It was this month, this week, year 2014 that Kashmir was hit by a devastating flood | A realistic approach towards mitigating floods in the Kashmir valley

A lot has been discussed, brought up and documented on the unprecedented floods of 2014. Even more has been penned down on the mitigation of floods in the Kashmir Valley, especially  after 2014.  However, in this write up I have tried to restrain myself to touch only the realistic and the result oriented mitigation measures applicable in the Valley, as recommended by the experts in the field, keeping in view the topography and massive discharge of 115000 cusecs recorded during the September 2014 floods. Simultaneously, out of many abandoned classical mitigation measures, I have focussed only on purpose serving measures which cannot be taken out of the picture even now. The problems have been identified right from the South to North Kashmir and accordingly, the mitigation measures bearing significance in correspondence to each region have been covered in this write-up. I hope the people at the helm in the concerned Departments take a considered view on these measures, so that a fool proof flood mechanism can be put in place. It is imperative to mention here that, no matter how hard we try to emphasis on all such measures as robust and scientific, it is not possible that they will see the light of the day unless the Government would come to the expectations of the concerned Department in terms of allotment of funds and speedy approval of such projects. Discussed below are the mitigation measures which can be declared as permanent or long term solution to this complex problem of flooding:

1. An article by Iftikhar Drabu titled Our Flood Woes, Mitigation and Protection Through Storage Reservoirs, was published in one of the local dailies of Kashmir, wherein he has discussed the mitigation of floods by way of arresting the excessive flood discharge in the upstream sub-basins of River Jhelum viz Lidder, Vishow and Rambiara by way of construction of storage reservoirs/dams. On the basis of the available data and simple mathematics, he has quantified the number of storage reservoirs/dams required on the sub basins (Lidder, Vishow and Rambiara) to guarantee protection from flood discharge of September 2014. The author has given an example of Raimbara sub basin and estimated the number of storage reservoirs/dams required in order to arrest excessive flood discharge before joining at Sangam. I have tried to make these details simple in the form of below mentioned points and then carried out the mathematical analysis as under:

  • Safe discharge carrying capacity of Jhelum = 1000 cumecs (35000 cusecs)
  • Discharge observed in 2014 September = 3000 cumecs
  • Difference between the two = 2000 cumecs
  • Raimbara sub basin accounts for about 20 % of the overall catchment area of Jhelum at  Sangam. In terms of flood discharge, it means that we need to provide a storage of 400 cumecs (= 20 % of 2000 = 400 cumecs)
  • Period considered to be reasonable to address a flood peak = 12 hours
Discharge =  400 m3/s =
Volume = 400 m3/s ×12 hours
Volume = 400 m3/s ×12 ×60×60 s
Volume = 17280000 m3
Volume = 17.28 Mm3

The above calculations with regard to flood mitigation on Raimbara sub-basin of River Jhelum is based on the fact that for “the topography of the said, river a typical 20-meter high dam can provide an average storage volume of 42 lakh cubic meters. Hence, to get the estimated storage requirement of 17.28 Mm3, calculated above, four such reservoirs are required ”.

These assertions seem to be rational and result oriented, as if we are able to address the problem right in the sub-basins of River Jhelum, the downstream locations i.e Khanabal, Srinagar and Sumbal will be relieved of the pressure of floods. Moreover, this approach appears to be practicable, economical and can ensure the completion in a specified time frame, unlike other mitigation measures which may require enormous funding from the Government and take decades to yield outcomes.

2. Determination of limits of flood basins: In case of massive flood discharge, the traditional practice of diverting flood discharge at certain locations especially in South Kashmir,  has always been successful with regard to flood mitigation. Since time immemorial, this practice has facilitated the flood discharge to enter into the traditional flood plains thereby allowing the same to spread unrestrictedly and it (flood discharge) may remain in the flood basins till the level subsides in the River Jhelum. This method of combating floods has always ensured minimum loss of life and property in downstream areas especially Srinagar. However, land change pattern has been noticed in these traditional flood plains, thereby making the Valley highly vulnerable to floods more than ever, as this has reduced the capacity of flood basins to absorb such a discharge. The delay in notifying even the traditional flood basins as permanent, has also paved the way for miscreants and land mafia, who at times are even backed up by the political system, to turn the wetlands into concrete jungles. This has put the life and property downstream of the river at high risk.

