Prof.( Dr.) M.R.D.Kundangar
Wetlands and water”, is the theme for World Wetland Day, 2021. It shines a spotlight on wetlands as a source of freshwater and encourages actions to restore them and stop their loss. Our Valley has been bestowed with vast array of freshwater wetlands which give Kashmir its name and fame all over the world. Wetlands hold most of our freshwaters and act as Kidneys on earth by naturally filtering the pollutants, leaving water we can safely drink. Water and wetlands are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet. Wetlands provide protection from floods and storms with each acre of wetland absorbing up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. They help regulate the climate, store twice as much carbon as forests. It must be borne in mind that only 2.5 % of water on earth is freshwater and is mostly stored in glaciers, ice caps and underground aquifers. It is estimated that less than 1% of freshwater is usable. The freshwater consumption has been estimated about 10 billion tons per day, of which 70% is used for food cultivation and 22% by industry and energy. The daily water usage is increasing at an alarming rate resulting in water crisis which is further aggravated due to loss of wetlands and water pollution. The population growth, urbanisation, and consumption patterns on wetlands and the water they contain have put unbearable pressure on these wetlands.
Wetlands are among the most productive life support systems in the world and are of immense socio- economic and ecological importance to mankind. They are of critical importance for the survival of natural biodiversity and support high concentration of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates species. By virtue of natural functioning, they play an important role in water quality improvement, sediment control, oxygen production, nutrient recycling, flood control, aquifers recharging, ground water discharge, shoreline protection and stabilization of local climatic conditions.
Ironically wetlands have been perceived as wastelands associated with diseases, difficulty and danger. Emphasizing the negative impacts and ignoring their importance, these habitats were considered obstacles in the path of progress and hence drained, filled, despoiled and degraded for economic gains. Although integral part of river system, wetlands have not been seriously considered as a part of water resources management. As with other elements within river basin, wetlands do not function in isolation and are highly dependent upon upstream conditions within their river basin. Changes in hydrology of the river feeding a particular wetland will inevitably have an impact on the wetlands water level regime. Since our wetlands are mostly on the flood plains of River Jehlum hence their existence lies on the condition of River Jehlum itself.
Their significance however, has not yet been fully understood both by our people and the Govt. authorities and treat them as wastelands and in this melee we have lost about 70% of our Wetland. Despite current efforts to understand and save these enigmatic ecosystems, is too late to restore many areas which have been already been drained and reclaimed for agriculture or urban expansion. The wetlands of Narkura , Rakhi -Arth (Budgam), Indra-nagar, Bemina (Srinagar), Poshkur (Pulwama), Boug (Sopore) etc are some of the vivid examples which have dwindled for good and that too unfortunately with the willful and active support of the Govt. machinery and on behest of the unscrupulous politicians.
The Wetland International an International organization and authority on wetlands describe in their report the significance of wetlands of Kashmir as under,” The Kashmir Valley with an average elevation of 1600 msl is dotted with wetlands, which play an enormous role in maintaining the hydrological regimes of the entire valley. There are varied assessments on the extent of wetlands within the valley owing to difference in interpretation of definition of wetlands. The present assessments ranging from 236.5 sq km (Space Application Center, 1998) –256 Sq km ( National Wetland Inventory, Salim Ali Center for Ornithology, 2001) , are significantly underestimated considering the comprehensive definition of wetlands on hydrological basis. Dal Lake, Anchar Lake, Manasbal and Wular Lake are some of the larger wetlands of the basin. Extensive marshes have been also formed in lower areas through catchment drainages, particularly between Srinagar and Sopore Rakh Asham, Naugam, Malgam, are some of the major marshes of the valley, a large portion of which has been drained and reclaimed for agriculture and settlement”.
Since it is not possible to take action on all wetlands, however, an integrated management approach can at least be taken for some selected wetlands, in which the government, NGO’s, aid agencies, local institutions and local communities play equal part. The Govt. of India is one of the signatories for the international commitments and agreements for protecting and conserving the wetlands in India. It is ironical that in the state of J&K the freshwater lakes, rivers, streams and
wetlands are under the control and management of “nobody”. There is lot of confusion while fixing the responsibility of these water bodies to any agency except that of Dal Lake or that of Wular lake which are under the control of misnomered J&K Lakes and Waterways Authority or that of Wular/ Mansbal lake Authority, which are toothless authorities without any regulatory powers and engineering dominated. Other water bodies are multi controlled only on paper and virtually no controlling authority to whom the responsibility could be fixed. While they are on one side apparently under the control of revenue authorities but on the other side they are being claimed to be under Deptt. of Fisheries, Deptt. of Environment and remote sensing, Wild life protection Department particularly at the time of receiving of funds or earning of revenue.
