The Lede
Telugu States Reel Under Water Crisis

Telugu States Reel Under Water Crisis

GS Radhakrishna

Rain deficit and groundwater depletion have dried up drinking water in both southern states

Even before the onset of summer, people of Adilabad, Mancherial, Nirmal and Asifabad districts are reeling under acute drinking water crisis in February itself. As many as 333 habitats (areas with population less than 1000) in Adilabad and Nirmal districts and 41 in Asifabad are hit hard by the crisis as borewells have dried up completely. “We have to trek 2 kilometres to get a pot-full of drinking water and have to spend Rs 250 per month per family to buy water,” says tribal Saidamma of Digsur village in Adilabad district.

Tribal and non-tribal skirmishes were reported as the tribals from the Agency areas (tribal areas) of Namur, Utnoor, Keramery and Indravelli mandals made trips to the agricultural wells of local farmers, 5 kilometres away, to get water. Farmers closed wells and stopped tribals from taking water.

The tribals of Utnoor mandal complained of sickness after drinking water from forest springs, which they say are polluted. Tribal leader Bhujanga Rao, said that women were forced to forgo their daily wage because of their preoccupation with fetching drinking water. “Many of the borewells dug by the government have dried up and there is no water,” he says.

Situation Worsens In Andhra Pradesh

As Telangana continues brisk construction works on the Godavari and its tributaries, fear psychosis is hitting the farmers of the Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh, on the future scope of river water for their crops. The Kaleswaram project, with a capacity of180 TMC, would be a major threat to AP, which has developed ayacuts in East and West Godavari Districts on the basis of surplus waters discharging to sea. That is also the reason why AP has opposed the Kaleswaram project, while the Telangana government has opposed the Polavaram project.

As a prelude to the massive water storage points coming up in Telangana, with check dams and reservoirs, Telangana is already using its quantum of Godavari waters fully. This has led to low water levels in the tributaries of the Godavari in AP. “AP farmers have to face the music as Telangana will not allow an ounce of water to go un-utilised, after completion of its massive projects on the Godavari,” says environmentalist Yelamanchili Shivaji of Visakhapatnam.

The acute water crisis is looming large in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam as the existing water reserves in the reservoirs of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, are hitting the bottom. According to corporation officials, the demand is 85 MGD (millions of gallons per day) and the total deficit is 23 MGD. Yeleru, Raiwada, Meghadrigedda, Thatipudi, Gosthani and Mudasarlova reservoirs, the main water sources for the port city, are already drying up.

Monsoon Fails

Both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the lower riparian states of the mighty Godavari and Krishna rivers, are in the throes of a yet another water crisis this summer. Dipping groundwater levels and rain deficit have led to a humongous shortage of drinking water.

A majority of districts in the Telugu states – 18 of the 31 districts in Telangana and 7 of 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh – are facing severe drinking water shortage, as groundwater levels have depleted thanks to a deficit in the northeast monsoon.

Both the states had received excess rainfall by 2 to 4 percent in the southwest monsoon, but suffered shortfall in the northeast monsoon last year. While AP was short-changed by 40 percent, Telangana’s shortfall was over 53 percent. Although AP saw good recharge of groundwater, its ghat terrains with loose soil could not hold water, causing the water table to plunge sharply. This has caused drinking water supply issues during the pre-summer months itself.

In Telangana the excessive use of borewells (32 lakhs in all) due to free 24X7 farm power extended by the KCR government, had depleted the groundwater levels for both drinking water and irrigation. “Rain deficit and ground water depletion has led to an agricultural crisis in the run-up to 2019 elections, in both the Telugu states, after successive years of good rains and bumper crops,” says P Changal Reddy, secretary general, Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Associations.

Crops Hit Hard

Telangana farmers had to give up one crop and chose to plant during Yasangi (Rabi) season due to the failure of the southwest monsoon in 2017. AP farmers managed to save Khariff crops last year with the diversion of the Godavari waters to the Krishna basin. During the summer months of 2017, Telangana had approached neighbour Karnataka for the release of 15 TMC in the Krishna basin from Amlatti, to meet the drinking water needs of Hyderabad and other districts. But it is doubtful whether Karnataka would oblige them again in 2018, considering that the state itself is staring at a water crisis with elections round the corner.

