It is a tale of contrasts in the State: on the western edge, bad weather has grounded Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s stock-taking aerial survey in Belagavi, while on the eastern end, where drought has intensified, cloud-seeding operations have been halted owing to lack of viable rain-bearing clouds.
After a period of trials, cloud seeding started in earnest on July 27. In the days since, seeding could not be conducted on four as there were no rain-bearing clouds, said officials of the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Department, who are implementing the project to enhance rainfall artificially.
The focus of the operations has been south-interior Karnataka, which is seeing a 25% deficient rainfall that is reflecting in the low inflows into the reservoirs of the Cauvery, and the border districts stretching from Yadgir to Kolar where soil moisture stress is high.
“There are very few rain-bearing clouds in this region, and often, it dissipates even before our planes can reach them. Cloud formation has been very poor,” said H. Prakash Kumar, Chief Engineer, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Department, RDPR.
Cloud seeding uses planes to spray clouds with chemicals to condense smaller particles into larger rain droplets. RDPR will be executing this for three months as part of a Rs. 91-crore cloud-seeding project in 2019 and 2020. While three radars and two aircraft — one in Mysuru and another in Hubballi —have been operational, clouds have been elusive thus far.
On Sunday, for instance, the Mysuru aircraft could only seed clouds near Kollegal (Chamarajanagar), while the Hubballi aircraft seeded clouds near Shahpur (Yadgir) and Basavana Bagewadi (Vijayapura).
“Only on August 2 did we get enough rain-bearing clouds for some impact. A total of 36 flares were fired then in Vijayapura, Kalaburagi, Bagalkot, and Koppal districts. We recorded 7.5 mm rainfall immediately after seeding,” said Mr. Kumar. In 2017, cloud seeding was reported to have increased rainfall by nearly 28% in seeded areas.
Apart from low cloud formations, heavy winds have made operations difficult, said G.S. Srinivas Reddy, Director, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Management Centre. “By the time planes head to the target area, the clouds have moved on. But, over the next three days, we expect the situation to be better in south-interior Karnataka,” he said.
Of concern is the Cauvery catchment area where four reservoirs store just 36.3 tmcft — or, 63% below reservoir levels recorded at the same time last year. Similarly, in Raichur, Ballari, Chitradurga, Tumakuru, Chickballapur, and Kolar districts, less than a quarter of the over 18 lakh hectares targeted for sowing has been sowed.