The combined live water storage level in 81 major reservoirs is lower this year as on December 31, 2009. But what has set the alarm bells ringing in the government is that the storage level in the crucial dams in the north — which had a 31 per cent deficient southwest monsoon rainfall in kharif season — is about 40 per cent lower than normal.

The latest official data shows that the total live storage in 81 important reservoirs averaged 79.186 billion cubic meters (BCM) on December 31, 2009, compared to 82.173 BCM in the corresponding period last year. Although the combined water level has risen from an average of 11 per cent at the beginning of monsoon (June 1, 2009) to 52 per cent as on December 31, it remains below 50 per cent in 44 reservoirs

Erratic and delayed southwest monsoon resulted in drought in 299 districts in 13 states during kharif season in 2009. The government is hoping that the estimated shortfall in rice, coarse cereals and edible oilseeds in kharif is made good in the ongoing rabi (wheat) season.

However, what is worrisome is that of the six crucial reservoirs in the Indus basin that are significant for the summer months and for the rabi (wheat) crop, five have a storage level of 40 per cent below their live capacities. The overall storage is less than normal in Punjab by 8 per cent, in Himachal Pradesh by 32 per cent and in Rajasthan by 43 per cent.

In Himachal Pradesh, Pong dam has 20 per cent storage of its live capacity against 63 per cent last year and the Gobind Sagar (Bhakra) has a current storage of 47 per cent compared to 72 per cent last year. The Thein reservoir in Punjab has a storage of 26 per cent as against 35 per cent last year. Significantly, these are the reservoirs that irrigate the rabi crop in the north including in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan, only the Mahi Bajaj Sagar has a slightly higher storage than its live capacity in comparison to last year, while Jhakam and Rana Pratap Sagar dams have a storage that is lower than last year. The Rana Pratap Sagar, particularly has storage of 16 per cent compared to 38 per cent in the corresponding period last year.

According to the Central Water Commission, of the 81 reservoirs that are monitored, 30 have water levels below 20 per cent, 14 have a storage level of 50 per cent or less, seven have storage between 50 to 60 per cent and four have a storage level of between 60 to 70 per cent. Water storage level was between 70 to 80 per cent only in five reservoirs in the country.

The Ganga, Indus, Tapi, Sabarmati, River of Kutch and Godavari are reported to be deficient. Mahi and Mahanadi and neighbouring east flowing rivers are said to be “close to normal.” However, Narmada, Krishna, Cauvery and neighbouring east flowing rivers and west flowing rivers of the south are “better than normal” basins.

The overall water storage is above normal in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Of the 36 reservoirs with significant hydropower generation, the storage built-up was less than normal in 19 reservoirs, which is also a matter of concern for power generation.

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