Sudden release of water exposed lack of water management: farmers

The water level in Mettur dam touching as low as below 20 feet mark a couple of weeks ago against its maximum reservoir level of 120 feet, the government machinery, farmers, and the other sections of society were in for a great distress.

While farmers ruled out the prospect of Samba crop, the residents of the central districts were worried because of acute drinking water scarcity. With no sign of the onset of monsoon in the near future, the water crisis worsened not only in rural areas, but in the towns.

The copious rain in the catchment areas of the Cauvery in Karnataka came as a pleasant gift to the entire State.

Aided by heavy inflow, the water level suddenly shot up in the Mettur and the dam was full within a week. The inflow was so heavy that water had to released into the Coleroon river from the Cauvery to prevent floods. This was only the third instance of water being discharged into the Coleroon in the last one decade.

The heavy inflow of water in both the Cauvery and the Coleroon brought relief to the government, farmers, and the common people. However, a substantial portion of the water released has drained into the sea.

The water managers and farmers are worried as the water that flowed in the Coleroon could not be saved. No comprehensive scheme has been implemented for utilising the waters to the optimum extent.

The Coleroon runs through the drought-prone areas of Ariyalur, Thanjavur, and Nagapattinam districts before entering the Cuddalore district. No doubt, the surplus discharge from the Krishnaraja Sagar Reservoir has eased the drinking water supply in Tiruchi and a series of the Combined Drinking Water Supply scheme utilising the Cauvery waters, has been augmented.

The release of water in the Coleroon has helped in a big way in recharging the water table, which has gone down alarmingly, causing extra stress for the local bodies in ensuring drinking water supply. But the sheer wastage of the Cauvery water into the sea has caused dismay among the environmentalists. The current discharge, they said, had exposed the absence of water management scheme in the State – for a prolonged period, despite witnessing such phenomenon once in five years or so. “Several schemes have been drafted for the efficient utilisation of the surplus waters from the Cauvery but not implemented so far,” said Ayilai Siva Suriyan, District secretary of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam.

He said the State government had drafted a plan for taking the waters from the Mettur to the Coleroon through Thuraiyur and Mannachanallur. “Through this 183-km route, 185 tanks will get assured water supply. The wastage of water into sea will be prevented to a great extent, a phenomenon which is witnessed once in four or five years,” he said and added adding that the plan, evolved as early as 1972, had been put to cold storage.

C. Masilamani, district president of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, said that not all water let into the Coleroon got into the sea. It stabilised the storage at Veeranam for onward drinking water supply to Chennai. However, he lamented that the discharge through the Cauvery could have been stepped up. Although there was flood alert in Tiruchi, the Cauvery water was yet to reach many irrigation channels on the periphery.

He was of the view that the barrages could be constructed at as many places as possible to check the wastage of water. The work on construction of barrage at Mayanur had not been completed time. Had these works been completed quickly, at least much of the water could have been diverted to the water-staved Pudukottai, Sivaganga, and Ramanathapuram districts. In this connection, he pointed out the acute drinking water scarcity prevailing in Pudukottai town and other parts of the district for the past few months.

The farmers of Pudukottai convened an emergency meeting and have planned to impress upon the elected representatives on the need for linking the Cauvery with the Gundar so as to avoid the wastage of water, and for augmenting irrigation channels and water table.

The government should take cue at least now and come forward to take steps for the construction of as many as barrages and check dams across both the rivers to take optimum utilisation of water in general and avoid floods in particular.

“The government should hold discussion with the representatives of farmers associations for implementing the programme of constructing check dams,” says R. Ulaganathan, Ariyalur district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, affiliated to the Communist Party of India.