such as coffee, palm oil and areca nut has increased in the state.

However, the problem with these industry-driven plantations is that unlike traditional trees, they don’t have deep root and hence, cannot hold soil or water.

“The coffee plant roots do not go deep enough to conserve or restore rain water,” said S Janakrajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

“A whole lot of traditional trees like Nandi, Honne, Rosewood, Jackfruit and all varieties of bamboos have been removed for cultivation of coffee,” environmental activist Roy Bopanna said.

Another problem is the development of infrastructure and urbanisation in the catchment.

Data from Global Forest Watch, which collects annual data on global forests using satellite imagery, warns that the biodiversity of the Western Ghats, where the origin of the Cauvery lies, is under threat.

This report states that Kodagu lost around 3,000 ha of tree cover in the last 17 years. The impacts of decreasing tree cover are now visible as the Cauvery dried up in March-May.

For the passage of a transmission line from Kaiga in Uttara Kannada to Kerala via Kodagu and Mysuru districts, 50,000 trees were cut in Kodagu in 2015.

Another 300,000 trees are to be cut for two upcoming projects including widening of a national highway and laying of a rail track.

The rise of urbanisation in the catchment area is another major challenge. Many of the private lands, which once carried trees, now have huge resorts, hotels or homestays. 

All this has led to an influx of tourists, especially IT professionals from Bengaluru. The population of Kodagu district is around half a million. But the annual footfall of tourists is around two million. This has created pressure on land and existing infrastructure.

Karnataka is also falling prey to climate change and less rainfall. The Madikeri taluka, where the Cauvery originates, has witnessed a sharp decline in rainfall — by around 8 mm per year.

Consequently, there has been a rapid rise of bore wells for both agriculture and drinking water purposes. The drying of rivers and rivulets leads to further drilling of borewells to feed crops. Also, illegal sand mining has led to severe damage to the water table.

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