In order to promote this methodology of flood mitigation, by virtue of sub–sections (1) (2) & (3) of Section 76 of the Jammu & Kashmir Water Resources (Regulation & Management) Act, 2010, it is incumbent upon the concerned department to conduct an exercise, wherein the floods of the year 2014 may be taken as the  reference for fixing the extreme limits of the flood basins both on the left and the right banks of the river, keeping in view the rationale that in case of flooding  there should be minimum loss to life, livestock, agricultural activities, property etc. For reference, the relevant section of the Act is reproduced under:

(1) “For determination of the limits of a flood basin, the prescribed authority i.e (Chief Engineer, I&FC Department) shall cause  a survey to be made of a water source and for the said purpose proper charts and registers shall be prepared specifying all the boundaries and landmarks and any other necessary matter for the purposes of ascertaining such limits”.

(2) “The prescribed authority may outsource the work of survey and investigation to, or seek the technical expertise from, the Central Water Commission for the purposes of making a survey of the area as required under sub-section (1)”.

(3) “On the basis of such survey and investigation, the prescribed authority shall delineate the areas which are subject to flooding including classification of land and shall prepare charts and registers indicating the areas delineated”.

Once this exercise is concluded by the concerned department in conformity with the requirements of the Jammu and Kashmir Water Resources Regulatory Authority, the Jammu Kashmir Water Resources Regulatory Authority by virtue of section 75 of the Jammu & Kashmir Water Resources (Regulation & Management) Act, 2010, is mandated to forward the same to the Government in the form of the recommendations to notify such areas as under:

Where the Authority considers it necessary or expedient so to do, it may recommend to the Government for declaration of any  area through which a water source flows  and the  area comprising  of the bed, both sides and  nearby low land susceptible to floods by inundation of such water source, as flood basin”.

Reportedly, the department is seriously working on this issue on priority to ensure completion of the same.

3. Dredging at outfall channel from Nigli Sopore to Khadyar Baramullah:  The study jointly conducted by the Department of Remote Sensing (DERS) and ISRO reveals that:

“Projection for the 2030s, however, indicates that the frequency of rainy days is likely to decrease in most parts of the country. However, the intensity of rainy days will increase in a more warming scenario. The number of rainy days in the Himalayan region may increase by 5-10 days on an average in the 2030s. They will increase by more than 15 days in the Eastern part of the J&K the intensity of rainfall is likely to increase by 1-2mm/day (INCCA, 2010). The PRECIS run for 2030s indicate that annual rainfall in the Himalayan region is likely to increase in 2030s with respect to 1970s range from 5 % to 13 % with some areas of J&K Showing an increase up to 50%”.

In view of this, there is every apprehension that we may end up facing another 2014 like flood like situation in 2030s, if immediate concrete steps are not taken.

The dredging of River Jhelum cannot be taken as a long term flood mitigation measure in its upstream areas like Srinagar, as it has the tendency of getting silted up again upon incessant rains on account of the flat bed grade of 1 in 10000 to 1 in 12000 along the stretch from Khanabal to Wullar. However, it is learnt, that back water flows of River Jhelum responsible for causing devastation in the d/s – areas (Hajin/ Sumbal) is attributed to slow drainability of Wullar Lake which can be resolved by launching mechanical dredging of Jhelum Out Fall Channel OFC from Nigli-Sopore to Khadanyar Barmulla, as the OFC has lost its discharge carrying capacity drastically due to siltation by Pohru Nallah. Positive outcomes were always observed whenever dredging took place in the OFC, as can be substantiated from the floods of September 2014 when Sopore and Baramulla were saved from massive devastation which was witnessed in the central and the south Kashmir. This was attributed to dredging of 2011, which was reportedly undertaken after a gap of two decades.

Therefore, for subsidence of the floods due to the enormous backwater flows of River Jhelum and for improving the drainability of Wullar, the dredging of Jhelum OFC is of extraordinary importance. Moreover, the dredging at OFC will also have a positive impact on the overall drainability of the river basin.

In light of its extraordinary importance as brought out above, it becomes explicitly clear that in order to avert floods, flow in OFC free of any obstruction becomes necessary. Thus the process of dredging needs to be sustained and conducted continuously to achieve the long term results.

4. Construction of Dogri-pora Wullar Flood Spill Channel (FSC) :      In 1970s, a proposal was made to mitigate the floods by way of construction of another Flood Spill Channel from Dogripora in South Kashmir to Wullar at Bandipora. During that period, the circumstances were favourable for the construction of the same, due to the sparse and rare human activities along the proposed stretch of FSC, which at that time could have been easy to deal with in terms of compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement. Why the project could not see the light of the day, then, is a million dollar question even now.  However, over the years mushroom growth of structures has been observed in the proposed stretch as well as in its close vicinity, which makes it a herculean task to get this job done now. Besides, today this issue is debated and there is difference of opinion among engineers about its construction. Summarized below are the opinions which are circulating:

