Reservoirs less than half full, water only for drinking: North Karnataka grapples with drought impact

Industries and agriculture are expected to be impacted the most

By M Raghuram
Published: Friday 19 January 2024
Pipes carrying water to the Alamatti dam. File photo: iStock

Karnataka is facing a severe water crisis as its reservoirs run dry following a drought in the last monsoon season. The northern part of the state has been particularly hard-hit, prompting authorities to launch into crisis mode. Industries and agriculture are expected to be impacted the most, as water may be reserved exclusively for drinking purposes.

In September 2023, Karnataka declared 195 out of total 236 taluks drought-hit. However, 130 taluks were initially believed to be the worst affected, of which over 80 per cent were in 12 districts in north Karnataka. 

State reservoirs should have collected at least 230-250 TMC of water by June 20, 2023, but this time it collected just 165 TMC, said a minor irrigation department official.

Irrigation Consultative Committees (ICC) are now raising awareness about water usage in irrigation, industry and domestic sectors. Judicious use of water could help avoid a drinking water crisis, but water for irrigation was another matter, Water Resources Department Secretary Krishnamurthy B Kulkarni said in September 2023. “The ICCs of various reservoirs are making efforts to create awareness among farmers to avoid water-guzzling crops,” he said.

Read more: World Water Day 2023: Dharwad revived traditional ponds to recharge its groundwater

Bagalkot district in north Karnataka saw no rain last monsoon. However, heavy rains in central Maharashtra flooded the Ranyakeshi river, a tributary of the Ghataprabha river, dumping a large volume of water into the Dakal reservoir. The Raitha Sangha (farmers’ association) began cultivating both banks of the Ghataprabha.

Crops grown in drought-affected districts in north Karnataka are rice, maize, pulses and oil seeds. Water-guzzling crops like areca nut, sugarcane, cashews, cardamom and chillies are also grown despite adverse expert opinions.

“We hoped the reservoirs would hold water until December, but they didn’t. Now over 800,000 hectares of Rabi crops have wilted,” said Bharamappa Bilaga, association secretary, Mudhol. A sub-divisional official at Banahatti taluk in Bagalkot told this reporter they had directions to release only drinking water on both banks of the river. 

Major north Karnataka reservoirs running dry 


Total capacity

Current storage

Krishna Raja Sagara dam

49 TMC

9.9 TMC

Tungabhadra dam

105 TMC

4.5 TMC

Alamatti dam

130 TMC

19.9 TMC

Karnataka has 24 reservoirs and many of them are below dead storage (volume of water held below the minimum pool level) even during peak monsoons last year. Several reservoirs didn’t reach full capacity even once, so in December, there was a deficit of 11 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) compared to last year, said an official in the minor irrigation department.

The situation has worsened in January, with little water for drinking. Civic bodies in the taluks and districts all along the river course are now contemplating deepening the jack wells in the reservoirs, the official added.

According to Department of Water Resources officials, major reservoirs are classified into three types based on their respective rivers: Krishna, Kaveri, and Godavari. The Krishna Valley has the most dams, with 17, followed by five in the Kaveri River basin and two in the Godavari River basin. 

Read more: Water-stressed in India: Bagalkot not doing enough to conserve water

The Krishna Valley reservoirs currently hold 112 TMC of water, while the Kaveri Valley holds 47 TMC and the Godavari Valley retains 6 TMC. Remarkably, this is the first time in three years that water levels in the dams have dropped so low, causing genuine concern as they fail to reach even half of their capacity.

About 12,000 cusecs of water will be released from Lal Bahadur Shastri Water Reservoir, also called Alamatti dam for up to 10 days for chilli growers, according to Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and Minor Irrigation Minister NS Boseraju. In the Alamatti dam, one of the biggest reservoirs in north Karnataka, water inflow dropped as early as November, said an official at the dam maintenance office.

An official from Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Limited (KBJNL) stated that the Almatti Dam has a gross capacity of around 19.036 TMC. “The live storage capacity stands is 1.416 TMC. There is no inflow to the dam and the outflow is 578 cusecs,” the official said. The live capacity at Almatti Dam has been recorded at less than 2 TMC for the first time in the last five years.

The reservoir has about 70 metres of water, compared to about 100 metres same time last year. Krishna valley reservoirs are at 23 per cent capacity, Kaveri Valley at 27 per cent and Godavari Valley at 64 per cent, according to Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre.

With this water, the catchment area of over 700,000 hectares will need to hold out until the next monsoon, which is five months away. Right now the government has decided to tune down the outflow to a minimal level and reserve much of the water just for drinking purposes. The outflow will be maintained for chilli growers.

Comparing the data from the past three years, the minor irrigation department officials say that by June 20th 2023, we should have accumulated at least 230 to 250 TMC of water in our state’s reservoirs. Unfortunately, this year paints a disheartening picture, with only 165 TMC of water stored by the same date. 

These alarming figures emphasise the severity of the situation as we enter the summer season, fueling concerns about the potential consequences that lie ahead. The distressing decline in water levels is also evident in some of our state’s primary reservoirs.

All 24 dams across the state face similar circumstances, resulting in an average water storage deficit of 40 per cent compared to last year.

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