Out of 584 mandals in Telangana, 235 have registered ‘deficit’ rainfall and 269 received normal rains. As many as 40 percent of mandals are reeling under scarcity of drinking water and delayed sowing operations for the second consecutive year, as an overall 11 percent rain shortfall was reported by the end of January 2018.

In Andhra Pradesh, there was 2 percent excess rainfall from the southwest monsoon, but a 40 percent deficit from the northeast monsoon. Farmers of the Krishna basin though, are not too worried due to the Pattiseema project being completed, which will bring them 80 TMC of water for the Khariff and Rabi crops. “We plan to give 134 TMC of Godavari water to the Krishna basin this year for both irrigation and drinking water, to the Rayalaseema and Circar districts (Krishna, Guntur, Prakasham and Nellore),” says Uma Maheswar Rao, AP Irrigation Minister.

Groundwater Levels Too Drop

As against a target to maintain the groundwater levels between 3 to 8 metres in AP, only 52 percent of the area in the state showed a surplus, while 34 percent of the area reported normal levels and 14 percent showed a drop of 0.3 metres.

In Telangana, the situation was worse as the 24×7 free farm power, energising over 32 lakh agricultural pumpsets, had drained groundwater resources excessively. Following an 8 percent shortfall in rains in 2017, the groundwater table has gone down to 9.5 metres in 2018, as against 8.5 metres last year. “The fall in groundwater levels in all the districts was from -5.2 metres to -0.30 metres,” says Telangana Groundwater Department Director K Laxma, referring to average state-wide figures.

As Telangana is yet to fully exploit its share of the Godavari waters since it lacked reservoirs to store the river water, the drinking water and irrigation crisis in northern Telangana, particularly in the tribal belt, has worsened.

Official sources contend that along with depleting groundwater levels, borewells and agriculture wells have dried up. As Mission Bhagiratha, a scheme costing Rs 43,000 crore, to provide piped drinking water to all villages and towns in the 31 districts of Telangana is progressing at a snail’s pace, the water crisis has become grim.

To counter the depletion of groundwater, all panchayats and Zilla Parishads have passed resolutions in Telangana that the 24×7 free power (launched in January 2018) supply to agriculture should be restricted to nine hours at least until the next monsoon, to prevent further depletion of groundwater levels. “A tightrope walk is inevitable in managing the drinking water needs until August, and irrigation needs for the next two months,” says Telangana Agriculture Minister Pocharam Srinivasul Reddy.

Dependence On Inter-State Water Infrastructures

The water available in the Krishna river, the only water source which has been tamed and put to full use in both the Telugu states, is pegged at 62 TMC in the Nagarjunasagar and 10 TMC in Srisailam, for the summer season. Water sharing will once again be a bone of discord for the fourth successive year.

However, AP is comfortable to a great extent thanks to the Pattiseema Godavari river water diversion project. But the state is unwilling to give up its share in the Krishna river even during the crisis-ridden situation, with a long-term outlook for its needs in Rayalaseema.

Of the 62 TMC of Krishna water, 9 TMC is devoted to the drinking water needs of Hyderabad city. Telangana’s Yasangi crop (Rabi) requires 25 TMC during sowing and 16 TMC for irrigating the seedlings later. About 15 TMC has been the share of the Andhra Pradesh. The Nagarjuna Sagar Project Chief Engineer, K Sunil, says that Krishna River Management Board (KRMB) has allocated 34.99 TMC and 17.09 TMC to Telangana and AP in February for their summer needs, which is far below the requirements of drinking water and irrigation for Rabi crop. “Unless we manage the resources aptly on a consensus basis, there may be a repeat of scenes from 2017, with clashes between both states this year as well,” he says.

At a review meeting last week in Hyderabad, the Telangana Minister for Irrigation T Harish Rao, asked irrigation department officials to ensure effective patrolling of canals at night to prevent unauthorised drawals by tampering or destroying water release structures with the support of police and revenue officials.