  • The first opinion argues in favour of this proposal, that with a view to resolve the problem of floods in the Valley once for all, it is essential to construct an additional flood spill channel commencing from Dogripora in South Kashmir to Wullar at Bandipora.
  • The second school of thought speaks against its construction on the basis of the flood discharge recorded in September 2014 floods and its inability to ensure full protection from floods. The argument is projected in the light of results obtained after subtracting total discharge carrying capacity viz River Jhelum, existing flood spill channel, proposed flood spill channel and flood discharge recorded in September 2014. Let us make it easy to comprehend for all our readers,  the total discharge carrying capacity of River Jhelum along with the present flood spill channel (Target) will be around (35000+15000=50000 cusecs). As has been learnt, the design discharge carrying capacity of new flood spill channel will be around 35000 cusecs, in totality the discharge carrying capacity of River Jhelum, existing flood spill channel including new flood spill channel will be around (35000 + 15000 + 35000 = 85000 cusecs), while the flood discharge recorded in September 2014 was 115000 cusecs, indicating that we are still short of 30000 cusecs. Therefore, if at all such a miracle of construction of this flood spill channel happens, even now amidst the massive construction and land compensation, it will still not ensure fool proof protection from floods like that of September 2014.
  • In order to be fully safe, the third opinion stresses on maintaining fool proof mechanism, by way of construction of both new flood spill channel and storage reservoirs on sub basins of River Jhelum as discussed above, so that there shall be no room of any lapse during floods. According to this opinion, it is to be noted, that the construction of the said flood spill channel alone is not sufficient to cater the discharge of the magnitude of 2014 floods.

However, I will leave these articulated opinions to the wisdom and the fine sense of judgment of the planners and the technocrats who have been assigned this task of flood management, in order to arrive at the viable, logical and rational solution.

5. Revival of lakes/water ways in SrinagarSrinagar city once had a proper and a well thought flood dissipation mechanism in place wherein the different water bodies were interconnected to each other through various water ways/ canals which helped in the diverting flood discharge. In view of excessive discharge, resulting in River Jhelum during floods, the same was allowed to enter gradually into these water bodies and the discharge after traversing from one water body to other eventually entered again into the river without causing any disturbances within the city. We can clearly see that the objective of this well thought out plan implemented by different rulers was to ensure safety of the city from floods. This was done by operating gates at Ram Munshi Bagh, Gow Kadal and Nallah Amir Khan. The working mechanism was as under :

  • Opening the gate at Ram Munshi Bagh allowed the excess discharge from River Jhelum to move to Dal lake via Chunti Khul.
  • Subsequently, this discharge would enter into Gilsar/Khushulsar from Nigeen Lake via a water way known as Nallah Amir Khan.
  • Similarly, a major portion of this discharge was again made to enter into Gilsar/Khushulsar from Baba Damb via a water way called as Nallahmar (erstwhile)
  • Likewise, from Gilsar and Khushulsar Lakes the discharge was absorbed into another famous Lake Anchar, then eventually into River Jhelum. By the above working mechanisms that the water levels would get reduced considerably, saving the Srinagar city from damages. Hence, it is evident, that by virtue of these well thought interconnections between different water bodies, it was made possible to protect Srinagar city from floods.

However, it has been observed that all these water ways or water bodies of the city have been encroached upon which has drastically reduced their carrying capacity and due to some debatable plannings some waterways have been lost.  Nallahmar was converted into road without anticipating the implications of this decision on the entire water carriage system of the city. A research by Humayan Rashid and Gowhar Naseem of Jammu and Kashmir Remote Sensing Centre reveals that:

“the loss of nearly 50 % of wet lands over the period of 100 years. In 1911, the total extent of water bodies with marshy areas was 356.85 km2 , however, it has reduced to 158.54 km2 in 2011. Moreover, it was revealed that the Srinagar City was facing problem of drainage as these lakes used to act as sponges for floods. With most of them vanishing, the city is facing problems of floods from rainfall for three or four days because of excessive water flow in river Jhelum”.

Besides, enormous pollution loads have been recorded in these water bodies on account of direct discharge of untreated sewage into them.

In view of the issues pointed out, I have tried to briefly highlight the problems that these lakes and waterways are facing. As huge literature is available in the public domain regarding the remedial measures of Dal Lake, by various experts from time to time, the same has not been made part of this paper. However, the issues facing the other important water bodies and the possible remedies are discussed hereunder:

1. Problems reported in Nallah Amir Khan

Since it has been observed that both important parameters constituting discharge viz velocity and the cross sectional area of Nallah Amir Khan has been reduced on account of massive de-silting and encroachments. This has reduced its discharge carrying capacity. Moreover, it has been observed, that untreated sewage is directly allowed to enter into the Nallah which has turned it into foul smelling drain. It has been learnt, that once this Nallah facilitated the Shikara Walas to navigate all the way from Dal to Anchar Lake. Unfortunately, exploitation by the people for their own illegal benefits can be regarded as the main cause for its deterioration.  Today, it may seem to be a fairy tale, but the fact remains that this activity, full of  hustle bustle, stands well recorded in the very recent past.

