How We Strangled Dal Lake

How We Strangled Dal Lake

3 May 2013
Rising Kashmir
Suhail Ahmad

Srinagar: Almost a century back, Sir Walter Lawrence in his famous book, The Valley of Kashmir, wrote,“Dal Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. The waters of the Dal is clear and soft as silk, and the people say that the shawls of Kashmir owe much of their excellence to being washed in the soft waters of the lake. Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner so pleasant as the Dal Lake”. These words of praise hold little meaning today. Human greed has brought this world famous water body to the brink of extinction. 1. Genesis of the Problem: The lake's waters traditionally flushed out through two major drains - the lock at Dal Gate, leading into canals, which traverse through downtown Srinagar, and the Nallah Mar, built during the time of legendary Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as Bud Shah. The canals served as the city's communication channels, with boats carrying goods and passengers. The water transport lost its relevance with the introduction of bus services in 1950s. With the increase in city population, the canals gradually turned into sewage drains and people paid little heed to keep them clean. In the absence of the sewerage system, all human waste from the crowded mohallas was discharged directly into the canals. The flow of water out of Dal Lake was choked. When Chief Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah built the Marpalan highway around the Dal's western flank to ease traffic congestion, the government decided to fill the Nallah Mar rather acquire private property further inland. To ensure that Dal continued to drain into the Anchar lake, pipes were laid under the new road. This engineering misadventure proved disastrous in the wake of rising siltation and solid waste deposits. The pipes were soon filled with debris. As more and more houses came up along the Marpalan road, the area around Bhagwanpora turned into a stinking marsh. Poor waste management and absence of a sewerage system meant that domestic waste went directly into the lake. 2. Deadly Deforestation: Dachigam Nallah and Telbal Nallah are the two important streams feeding the lake. They carry water all the way up from Marsar Lake. Massive deforestation fuelled partly by demand for farmland increased the silt load of Dal. Much of it is deposited in the lake near its northern shore as it is blocked by a bund in the middle. The land thus formed has been used for farming, adding to the load of organic waste in Dal. Due to deforestation, the soil run-off on the south-facing slopes has been heavy. 3. Eutrophication: The fertilizersused by farmers in catchment areas run off into the lake. Human waste is excellent manure. Once in the water, the raw sewage and fertilizer run-off cause plant life to grow fast. Weeds and algae, along with bacteria, grow. As the plants soak up oxygen from the water, there is almost no oxygen left for aquatic life to breathe. Phosphorous, ammonia and nitrogen levels have shown significant increase. Large amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen drain into the Dal from human settlements, commercial buildings like hotels and farms. 4. Weed Infestation: Dal Lake has been a victim of weed infestation. Dangerous pollution levels in the lake came to be noticed after red algal bloom of a type known as Euglenineae, a species almost entirely dependent on inorganic nitrogen. The growth of aquatic weeds such as water fern has been prolific. Decomposition of weeds also adds to the pollution load of the lake. 5. Burgeoning burden: Dal Lake is home to thousands of families, residing in hamlets, houseboats and doonga boats. The human population in and around the lake has increased steadily. Since there is no proper drainage system in the interiors, waste material and faecal matter is disposed off directly into the lake. With the booming tourism sector, the pressure on the lake has only increased. Hotels were allowed to be built in the Boulevard area and they discharged their waste into the lake. The result was unabated pollution of the water body. 6. Awareness and Action:Mere awareness won’t suffice unless it is followed up with action in letter and spirit. We have been hearing about the need to sensitize the residents about waste disposal and restore the health of the lake by seeking their active participation, but there is also a need to popularize appropriate technologies related to water purification, sanitation and waste management. NGOs should also be roped in for the purpose. 7. Collective Efforts Needed: Though there is no doubt about the failure of the authorities to check the pollution of Dal Lake and take preventive measures, but the blame cannot be squarely placed on the government only. As long as people do not contribute in keeping the lake clean, it is sure to shrink and die. There is an urgent need for collective efforts to salvage Dal for our own sake and for the posterity.