Spectre of floods looms over Kuttanad

Hundreds of people were evacuated from Kuttanad during the 2018 floods.   | Photo Credit: Leju Kamal

The 2018 deluge had brought untold misery and upended the lives of tens of thousands of people, Now, almost two years later, desiltation of Vembanad Lake and majority of canals in Kuttanad, aimed at increasing their absorption capacity and ensure free flow of water, has reached nowhere.

With a ‘vigorous’ southwest monsoon in the offing, the spectre of another flood is looming large over the region.

Drastic reduction

A study by the Central Water Commission pinpoints drastic reduction in the carrying capacity of Vembanad Lake as one of the factors that led to the flood situation in Kuttanad and surrounding areas. A report prepared by the Kerala State Planning Board, A Special Package for Post-Flood Kuttanad, notes that the “shrinkage of surface area and depth of the lake is a major reason for the acuteness of Kuttanad floods.”

Large-scale deposits of sediments caused by the floods have resulted in a further rise of the lake and canal beds. According to the Planning Board report, 420 km of drainage channels in Kuttanad need urgent cleaning. K. G. Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea Level Farming, Kuttanad, says there is a real threat of another flood in the region this monsoon season.

Silt deposition

“More than one-third of the water spread area of the wetland has been lost due to land reclamation and the expanse of the lake is reduced by two-thirds. Annually, floods bring about silt deposition of around 25 tonnes per ha in lakes and rivers of Kuttanad.

‘‘Our own 2018 post-flood study indicates the silt deposition at as high as 130 tonnes per ha in the floodplains of Pampa near Mannar. The canal systems, about 1,500 km, are heavily silted up with blockages. Although both the lake and canals need to be desilted, immediate attention should be given to removing silt from drainage channels and canals to prevent a repeat of 2018,” Mr. Padmakumar says.

The State government announced the second Kuttanad package in the annual Budget for 2020-21. It proposes a massive scheme to draw sludge and sediment from the backwaters. A scheme for deepening and cleaning of canals in all panchayats on the banks of the lake with people’s participation in the ‘ensuing summer’ has also been mentioned in the Budget.

While desiltation of the lake is proposed as a multiyear project, cleaning of canals seems to have been delayed by the COVID-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, the Alappuzha canal rejuvenation project is making good progress. “The government has done a good job of cleaning canals in Alappuzha town. But to get the full benefit, the lake should be de-silted and canals in the Kuttanad region need to be rejuvenated. As of now, only one canal in Nedumudy has been cleaned. As things stand, there is every chance of the region facing another flooding,” says, P. V. Joseph, executive member, Kerala Sashtra Sahitya Parishad.

Canal cleaning

Meanwhile, Irrigation Department officials say that major canals would be cleaned by May 31.

Besides, work to deepen the leading channel of the Thottappally spillway to ensure the flow of floodwaters from the low-lying Kuttanad would be carried out, says an official.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 11:47:54 AM |

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