The biological and socio-economic importance of Jammu & Kashmir’s wetlands makes it necessary to identify and prioritize some representative wetlands which urgently need conservation and its wise-use. The current Ecological Status and the possible threats which these neglected wetlands are facing are summarised briefly as under:
GILSAR AND KHUSHALSAR:
Gilsar and Khushalsar are the two interconnected twin wetlands, in the heart of Shari-khas towards north west and connected to Anchar by a narrow channel. The average depth of Gilsar is 2.7m and that of Khushalsar is 1.5m. Both the wetlands support large stands of aquatic plants particularly the Nelumbo and Nadroo).The fishing for mirror carp and harvesting of Nelumbo stems besides collecting of aquatic weeds for fodder has remained the attraction for locals and fisherman. The over exploitation and the rapid urbanization coupled with expansion of the Srinagar city has put these wetlands under tremendous stress and as a result the wetlands are experiencing the cultural eutrophication.
These wetlands are facing tremendous problems by way of encroachments, filling of peripheral areas besides the entry of raw sewage from the immediate catchment and managed carrying of sewages from the adjoining areas amount to a daily load of 2.0 metric tones of Nitrogen and 1.7 tones of Phosphorus resulting in serious weed infestation and water quality deterioration. The waters of both the wetlands are insecure for human consumption as all the chemical parameters have far exceeded the permissible levels. The wetland dwellers particularly the fishermen are suffering from water borne diseases like Pyrexia, Ascariasis, Hepatitis and other gastro-intestinal and skin diseases.
Anchar Lake is situated at a distance of 14km to the northwest of Srinagar at an altitude of 1584m within the geographical co-ordinates of Lat. 340-202N ; Long. 740 – 822 E. It is a single basined lake connected on the eastern side within Dal Lake through an inflow channel ‘Nallah Amir Khan’ via Gilasr and Khushalsar. The lake, though close to Srinagar city, constitute both rural and urban characteristics in a typical rural environment. A network of channels from the cold water nallah Sindh enters the lake on its western shore forming delta. The lake is also fed by springs within the basin and along the periphery. Further, a number of channels from agricultural fields, effluents from the settlements and surface drains from the catchment area flow directly into it. The lake outfalls in River Jhelum at Sangam on its northeast direction. The catchment is approximately 66 km2 comprising of long stretches of elevated land on the northwest, which is used for raising different types of vegetation. Agricultural fields surrounds and partly under apple and willow plantation.
In recent years significant encroachments have been noticed within the lake. According to Lawrence the area of the lake in 1893-1894 was 19.54 Km2. It has now been reduced hardly to 6.8km2 of which 3.6 Km2 are marsh. Unabated encroachments still continue at alarming rate. The rate of encroachment in the Anchar Lake till 2000 has been estimated 0.184 km2/year.
The main disturbance in the lake is from the heavy silt flowing from the Sind nallah. The siltation process has greatly affected the lake ecosystem, resulting in the formation of the extensive marshlands. Large chunks of peripheral areas, especially on its eastern banks have been encroached upon by the people, by filling it and changing into vegetable gardens and even into residential areas.
Large quantities of domestic and agricultural waste enter the water body throughout its periphery. In 1993 the UEE Department laid sewers pouring raw sewage from the catchment and settlements without any treatment which has aggravated the situation and accelerated the rate of eutrophication and pollution resulting in serious ecological changes. These ecological changes have seriously affected the biodiversity of the lake. Population of aquatic birds, both residents and migratory have also been affected and subsequent their food supplies are reduced considerably.
Marshes within their lake are being mainly used for the cultivation of Salix sp. (Willow). The young branches of this plant are extensively used for the fabrication of wooden baskets and furniture and as such most of the lake area has been brought under willow plantation reducing the open water surface at an alarming rate.
