On the verge of extinction

The beautiful Kashmir Valley has over a thousand small and large water bodies, which form the bedrock of both its economy and ecology. One of the most popular and beautiful lakes of Kashmir is Dal Lake, integral to tourism in Kashmir. The world-famous Dal lake in Srinagar has always been a major attraction for anyone visiting Kashmir. However, the water body has been the worst victim of the anthropogenic pressures. Over the period of time it has revealed signs of ecological deterioration. The water quality of Dal Lake has tremendously been affected in the past three to four decades and has rendered it useless from many aspects like drinking, aesthetic value, etc. Massive urbanization, heavy pollution, unplanned growth, siltation, raw sewage and land encroachments are some of the major factors causing the problem. A lot of people draw their employment from the lake in terms of agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc. But the same activities that provide revenue, employment, residence, food and recreation to the people become a threat to the lake.

Dal comes from a Tibetan word which means “still”. Dal lake is situated in Srinagar at the foot of Zabarwan mountains, the lake is fed by the “Arrah” river, which flows in a northerly extremity through a dark and deep channel called Tel Bal. The lake is divided into four basins namely Hazratbal, Bod Dal, Nigeen and Gagribal. Nigeen is the deepest basin and Gagribal is the shallowest. This lake was one of the most beautiful lakes of the world and Sir Walter Lawrence said in his book, “Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner as pleasant as the Dal Lake”. This statement might not be actually believable if we see the Dal today as it has been eaten up in all senses and brought to a devastating state. Due to tremendous anthropogenic pressure, as a result of changing socioeconomic conditions in the region, Dal Lake as a system has been affected ecologically as well as hydrologically. The area in the recent decade has witnessed unprecedented and unplanned urbanization. The untreated sewage from various point and non-point sources discharged into the lake has resulted in complete degradation of water quality of the lake. Moreover, deforestation, grazing, and agricultural activities in the lake catchment have resulted in heavy sediment, and nutrient loads into the lake, accelerating its eutrophication. Being an urban type lake, municipal and domestic effluents have altered the surface water composition of Dal lake, leading to an increased eutrophication. The lake has suffered a lot in terms of encroachments, nutrient enrichment and degradation of water quality. Large scale encroachment of Dal, dumping of human excreta coming from large number of house boats on the Dal and consequential growth of huge weed all contributed to gradual dilapidation and pollution of the Dal.

The Dal lake’s problems began primarily in the 1980s, when encroachments started coming up around the lake area. With the growing tourist influx, hotels, houseboats came up in big numbers, contributing to the pollution of the lake through the indiscriminate disposal of waste into the lake water. The solid waste generated in human settlements within the lake and on the periphery of the lake is a contributing factor for the deterioration of lake. People who live in the houseboats pollute the lake as household waste from them is inevitably dumped into the Dal. Continuous disposal of waste has severely depleted the lake’s water quality. Oxygen density in the water has come down from 10.2 mg /l to 6.8 mg/l. Dissolved solids such as phosphorus and nitrogen have increased, taking their levels from 30.2 mg/l to 200 mg/l. In some parts of the lake, algal growth has made the water green. In the past three decades, the nitrate and phosphate rich water has been responsible for gastro-intestinal diseases for people living around the lake. The lake is on the verge of extinction. Due to eutrophication in Dal lake, the siltation has increased and as a consequence, the lake has shrunk in size.  It lost its charm as a picnic spot.

While conservation efforts have been going on in the Dal Lake for long, the growth of hotels, houseboats and households near the lake have also been simultaneous. Thus, the conservation efforts have failed to make much impact because the pollution has also grown in equal measure. The foremost remedy lies in restricting any increase in the settlements in and around the lake. In this perspective, the government’s proactive approach is essential because high court in 2003 has already banned all kinds of construction activities in the periphery of Dal Lake. The government needs to implement strictly the Jammu and Kashmir High Court orders prohibiting to litter in and around Dal Lake and restriction on the construction activities affecting the water bodies. The already settled population in and around the lake area should be relocated and rehabilitated outside the Lake periphery. In this context some efforts have already been made by some agencies (Jammu and Kashmir Lakes and Water Ways Authority), where some 1221 families living in 441 houses have been resettled but the process remains incomplete. The successful and complete rehabilitation would be possible only when relocation is done with provisions of suitable livelihood options. There is an urgent need to resume the relocation process which should include provisions of reasonable and suitable alternate livelihood options. Another important task for preserving the lake is to get rid from duckweed, water ferns and algae. There must be sincere efforts to perform deweeding and dredging activities on periodic basis in the water body to maintain water quality. One more important step to combat pollution in Dal would be to construct more STPs and check the amount of untreated sewage flowing into the lake. Involving more people to create awareness, especially among hotels and local shops can ensure that waste disposal in the lake is kept at bay. Unless adequate measures are taken, the Dal Lake may further shrink to becoming non- existent in the future.

MARIYA BATOOL is pursuing Integrated PG in Environmental science from the department of environmental science at SP college Srinagar.