Winter rains scanty, reservoir levels drop

Winter rains scanty, reservoir levels drop

A winter rain shortfall of 63% in January and February across India has led to reservoir levels dropping in the major river basins of the Sabarmati, Kaveri and Tapi. While agriculture ministry officials said this will not impact the rabi crop significantly, farmers in Gujarat--where water level in the Sardar Sarovar dam is below normal--are worried about cotton sowing. 

“In the current situation, there is deficient water in the country’s reservoirs—11% less than a year ago and 9% less as per the 10-year average. States need to show prudence in water management,” said S Masood Husain, chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC), which keeps tabs on 91 major reservoirs that feed hydropower plants and irrigate fields. It may be too early to assess the impact on the summer crop as pre-monsoon showers between March and May could help redeem the situation. 

India Meteorological Department (IMD) director general KJ Ramesh told ET that it was “too early” for any kind of prediction about the June-September monsoon. Some influencing factors, however, are taking shape. 

Australia’s national weather office on Tuesday said that La Nina had officially ended and Pacific Ocean surface temperatures were rising. El Nino, associated with warming of the Pacific Ocean surface, is regarded as being detrimental to the southwest monsoon in India. According to Indian weather forecasters, La Nina is to continue for a few more months before it becomes neutral and allow  for formation of El Nino. La Nina is associated with cooling of the surface. 

“Things are looking fine as of now,” said DS Pai, director for long-range forecasts at IMD. “Some models are predicting formation of El Nino in the second half but it will be neutral, and is unlikely to impact the southwest monsoon.” The hot, dry spell in parts of the country has got some farmers worried through. 

“Farmers have not been able to go for short-duration crop planting in February-March due to poor water levels in reservoirs,” said Vitthal Dhudhatra, president of the Gujarat unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. “We are concerned about summer crop planting, especially cotton, which starts from May in irrigated parts of the state. Governments need to speed up work on getting and managing water.” Farmers in Saurashtra and north Gujarat with irrigation facilities would have been able to plant urad, moong, fodder and groundnut if water was available. The Gujarat government announced in mid-January that no water from the Sardar Sarovar Dam will be provided to farmers from March 15 owing to low reservoir levels. 

Agricultural distress is high on the watch list ahead of state polls this year and the general election in 2019. Maharashtra has just acceded to farmers’ demands, including  the right to forest land and loan waivers, after 35,000 of them marched on Mumbai last week. Similar agitations could be expected to break out elsewhere if farm economy doesn’t perk up. The country’s reservoirs held 54.394 billion cubic metres of water, the CWC said, suggesting poor availability for crops to be planted between April and June. 

Availability of water for irrigation is a substantial challenge because of poor infrastructure in a country where two-thirds of the arable land is fed by rain, much of which is accounted for by the June-September monsoon, making it critical for the country’s economic wellbeing. 

Agriculture ministry officials said that the next major planting season for the country will begin with the arrival of the June-September monsoon and it was too early to say if lack of winter rains and poor reservoir levels in some parts of the country will make an impact.

By BOA Bureau