Usually marred by floods, Bihar’s drying dams paint grim picture of rain deficit


Rainfall deficit in Bihar this year has set off the alarm on depleting water resources as the state’s reservoirs are drying up fast, jeopardising not just lives in the region, but also putting several farmers at risk, who are now staring at a major agriculture crisis.

Of the 23 reservoirs in the state, barely three have water levels over 40%, while some are almost dry or have less than 10% water level, as per the statistics of the water resources department (WRD). The reason, said a senior official, is that the reservoirs are largely rain-fed.

“In July, rivers are usually in spate, with a majority of them flowing above the danger mark. But this year, the situation is the exact opposite. No river, except Kosi in one stretch, is anywhere near the danger mark, as [bordering] Nepal too received deficient rainfall, directly impacting Gandak, Budhi Gandak, Bagmati, Kosi, Kamla and Mahananda in north Bihar and Seemanchal areas. Last year, most reservoirs had over 50% water by this time, so dry spells during the sowing season were well taken care of,” the official said.

As per WRD statistics, except for the four dams – Badua, Orhni, Chandan and Bilasi – in the Banka and Bhagalpur region, the situation is grave in most places. Though the four dams have water levels over 40% despite scanty rainfall, which reached a deficiency of 75% in July, it is way lower compared to last year when they had water levels at 100% around this time.

In Jamui, Munger, Nawada and Lakhisarai, the situation has turned worrisome, with water in many dams reaching below the dead storage level (DSL), below which there are no outlets to drain water in the reservoir by gravity due to the accumulation of silt.

The volume of water stored below the minimum pool level of the reservoir is known as dead storage. Below pool level, water cannot be withdrawn from the reservoir.

In Kaimur, Rohtas and Aurangabad, the Durgawati reservoir too has just 22% water, barely half of what it had last year, while Batane and Kohira dams are virtually dry.

“Almost all reservoirs have water up to their pond levels (Rihand is a little short though). It means that discharge into their respective canals can only be ensured when there’s more water in the feeding rivers (which unfortunately is missing this year),” said an official, adding that despite express instructions to officials to increase discharge into canals by the WRD minister last fortnight, all canals are carrying more discharge (via-a-vis the same time last year).

Also Read:Weak monsoon conditions likely to set in gradually from July 27

As per WRD statistics, there is a significantly higher discharge in the Gandak, Kosi and Sone canals this year in spite of similar, or lower, reservoir levels. “In the case of the rain-fed canal system, this is the best one can do to make water available for irrigation. Another important aspect, particularly to ensure water in the tail end canals, is that the department this year is following the TATIL system more intently. This is a system of managing selective /by-turn discharge into sub-canals so that farmers in the tail ends get their due share,” he added.

He said that discharge from the reservoirs is usually released against requisition received from downstream canal. “The minister has insisted that officials, especially those managing tail end canals, make sufficient demand (raise requisition) for water in their respective canals. They are often tentative about raising sufficient demand fearing it might end up damaging their canal pathways, as they feel apprehensive with regard to the condition of some of their last mile distributaries,” he added.

Though the total length of canal distribution system is roughly 36,000 kms in Bihar, the state of physical condition, in particular of several smaller tail end distribution lines, warrants repair, clearing of vegetation growth or compaction. “The condition of all main canals and branch canals is satisfactory, though the water course network (jalwaha) would need to be watched closely. The condition of upkeep of these jalwaha networks varies with respect to usage, maintenance, support of local users, problem of encroachment, etc.,” the official said.

WRD minister Sanjay Jha said that the problem due to lack of rain was unprecedented this year and chief minister Nitish Kumar was himself monitoring and reviewing the situation on a regular basis.

“On his [CM’s] directive, the department is trying its level best to ensure water to the farms up to the tail-end of canals. The situation in the Sone canal system, which caters to farmers in south Bihar, has been improving. It is a big challenge because rain has eluded most parts of the state, but we still hope Bihar gets adequate rainfall in the second leg of monsoon,” Jha said.

The minister said that the Bihar government has embarked on the ambitious river-interlinking project as the CM visualised these problems of the future. “Feasibility studies are on for six river-linking projects, which will not only augment irrigation protection, but also save from the vagaries of nature by transferring surplus water to arid zones. This is part of Nitish Kumar’s plan to ensure water to every farm by 2025. With unpredictability of nature now being felt like never before in the form of extreme temperature and erratic rains, now alternatives have to be worked upon and the CM has been persisting with it,” he added.

With almost 80% rain deficiency in south Bihar till now, and nearly 55% overall so far since June 1, the state faces a serious challenge, shifting its focus from flood protection to water scarcity.

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