The rains haven't disappointed this year. So, why are the ponds dry?

India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, withdrawing about 230 billion cubic meters every year. This is why the groundwater level has gone down, which leads to drying up of water bodies even in good monsoon years

Ranvijay SinghRanvijay Singh   18 Oct 2019 8:29 AM GMT

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The rains havent disappointed this year. So, why are the ponds dry?

"This year, the plains of Karnataka have received good rainfall. The ponds here are filled to the brim. But, the water level will recede by October-end or mid-November then many ponds will dry up," said NJ Devraj Reddy, who lives in Chitradurga district in Karnataka. Reddy is a hydro-geologist working with Geo Rain Water Board, an NGO working in the area of rain-water harvesting, bore well recharge and groundwater rejuvenation.

This is an annual occurrence in Karnataka, a state that has been dealing with drought-like situation for the past many years. Every year, the ponds here dry up by the end of October. However, Karnataka is not the only state. The country has received 10% above-normal rainfall this year. Most of the ponds are adequately replenished, however, they will soon dry up.

All the experts we spoke to for the story cited depleting groundwater level as the main reason behind drying up of ponds. According to the report of composite water management index (CWMI) published on June 14, 2018, India is facing the worst water crisis in its history. The underground water level is receding very fast.

Every year, the ponds in Karnatka dry up by the end of October.

"India is the largest user of groundwater in the world"

India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, withdrawing about 230 billion cubic meters every year for irrigation alone. The underground water level has been depleted fast as the area of cultivation keeps on increasing. This is the reason why wells and ponds dry up even before the arrival of summer.

"Although good rainfall did fill the ponds up in my village, but as of now there is hardly any water in the ponds," said Rajesh Krishnan, 40, who lives in Thrissilery village in Wayanad district of Kerala. He added, "Immediately after the floods last year, the wells and rivers went dry. How would the ponds survive?"

The Kerala floods of 2018 were the worst in this century. After the state received heavy rainfall in August last year, all the major rivers, including Periyar, Bharathappuzha, Pamba and Kabini, were swollen. But soon after the floods, the water level started depleting fast and within 15 days all of them dried up.

Krishna Gopal Vyas, a senior geologist and an expert on water and environment issues, told Gaon Connection: "The sudden fall in water level in rivers after floods in Kerela is a warning to all of us. This should be taken into consideration. The state's chief minister had asked the Kerela State Council for Science, Technology and Environment to study the reasons behind decreasing water level in water bodies. However, nobody knows the outcome of the study. Now, decreasing water level in ponds is an alarming situation."

Depleting groundwater level is the main reason behind drying up of ponds, say experts.

Ponds are drying up across India

The situation is no different 2,000 km from Kerala. In Shahpur, a village 30 km from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, water level in ponds and other water bodies is depleting at an alarming rate.

Ramchandra Bajpai, 58, who lives in Shahpur, said: "We had five ponds in our village. They used to be full of water even in summers. People would use that water for irrigation during the day and the same ponds would get replenished in the night. It used to happen because the water table was not this low back then. The level has gone down considerably in the past few years owing to which during rainy season, the water bodies could hold very little water in them. This water will dry up by the end of December."

Shamim Bano, 54, who lives in the same village, showed us a pond which was near her home which used to be full throughout the year. "It rained well this year, which filled the pond. But after five-six days of heavy rainfall, it dried up. Last year was no different. The pond dried up by the end of December. Animals suffer because of this. They don't get water to drink."

In Latera village, which is 211 km from Lucknow, in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, ponds were full during monsoon, but as soon as the season was over, they went dry. Neeraj Pal, 34, who lives in Latera village, told Gaon Connection that ponds were full for one-two days, but now water-level is so low that he could walk through the pond. "This year is the worst. Last year, our ponds had enough water in October which depleted by the beginning of January. But this time, the water level depleted fast."

Water level in ponds and other water bodies is depleting at an alarming rate.

Dr Venkatesh Dutta, who is water resources management expert based in Lucknow, explained that the top surface of the water table is known as the shallow water table. When the ponds are full, only this section of water table gets replenished. If we have to keep the ponds full throughout the year, then we must bring our water table up.

He added, "It is not limited to ponds. Many rivers are also going dry because of this very reason."

"Water also evaporates from ponds. In earlier times, for instance, during the Chandela dynasty, a tree used to be planted at the corner where pond received excessive sunlight. This would contain high rates of evaporation," added Dutta.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), said: "There could be several reasons behind water drying up in ponds. If the water table is low then ponds in that area dry up fast. Earlier, water table used to be stable, ponds would get replenished. Now, the groundwater level has fallen because of which water in ponds is getting discharged instead of getting recharged."

"We need to do a lot to save our ponds. Firstly, we need to understand the recharging mechanism of groundwater. Then we will have to artificially recharge water at some places. Also, we have to regulate the use of groundwater. We would be able to save the ponds only when the water level will come up."

"The groundwater is lifeline of India. The government will act on this only if it understands the seriousness. But sadly, it's not what they are focusing on. We are not doing anything to restore groundwater. If this continues, then the situation will worsen."

Also Read: We have lost 22 lakh ponds since independence. Let that sink in
Also Read: Floods: A result of human activities, climatic change or capricious rains?


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