Detoxing pilot project has brought a river back from dead: Meghalaya

Acid mine drainage, run-off from coal mines led to contamination of Lukha river

October 10, 2021 04:51 pm | Updated 04:51 pm IST - GUWAHATI

File photo of Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.

File photo of Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.

A detoxing pilot project has brought a river back from the dead, the Meghalaya government has claimed.

The Lukha — “reservoir of fish” in the local Pnar language — was considered toxic beyond redemption a decade ago. The Meghalaya Pollution Control Board had in its 2012 investigative report blamed the contamination on acid mine drainage and run-off from the coal mines.

Rat-hole coal mines

The Lukha river is in the East Jaintia Hills district where most of Meghalaya’s rat-hole coal mines are located.

Forest and Environment Minister James Sangma said the pilot project to rejuvenate the Lukha by using algae to remove toxic contents from the water has become a success. The detoxification process is called phycoremediation.

“Phycoremediation has improved the pH level of a critical stretch of the river. Enthused by the success of the rejuvenation process, we are going to upscale this pilot project to the rest of Lukha and other rivers as well,” he said.

Environmentalists in Meghalaya and elsewhere have been raising an alarm over the contamination of the Lukha, marked by dead fish found afloat frequently and the colour of the water turning either blue or yellow.

Aquatic life

The pilot project was undertaken under the District Mineral Fund after reports of low pH levels affecting the aquatic life in the river.

The Lukha, draining the southern part of East Jaintia Hills, is fed by the Lunar river, its main tributary and numerous streams from the hills of the Narpuh Reserve Forest. The river flows into Bangladesh.

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