Hokarsar wetland is situate at an altitude of 1500m a.s.l. with geographical coordinates 340 – 052 N, 740 -432 E, about 10 km west of Srinagar city. It is permanent eutrophic wetland, once an oxbow, surrounded by freshwater marshes on the flood plain of the River Jhelum in the valley of Kashmir. The wetland is drained by a channel to the Jhelum river at Sozeth Narbal village. It is fed by permanent streams, the Doodganga, Sukhnag and flood waters. The wetland reaches a maximum depth of 1.1 m in spring with snow melt water and a minimum 0.4 m in autumn. The water is very turbid with little light penetration. The underlying soils are of silty-clayey –loam type. The pH is greatly effected by the high summer temperatures which accelerate the process of decay of organic matter. The wetland of Hokarsar is protected as a game sanctuary by the Department of Wild life Protection J&K State and the waterfowl hunting is allowed on a controlled basis in winter. Although number of management programmes including the construction of bunds and installation of a sluice gate to control water levels was some time back in progress, yet the wetland continues to be under the biotic stress. The encroachments have reduced the wetland area from original 1300 ha to 900 ha and as a result of cultural eutrophication the wetland is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Recent studies indicate higher values of conductivity, nitrogen and phosphorus. The range of Total phosphorus of the water is recorded 1382 µg/l to 1821 µg/l, the lowest being in spring (142.5µg/l) and the highest in autumn (2969µg/l). The heavy siltation load from the Doodganga catchment has rendered most parts of the wetlands into marshes.
The major threats this wetland is facing is the increased siltation particularly through Doodganga. Encroachments, reclamation of marshy lands into agricultural land, cultural eutrophication, sewage disposal by the settlement and runoff from the agricultural lands
This wetland is 16 km northwest of Srinagar and measures about 150 ha. The wetland consists of larger area of riverine marshes and shallow freshwater with associated reed-beds on the floodplain of river Jhelum. The wetland together with marshes are fed by the Sindh river and local runoff. The average depth of the water varies from 0.3 to 2.0 meters. The entire wetland is thronged by the game birds particularly during winter months and the wetland supports a locally important fishery and reed-harvesting industry, which provides excellent opportunities for support hunting. The wetland is important staging and wintering area for migratory Amatidae and a breeding place for a variety of waterfowl species.
The principal threats the wetland is facing include siltation, eutrophication and unabated encroachments of agricultural land. Natural and artificial fertilizers extensively used on adjacent agricultural lands enter the wetland In runoff and have greatly increased the rate of eutrophication.
The wetland of Mirgund lies 15 km W-NW of Srinagar and measures about 300 ha. The wetland is shallow associated with reed-beds and riverine marshes, on the flood plains of the river Jhelum. The wetland receives waters by local runoff and the Sukhnag and Ferozpore nallas. The water level fluctuations considerably according to local rainfall and much of the wetland dry out during summers. The average water depth varies between 0.1m and 0.5 m. The wetland is protected as a game reserve by the Department of Wildlife Protection J and K State. The wetland is an important staging and wintering area for thousands of migratory waterfowl species.The largest number occur during the migration seasons and up to 50 common cranes (Grus grus) regularly utilize the wetland during migration. Like other wetlands of the valley this wetland is facing the threat of siltation, encroachment by agricultural land and that of the sewage.
The famous wetland of Haigam is situated in district Varmul, 30km north-west of Srinagar and the surface area of the wetland measures about 1400 ha. This wetland too is situated on the flood plains of river Jhelum with a maximum depth of 1-25 m. The major part of the wetland is dominated by extensive reed-beds to allow the passage of boats between areas of open water. The wetland is fed by the perennial streams of the Balkhul and Nigli flood channels and numerous smaller streams. The water table falls in late summer and reaches its lowest in autumn, then begins to rise again in early winter. The surrounding land is predominantly rice paddy and natural marsh, with some pastures which flood after heavy rains. Strips of willow species have been planted around the perimeter of the wetland. Most of the wetland area is covered by a dense reed-bed. Dominant species include Typha, Phragmites etc.Open water body have floating water lilies, Trapa and other submerged aquatic plants. The entire wetland is protected as a game sanctuary and the wetland is important to local people as a source of fish, reeds for thatching, mat-making and fodder for livestock. The wetland is of major wintering area for migratory ducks particularly Anas species which have been recorded in thousands on migration. Anser anser formerly wintered in larger numbers, but few have been recorded in last few years. The wetland is also an extremely important breeding area for a variety of waterfowl species.
The major problems the wetland is facing include the accelerated rate of siltation, entry of sewage and effluents from the surrounding agricultural land resulting in faster eutrophication. The encroachments and conversion of open water bodies into land and intensive reed-cuttings have threatened this wetland.
Wanton destruction and degradation of the wetlands in the valley of Kashmir has been a major cause for the progressive loss of rich biological diversity associated with these habitats. Over exploitation of wetland resources and the recent trend of filling up of wetland areas for residential and commercial purposes are more direct threats to our wetland areas. On this day, World Wetland Day where people around the world are celebrating the Wetland Day , We MOURN for the lost wetlands (Narkara, Chandmari, Rakhi-Arath, Indranagar wetland etc ) and resolve to protect and conserve the remaining ones at least for our posterity.
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