Soaring mercury, looming crisis

With mercury levels rising, Kerala is faced with a serious drinking water crisis. Anticipating a summer that could be hotter than any year in the recent past, efforts are on across the State to conserve water sources and provide drinking water to humans and animals.

Updated - March 11, 2018 04:32 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2018 10:18 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Shrinking blue: A view of river Bharathapuzha in Palakkad, which dried up early this summer. The mercury has touched 39.5 degrees Celsius in Kerala.

Shrinking blue: A view of river Bharathapuzha in Palakkad, which dried up early this summer. The mercury has touched 39.5 degrees Celsius in Kerala.

Large parts of Kerala are headed for a water crisis as soaring mercury levels lead to parched conditions in early summer.

The annual summer forecast issued by the India Meteorology Department has predicted that the summer of 2018 will be hotter, with maximum temperatures going up by at least one degree above normal. Palakkad has already reported daytime temperature higher than 40 degrees Celsius, indicating heatwave conditions.

The northeast monsoon, which contributes significantly to the storage level in reservoirs in Kerala, had left seven districts with deficient rainfall last year. According to the season’s rainfall data released by the India Meteorology Department, Palakkad registered the highest deficit of 59% followed by Wayanad with 50% and Kasaragod with 47%. Though the storage position in reservoirs is better than what it was last year, the groundwater level has dipped in Palakkad, Thrissur, Kuttanad and the uplands of Thiruvananthapuram and Idukki.

According to official sources, Kerala is likely to experience moderate drought conditions in seven to nine districts this year, with the impact mostly on drinking water supply.

With more areas experiencing water stress, legislators have come under intense pressure from the public. Moving a calling attention motion in the Assembly last week, Nedumangad MLA C. Divakaran expressed concern over the worsening drought conditions in the State and urged the government to take steps to address the water scarcity.

The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) has initiated the process of evaluating the parameters for declaration of drought conditions in the State and is likely to come up with a report on the situation by mid-March.

One distinct possibility is that of the SDMA declaring ‘moderate drought’ condition in the State. The declaration of a moderate drought is based on two of the four key indices, including rainfall, vegetation, crop situation and hydrology. If the parameters match the requirement, the State Relief Commissioner can issue a notification and sanction the utilisation of funds from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for drought relief works.

Officials said efforts were on to assess the situation at the taluk level to better target drought relief. The 4,400 water kiosks installed in various districts during the severe drought last year are expected to provide the basic infrastructure for water supply to the parched areas.

Summer rains expected

With the mercury soaring to above normal levels, weathermen are keeping a close watch on the situation across the State. “The rising temperature could trigger a good spell of summer rain,” says S.Sudevan, Director, Met Centre here.

The IMD issues only short-term forecasts for the summer season but a weather outlook issued by the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Climate Center, based in South Korea, shows above normal rain for Kerala during March, April and May.

Officials say good summer showers could offset the drought conditions to some extent before the onset of the southwest monsoon in June.

Meanwhile, the government has expedited the work on water supply schemes and temporary check-dams in anticipation of drought conditions. Water Resources Minister Mathew T. Thomas informed the Assembly last week that the work on 18 drinking water supply schemes would be completed by March- April. As many as 94 works, mostly involving the construction of temporary check-dams, were also in progress.

Water conservation

With inflow into reservoirs slowing down, the focus has shifted to conservation of drinking water sources and prevention of salinity intrusion. Efforts are on to repair pumps and motors, plug leakages in distribution lines and provide reverse osmosis filters to tap the water stored in abandoned quarries. District Collectors have been asked to identify alternative drinking water sources, arrange supply in tanker lorries and regulate temporary water connections.

The Kerala Water Authority, Departments of Irrigation and Groundwater and the Jalanidhi project for water supply and sanitation have been assigned various works to address the water stress in parched areas. The Irrigation Department has taken up the construction of regulators at various locations along the course of rivers to store water and prevent salinity intrusion.

The Kerala Water Authority is constructing check-dams, arranging tanker lorries for supply of water and establishing a network of water filling stations while the Groundwater Department has started work on tubewells and small water supply schemes and embarked on a project to clean up open wells and install groundwater recharge facilities.

The Jalanidhi project has been tasked with point recharge of wells, construction of small check-dams, gabion structures, rainwater pits, subsurface dykes and vented cross bars and restoration of ponds. Besides, the Haritha Kerala Mission has taken up a State-wide project to restore ponds and tanks and equip them for water supply, all of which should, hopefully, make this summer bearable.

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