Why a well drying up has Bengaluru-Mysuru worried

May 30, 2017

MYSURU: It’s only once a year that the priests of the Kaveriamma temple at Talakaveri, the source of river Cauvery in Kodagu (Coorg), use water from the holy pond, or kundlike -the annual festival when the river revives and bubbles up as a spring. The teerthobhava festival is about five months away, but priests have already started drawing water from the kundlike because the open well that serves the temple and thousands of daily pilgrims, has gone dry.

It’s never run dry before, says chief priest T S Narayanachar. “This place had plenty of water because of the forest. Now pilgrims have to buy water,” he says. Deforestation, irrigation and agricultural projects have swallowed the forests of the Western Ghats, source of most rivers in south India, including the Cauvery.

The river drying up at the source means water flow to the Krishnarajasagar (KRS) dam near Mysuru has decreased steadily. This impacts water supply to Mysuru, Mandya, Bengaluru and the entire Cauvery basin covering more than 80,000sqkm across Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Large swathes of forest have been submerged by dams or hacked away for railway and power lines over the last few years, and rainfall has been decreasing steadily over the last four years (see box). The district is showing signs of the drought that has already turned dry the plains of Shivamogga and Chikkamagaluru. “Habitat manipulation of the Western Ghats in the name of development, including irrigation, deforestation and expansion of farm practices has led to reduced rainfall and consequently , reduced inflow in the Cauvery,” said P M Muthanna, member of conservation advocacy organisation Wildlife First. The current shortage of drinking water in Kodagu is a warning about the effect of habitat destruction, he noted.

Construction of three dams -Harangi on the Mysuru-Kodagu border, Hemavathi at Gorur in Hassan district and Chaklihole near Kushalnagar in Kodagu -submerged vast tracts of forest area in Kodagu. In the 1950s and 1960s, lakhs of trees were felled for timber. The impact is being felt now.

Groundwater utilisation has shot up due to tourism. Per capita consumption of drinking water has doubled in the district. In 2016-17, 30 lakh tourists visited Kodagu, while the district population is a mere 5.6 lakh.