The Nilgiris Water

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Nilgiri Water Resources

Over the years these natural systems and watersheds have seen a lot of change in the Nilgiris. Building a series of hydro electric projects, tunneling the water to different areas for irrigation, building reservoirs, planting the upper areas with commercial pulpwood species and replacing natural grasslands with tea and marshes with vegetables has changed the district’s water regime. Besides affecting availability, the management of the resource has shifted from local communities and indigenous groups to the state. This has resulted in several community based systems to collapse and increased the dependence on a centralized body.

A change in the land use of each of these zones has led to a steady decline in the health of the watershed. The main difference was seen with the increase in the commercial plantations of eucalyptus and wattle wood in the upper areas and the dramatic increase in tea cultivation in the middle zone. According to a study done by the Central Soil and Water Conservation, Research and Training Institute at Udhagamandalam - there is a 16% reduction in the water yield from the catchments of eucalyptus plantations vis-a-vis that of grasslands.

Recognizing the criticality of water to the district in a situation increasingly characterised by recurrent shortages and competition between uses, a Study of Nilgiris water resources was undertaken in the district over 2001-2002.  The salient findings from this study was discussed by a consultative stakeholder group comprising administrators, researchers, practitioners, non-governmental organizations, representatives of district’s regions, communities and occupations, and other stakeholders, on April 24, 2002, in Udhagamandalam.

Issues in Nilgiris Water Resources Management

The Nilgiris is an upstream catchment district and the bulk of its water resources are dedicated to power generation for the state.  The interests of the Nilgiris district vis a vis those of other districts and the state, will come in focus with increasing demands.  Further, water policy and programs in the state are not fully suitable to this hilly terrain and alternate approaches are needed that are based on local experience and best practice in other hilly regions.

The district experiences six months of dry period, is witnessing changes in the days and pattern of rainfall, has aquifers with limited ability to hold water for long periods, and signs of water stress in particular rural and urban locations are incipient.

6.     Access to water resources seems to be determined by the location of settlements.  With growth of settlements, a mismatch has emerged between locations of settlements (both rural and urban), and ready availability of reliable water sources nearby.

The district depends on a variety of sources including springs (feeding about 30 percent of settlements), wells (28 percent), streams (24 percent), checkdams (6 percent), and others (rivers, tanks, borewells, etc.).  Amongst user communities, there is a high dependence on and preference for water from springs, streams and wells.  These water sources need to be studied and conserved in a systematic manner.  Further, there are a number of inter-linkages between the former two categories and other resource regimes (grasslands, sholas, plantations, etc.) that need further understanding for improved water management.

Overall, water resources are said to be abundant in the district but about a third of the sources are seasonal, more than 80 percent rural settlements have less than 40 lpcd (litres per capita per day) of water available, and shortages are common in urban locations.  These point to the urgency of studies and concerted action in the areas of water resources development, and judicious use and management of water resources and related resource regimes.

Traditional practices in water management have thrived in the district and provide an opportunity to learn from, for design of management mechanisms for the present and the future. There is a need for revival of traditional water management systems that are fast becoming out of use.

Management of water resources and related resource regimes, is the business of many stakeholders in the district and therefore, consultative processes of planning, decision-making and implementation, are crucial for successful outcomes for the district.

Posted by: keystone       Category: NHW Home > Nilgiri Water Resources       Updated: 2007-06-21 10:54:40


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