Plantation Chokes Wullar30 January 2010
Srinagar: Experts have recommended immediate dredging and uprooting of trees planted by various government departments in and around the Wullar, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, to restore its pristine glory. “The plantation activity has firmed up the silt deposits and given them the character of permanence and subsequent deposits have drastically changed the water circulation and navigation. The very activity of plantations been done in the water expanse makes it a man-made intervention rather than a natural feature of Wullar,” said Aijaz Rasool a hydraulic engineer, who is also a member of Committee of Experts, on Wullar, Tso-Morari and Mansar-Surinsar lakes under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan for Jammu and Kashmir. He said winter was right time to remove the trees and undertake dredging activities. The Government recently constituted the Wullar Development Authority to streamline the conservation measures for the lake. A few decades ago Wullar acted as a huge absorption basin for the annual floodwaters, maintaining a balance in the hydrographic system of the Valley. The lake with its associated wetlands was an important habitat for migratory water birds within Central Asian Flyway and supported rich biodiversity. Due to massive encroachments and siltation, the lake’s area has been reduced from 273 kms to less than 70 sq kms. “Raising of willow plantations in the water expanse of the lake is akin to encroaching upon the water body. If the trees are uprooted, it won’t cause any euthrophication or adverse change in hydrology or interfere with original vegetation features,” Aijaz Rasool maintained. He said deforestation of the Wullar catchments in early 90s led to heavy influx of silt into the water body. “This led to drastic reduction of the lake’s bed and severely affected its flora and fauna. Winter is the best time for undertaking dredging due to lean water discharge. Simultaneously conservation activities like soil erosion control, integrate grassland management, prioritization of critical micro water sheds can also prove beneficial,” he said. He underscored the need to improve lake’s hydrological connectivity with existing marshes. “It will help in water absorption capacity of the wetland system to control flooding and increase retention capacity of Wullar,” he said. Official figures state that nearly 69,072 kanal of converted land of Wullar have been occupied illegally by various government departments, including Social Forestry department. The problem was compounded by continuous influx of silt from nearby catchments which has turned a large chunk of the water body into a land mass. Aijaz Rasool, who has served as a consultant of the Wetlands International-South Asia, has also formulated water management part of the Comprehensive Management Action Plan (CMAP) for restoration of Wullar lake, recently approved by the Central Government for implementation. He pointed out that Wullar has also lost the capacity to regulate water flows due to wetland conversions for agriculture and willow pastures, reclamation, siltation and interventions to enhance drainability of water for upstream mitigation. He said the Wullar had lost the capacity to regulate water due to reclamation, siltation and interventions to enhance drainability of water for upstream mitigation. “If the Government is serious to restore the lake, it needs to adopt the Critical Path Method. In the project we have identified the works to be executed. The executing agency only needs to strictly work according to it,” Aijaz said. But he maintained that despite all measures, only 40 per cent of Wullar water retention capacity would be restored. The CMAP estimated at Rs 380 crore would focus on the lake’s land and water resources management, bio-diversity conservation, livehood improvement and institutional development. The plan emphasizes on eco-tourism as a potential tool to conserve lake and its rich bio-diversity while providing economic incentives to the locals. Experts said Government must make the lake dwellers part of the conservation measures. “It is important to make them aware about the need to preserve Wullar” they added.