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Is the abode of clouds running out of water?

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UMTYNAGAR, May 2: Despite the sanction of Rs 344 crores for protecting the catchment areas of two rivers, Umiew in East Khasi Hills and Ganol in Garo Hills, water sources and catchments providing water to residents of Shillong are rapidly drying up. This is a major cause of concern, for the city residents as the Umiew river serves as the main the source of Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS), while the sources for JJM is ground water and is rain-fed.
The situation has reached such a pitch that the stock of water at Mawphlang will last only for 3 or 4 months if the monsoon is delayed beyond its usual entry date of mid-June.
PHE Chief Engineer Badarisha M Lyndem on Thursday issued a notice stating that due to the ongoing dry weather conditions and various factors, the water level at the Mawphlang Dam, the main source of drinking water supply to the residents of Shillong City, has decreased notably.
She however added that despite this decrease, the storage capacity of the dam still allows for water distribution for another three to four months under the prevailing circumstances.
“In light of this situation, public have been requested to use water judiciously and adopt water-saving practices wherever possible. Conserving water is not just a necessity but a responsibility towards ensuring sustainable water supply for the community,” she said.
The current dry spell has already led to severe water shortages in various localities, with private water suppliers capitalising on the situation by hiking prices. The situation is exacerbated by a 20 per cent rainfall deficiency in East Khasi Hills during April, with other districts also experiencing significant precipitation deficits.
As per the Indian Meteorological department, the rainfall deficiency in East Khasi Hills has been 20 per cent less than normal during April, while South Garo Hills and West Jaintia Hills districts recorded the highest deficiency, with a precipitation deviation of 87 per cent below normal.
However, besides decreased rainfall several other factors also contribute to the drying up of the catchment areas.
Factors contributing to the crisis include deforestation and stone quarrying in the catchment areas which feed the Umiew river over which the dam is built. This in turn disrupts the natural flow of the Umiew River. Quarrying activities not only degrade the environment but also pose health risks and threaten biodiversity. Quarrying also means felling of trees leading to barren landscapes.
Additionally, stone quarrying in the upper reaches of the river has been another concern.
Several serious environmental impacts related to quarrying activities on and near the river, include land degradation, land subsidence and landslides. Additionally, quarrying operations can adversely alter pre-existing ecosystems, and change hydro geological and hydrological regimes. The adverse impacts of stone and sand quarrying are depletion of ground water, loss of fertile topsoil, degradation of forests, deterioration in aquatic biodiversity and public health.
Quarrying is an extractive activity. The question is how so many quarries supplying boulders to Bangladesh have been allowed to operate with impunity. There have been several discussions to declare catchment areas as protected under the National Wetlands policy but these are yet to materialise.
It may be mentioned that the state government also came out with a State Water Policy in 2019, which had outlined issues such as the protection of catchment areas and prevention of river pollution but there’s a huge gap between policy and implementation. Besides, government agencies related to water conservation, water supply, pollution prevention all seem to work at cross purposes.

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