A river’s ability to cleanse and recharge itself is significantly impaired by over-extraction of surface and ground water for irrigation, industrial and domestic usage. Mismanagement of the Ganga River’s water resources and wasteful utilization have also led to aggravated pollution levels in the river. Numerous hydro-power projects are located within the Upper Ganga Basin, and many more are being built or planned. Yet, current dam schemes have caused large stretches of the river to run dry, and their cumulative impact have led to many irreversible ecological and societal costs.
In the sections below, the major challenges to a free-flowing river as well as proposed solutions which can ensure at least a 51% flow of water in the river have been provided from the thoughtful insights of numerous GAP experts, scientists and members.
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1. Mismanagement of river water resources
Over 80% of the river’s waters are extracted for irrigation, while several hydro-power schemes leave long stretches of the river dry and significantly compound pollution levels.
2. Large stretches run dry, aggravating pollution:
From Rishikesh to Allahabad, little to no water flows into the river during winter and summer months. During these months the only water received is waste water, turning its river bed into a stagnant sewer.
- To see the chart of discharge levels in the river, click here.
3. Wasteful irrigation:
Some 50% of the water taken from the Ganga for irrigation is lost to evaporation and other factors before it can nourish a single crop.
Much of this loss can be attributed to out-dated infrastructure, including cracked and poorly assembled pipelines and unsustainable agricultural practices, such as water intensive crop farming.
- To learn more about agricultural management, click here.
4. Increased depletion and toxicity of ground water:
Due to over-extraction for irrigation from the river, the groundwater tables have been extracted.
5. The problems of electricity subsidies for irrigation:
Generous electrical subsidies have enabled farmers to leave their irrigation systems on day and night, resulting in needless wastage.
6. Diversion of water for hydroelectric power:
Series of hydro-projects are channeling away vast stretches of the Ganga into side canals or underground tunnels, leaving behind kilometers of dry rocks. 70 more hydropower projects have been planned on Ganga and its tributaries.
- To see the list of Hydel projects, click here.
- To read more about why dams are a bane or boon, click here.
7. Cities are furthermore draining our aquifers:
By the time the Yamuna reaches Delhi, for example, every last drop has been drained from it in order to nourish the growing city. A sizable portion of this water is lost through bad infrastructure, such as poorly assembled pipelines.
1. Low dilution capacity aggravates pollution
Lack of fresh flowing water in the river leads to aggravated pollution levels and prevents the river from recharging/ cleansing itself.
2. River’s health suffers
Lack of flow places an increasingly-precious resource of fresh water – a small 1% of the total water resources available – at risk.
3. Risk of conflicts
Mismanagement of these resources leads to conflicts between states and cities, and thereby puts the entire nation at risk.
4. Arsenic and toxic poisoning
Vast populations are increasingly prone to being poisoned by arsenic and other toxic chemicals that leech into waters extracted from deeper and dryer wells.
5. Threatens river ecosystem
A dried river bed destroys marine ecosystems, while robbing people, plants and animals of the water they need to survive.
6. Obstructions in river potentially dangerous in times of disaster
Additionally, as we have seen from previous disasters, certain dams threaten to dangerously obstruct the river, leading to greater threats to lives and property.
1. An ecologically-sound flow must be maintained at all times:
We recommend that an average flow of 51% of river water be maintained in the Ganga’s natural river bed at all times, in order to properly support the Ganga’s renowned biodiversity, to dilute toxins and to enable people to access their inalienable rights to water.
2. Water-saving irrigation is essential:
Replacing flood irrigation with water conserving and sustainable methods would significantly reduce the amount of water needed to be extracted from the Ganga and ground water tables.
3. Water conservation
Promoting massive water conservation and water resource management, inclusive of rain water harvesting schemes, at both centralized and decentralized levels along the Ganga River Basin.
1. Drip irrigation
Replacing flood irrigation with methods such as drip irrigation would significantly reduce the amount of water needed to be extracted from the Ganga and ground water tables.
Studies have shown that drip irrigation results in less labor and fertilizer use, less waste, less water lost to evaporation, and higher yields than traditional flood irrigation. Additionally, the method has application efficiencies of up to 90%, in contrast to the 50% efficiency of field irrigation.
2. System of Rice Intensification (SRI)
The Government of India has been trying to encourage diversification of crops, and thus trying to persuade farmers to convert from water-intensive crops like Paddy (rice) in the Ganga Basin area.
Alternative methods of rice cultivation, such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which has the potential to save at least 50% of the water used in Paddy, must be taken up.
Such options can lead to huge savings in water used in agriculture in the Yamuna basin. The information on SRI is available on the World Bank website, available here.
3. Replace electricity subsidies with more beneficial support:
Electricity subsidies, which are enabling far too many farmers to over-extract well water, should be gradually replaced with improved and widespread subsidies, technical assistance and marketing support for water-saving irrigation and organic farming methods.
4. Promote water-sustainable cities:
Public education, coupled with a rewards and penalty system, should encourage every citizen to think twice before turning on the taps, to repair issues in their pipelines, and to use less water for things like car washing, private green ways and other trivial uses. In addition, the city of Chennai should be looked to as an example.
Encourage mass public participation in rainwater harvesting. Such practices should be subsidized and made mandatory everywhere.
Smart city development needs to happen, with strict implementation of different, realistic need-assessments for all stakeholders. Development and contracts are currently being signed without infrastructural support and management in the city. For example, Gurgoan does not have water of its own but will be installing a NCR.
Channel to get 160 cusec Upper Yamuna River water but the capacity for the channel is 800 cusec capacity. These discrepancies must be brought to light, questioned, monitored and addressed.
5. Mandate grey water reuse and recycling:
The nation of Israel successfully re-uses 70% of its treated waste water for agriculture. It is time that India, which supports 17% of the world’s population with 4% of the world’s fresh water, follow suit. In addition, households and businesses should be granted incentives – alongside mass public awareness programs – that encourage reusing grey water and treated water from STPs for the flushing of toilets, industrial use, lawn and garden irrigation, and other non-drinking-related reasons.
6. Water Footprint Measuring Systems
During the months of March through June, most farmers do not need water for irrigation, so water use should be monitored and water footprint measures should be implemented.
7. Better Storage of Rain and Monsoon Water
The nation gets year-long stores of water during the three months of the monsoon. Better designed and sustainable storage facilities need to be made to save this water.
Natural gorges and bowls in the Himalayan mountain range can serve as natural catchment areas.
Afforestation on a massive scale amongst state and local bodies must be promoted to plant indigneous trees that conserve water, prevent soil erosion and purify the air.