Adeela Hameed

Mitigating Effects of Water Scarcity: Kashmir’s Freshwater Springs

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Groundwater is an incredibly precious resource, to the extent of being titled survival lifeline of civilizations. This is true because of a number of facts. The first is that groundwater resources are way greater in volume than surface water resources i.e., about three times the volume of the latter. Secondly, use of water for human consumption, such as for drinking, is mostly from springs rather than rivers, streams or canals.

The largest user of groundwater in the world is India. India utilizes an estimated 251 cubic kilometres of groundwater every year which is more than a quarter of the global total. More than 85% of drinking water supply and 60% of agriculture is dependent on groundwater. This showcases the importance of groundwater resource in our country.

Indispensability of Freshwater Springs

Approximately 12% of the Earth’s continental surface is covered by Karst terrains, i.e. areas characterized by numerous caves, fissures, sinkholes and underground streams. About 25% of drinking water available all over the globe is supplied partially or entirely by freshwater springs, originating from these Karst terrains. Thus, springs form a rich source of freshwater for people worldwide. Importance of upwelling aquifers (FW springs) is understood from the fact that rural and urban populations depend on them for a variety of purposes, making these indispensable to communities. Water from springs is mostly utilized in rural areas where concrete structures don’t constrict water flow, and where watersheds are relatively safe from pollution. In these regions, springs are numerous, increasing human dependence proportionately as well.

Springs are associated with mineral-rich water, low frequency of disease-causing organisms, less incidence of pollution, while in the same rhythm seen as valuable reservoirs for irrigation, drinking, aquaculture, and even utilized for religious purposes. Springs are a refuge for pollution-sensitive organisms, helping them thrive plentifully, as these constitute the least polluted natural resource in densely populated areas. In India, Himalayan communities are hugely dependent on spring water. Freshwater springs thus, play a crucial role in a country’s economic development, ensuring its food and water security. Sadly though, spring sustainable development is not given due importance. At the same time, protective legislation of springs is insufficient leading to water abuse in their natural habitat.

Springs in Kashmir – Naag

Kashmir is known for its extensive springs and spring-fed streams. Spring habitats in the Valley have an enormous potential for providing drinking water to the ever-growing population, irrigating fields during droughts, providing adequate and reliable providence to pollutant-sensitive species, catering to fish culture, besides being used for washing, swimming, bathing, and a variety of other ecosystem services including tourism. Since the early 1980s, people in Kashmir started to face increasing shortage of water earlier unheard of due to modest requirements. The population now, like in other areas of India, is witnessing an enormous growth which in turn pressurizes water resources people are hugely dependent upon. As per the 2011 census, population of Kashmir valley was recorded at 1,25,41,302, which represents 1.04% of the total population of India. The overall population in Srinagar district was found to be 12,36,829.

Water requirements for the population of Srinagar city are directly drawn from surface water resources, such as river Jhelum and water bodies like Dal, Nigeen, Khushalsar, etc. Large parts of Srinagar city have recently been expanded resulting in acute water shortage, forcing water rationing measures. Water shortages stem from inefficient use of freshwater, degradation of available surface water resource by pollution, and by non-utilization or under-utilization of groundwater from aquifers. This has resulted in less flow rate of springs, permanent springs turning seasonal, and seasonal springs drying up completely. Springs are disappearing at an alarming rate globally, and most of that loss goes unrecognised. Our Valley is no exception, and the situation is more alarming than ever in light of climate change predictions for Himalayas.

The number of aquifers reaching unsustainable levels of exploitation is accelerating. If such a trend continues, in 20 years about 60% of all aquifers in India will approach critical status. Freshwater springs in Kashmir, as well,  aren’t handled virtuously and need attention keeping in view that these water reservoirs have the potential to fulfil water demands of our population. Proper management techniques, introduction of improvised water use laws by the government, and efficient action from all stakeholders involved, to share responsibility of spring water protection, is needed. Right now!

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