1. Remedial measures

  • In order to increase the discharge carrying capacity of this Nallah, mechanical dredging or manual de-silting in accordance with the present dimensions viz-a-viz area and depth must be conducted, while starting from its origin viz Nigeen lake to its entry point in Gilsar Lake.
  • Moreover, the administration has to play an important role in removing all the encroachments on both the sides of this Nallah, so that its hydrological functions are restored.
  • To improve the water quality, it must be ensured only treated sewerage  is discharged into it, which is possible only by constructing Sewage Treatment Plants at appropriate locations along with well planned sewerage systems.

2. Problems reported in Anchar Lake

Having already affirmed above, that the excess discharge from River Jhelum would finally enter into the Anchar Lake. Since, the Lake has lost its retention capacity to great extent, if the discharge is allowed to enter into the Lake, therefore in view of current prevailing circumstances the output on the contrary shall not serve the purpose of saving the city instead this can be a cause of devastation beyond our imagination.  Despite its importance with regard to flood mitigation, it pains to observe that nothing concrete has been done on the ground for its rejuvenation. The complications in this Lake caused by encroachments and land grabbing cases have nearly stopped the discharge to get absorbed into it. The Environmental Kashmir Node E magazine under the subject “Save Dal Lake makes no sense where Anchar goes dying” reveals that:

Encroachments in Anchar Lake is taking place at a rate of 0.142 sq km/year. Lake has shrunk from 19.54 sq km to 6.8 sq km in just 10-20 years. The conversion of a large proportion of the Lake area for permanent landmasses, fuel wood plantations and paddy cultivation, compounded with the problem of siltation, has resulted in shrinkage area of the Anchar Lake from 19.54 sq km (1994) to just 6.8 sq km, out of it 3.6 sq km is stinking marsh”.

This clearly depicts the condition of the lake has gone from bad to worse in terms of shrinkage in area. In addition to this, the quality of the water is so deteriorated that it seems none of the parameters will be normal after performing physio-chemical/bacteriological analysis of the lake water.

2. Remedial measures

  • In view of its extraordinary importance, from flood mitigation point of view, economy, recreation etc. we cannot afford to wait any further till it may remain only a fraction of its original size or the worst case that it may go extinct. Hence, massive anti-encroachment drives need to be conducted on regular basis, besides, those involved in this heinous crime of encroachments and illegal constructions on these water bodies must face an exemplary punishment, so that it is ensured no one will even dare to think about such illegal activities, let alone encroachments.
  • It is also suggested to assign the job of rejuvenation of this Lake to learned technocrats who can come up with viable and workable remedial measures so that the pristine glory of the lake will be restored once again.
  • It is in place to mention here that, National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee has done commendable job in rejuvenating some dead small lakes/village ponds by adopting Natural Treatment System for Rejuvenation at Ibrahimpur Masahi in Uttarakhand. However, it needs to be seen whether this technique will be productive with regard to our expansive lakes in the Valley, but this instills a ray of hope and optimism, that when there is a strong will among technocrats and administration nothing seems to be impossible.

3. Problems reported in Khusulsar Lake

This was once an expansive and captivating water body with crystal clear water. It is imperative to bring into the notice, that earlier the lake extended from Zoonimar up to the Aali Masjid  but now sizeable reduction has been observed due to the same problems as reflected above viz encroachments and land filling.

3. Remedial Measures

As reported, in February, the District Administration took a bold step by demolishing 25 of the 300 identified encroachments, thereby began retrieving the encroached lake area. However, we cannot leave everything to Administration and expect them to solve each and every problem. We as responsible citizens have also a role to play, as it is our moral obligation for the overall benefit to inform the concerned Authorities on observing any sort of illegitimate activity taking place within these water bodies to prevent miscreants from blocking the natural drainage system, as this heritage will save us as well as our future generations from the wrath of the floods.

Besides, this misconception of wet lands being waste lands perceived in the public domain has been the main reason of negligence towards these water bodies viz-a-viz encroachments, direct pouring of sewage, land filling etc. Therefore, this false narrative need to be addressed by launching massive capacity building programmes by the Government at all levels so that awareness regarding the importance of these water bodies shall be disseminated at the grass-root levels.

Nearly, same problems have been noticed in the Gilsar Lake also. The necessary remedial measures discussed above in detail will form bed rock in conserving this important lake of the Srinagar city as well. It is time to wake up from deep slumber, and if the present state of affairs continues, we may end up in extinction of these lakes.

Source : I&FC Department

Mohammad Akeeb Dar is a civil engineer