By Rifaq Azhar –
It is generally observed that most of the people living in Kalutara District happen to face severe water crisis causing endless sufferings and hardship in the drought season particularly during the period of March and May. Based on the climate patterns in our country, we may consider those periods as summer due to high humidity or dry weather. Salinity of water is one of prime feature that people in Kalutara District experience during these periods. Subsequent trend that we see during these periods is that the National Water Supply and Drainage Board is always rushing to announce not to drink tap water due to salinity as a result of sea water intrusion into Kalu Ganga River. This announcement has become annual routine that people living in Kalutara district has been familiarised during this period. Probably, this may be the case of other coastal areas too.
As we all know, Kalutara District, which is located in the wet zone, is much popular for its green atmosphere and tranquillity of nature due to ample rainfall with compare to Colombo or Gampaha districts in the Western province. This district has been encompassed by most exciting features such as stunning blue coastline, rubber and tea plantations, rural areas with cool and misty mountains and having popular historic and religious places. Apart from these features, one of fresh water natural lake in Sri Lanka, Bolgoda Lake is also located in this district. But unfortunately people living in this district have been compelled to consume salty water particularly during drought season in spite of the fact that this district has ample water resources and rains forests apart from Kalu Gange River.
Meanwhile, authorities point out the drought season as the prime reason for salinity of water in Kalutara district since the water level in Kalu Gange River, from which the drinking water has been distributing, happens to go down. Perhaps, this may be the immediate reason for sea water intrusion into river water. But, many experts say that the drought season alone could not have been the immediate cause for the sea water intrusion. Rather, while observing the nature of the crisis and delving its root causes, we can somewhat perceive that this plight seems to be an accidental unlike periodical changes and also there should be some other factors have been contributing to this crisis in this area.
According to some experts, this crisis is therefore an artificial and has gradually emerged due to various unattended causes. As said previously, the drought would be a reason to certain extent, but many believe that drought season should be the surface of the crisis and the root causes are underneath. They claim that mechanised sand mining operation, hunting for non-renewable ground water and its aquifers and water pollution along with deforestation are major causes ahead of this threat.
Illegal Sand Mining operation
The demand for river sand has increased as the result of rapid growth in local construction industry particularly following to the end of country’s civil war. It is said that much of extraction is channelled towards Colombo and its vicinity. It is further said that traditional sand mining was replaced by mechanized dredging in order to meet the demand for the additional sand being required for reconstruction activities. According to statistics, more than 35 of the 103 rivers in Sri Lanka are subject to illicit river sand mining and that more than 50% of all sand used in the construction sector is sourced from unlawful operations. Many studies highlight the devastating impacts caused by illegal sand mining such as erosion of channel beds and banks, subsequent collapse of river bank and structures and change in channel morphology etc. Similarly, it affects the quality of the water and ecological system as well.
As stated by an official of the Water Board, riverbed sand mining that has been going on at a rate in Kalu Ganga, Bolgoda Lake and Panadura River had caused sea water to flow into the Kalu Ganga, which the Board uses to pump water from. He further said that Sand mining or digging riverbeds or in stream mining has become a high – income trade for some organized operators in the area. They mine riverbeds with or without permits or in most cases they are found to have been acting in breach of their permits. According to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), it says over 240,000 people have been affected in Kalutara district due to salinity of water.
Hunting for natural water reservoirs and springs
We see wealthy people, due to their financial affordability, buy mineral water bottle for their daily consumption whereas poor and middle class people from impoverished background vie for clean water which is of cause their essential need. This crisis can be simply solved if we adore humanity instead of profitability. Today, the clean drinking water became a profitable commodity in the Market. Many scholars predict that there will be world war in future but never for dominating oil or gold fields, but it would only be for conquering water springs and natural water reservoirs of other countries.
Here, we should be aware of devastating impacts that bottled water caused. Many studies indicate that consumption of bottled water will lead two major impacts which are harmful to environment as well as public. Those are none other than proliferation of plastic products and exploitation of water tables.
Proliferation of plastic products:
When it comes to the proliferation of plastic products, the life cycle of plastic water bottle itself gives three types of costs namely economic, environmental and health costs. The economic costs for the production of plastic bottles are high with comparing to the cost of tap water since it has to cover up various costs in the line such as manufacturing, transportation, labeling, storing and disposing. The majority of plastic bottles are made of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic produce from crude oil. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that about one in four bottles of water crosses at least one international boarder by boat, train or truck before being consumed. Many studies say that from economic standpoint, bottled water is therefore much more expensive than tap water.
Besides, the environmental cost is relatively much more disastrous than financial costs. As you are aware that the oil extraction and subsequent plastic production release greenhouse gas and cast toxins into the environment which is harm the habitats. Similarly, the transport emits carbon dioxide contributing climate change. It is estimated that half of the plastic bottles have been recycled where the rest end up as litter, getting dumped in landfills or water ways. Plastic wastes in water reservoirs are another important problem polluting the water and threating the creatures in the water and birds around it. According to National Geography, 5 to 14 million tons of plastic are flown into the oceans every day.
Nevertheless, most people have access to clean drinking water; they prefer bottled water for its perceived purity and potential health benefits. However, experts suggest that there are no much health benefits with compare to tap water. Meantime, for physical or chemical contamination, they are required to check a sample of the water annually. But it is sceptical whether authorities test for phthalates in bottled water, which is a chemical, used in the production of plastic bottles and has been also proven to have a potential cancer agent in it. There are many chemicals in plastic that can go into the water from being bottled too. Therefore, much more thorough and frequent testing over the health related issues and the quality of bottled water plantation should be conducted in order to standardise the product and also to reveal the hidden factors in and around the product, so that people will be informed of pros and cons of bottled water.
Drastic drop in water tables and natural reservoirs
The Second impact is drastic drop in the water table and ground water aquifer due to concentrated extraction of water from underneath water reservoirs. It has been proved that in area where bottling plants are located, concentrated water extraction have brought negative impacts on local ground water aquifers and streams. It is obvious that extraction leads to unprecedented drop in the water table making local communities suffer from water shortage. Many researches and reports indicate that many waterfalls, streams and wells in the particular area have dried up due to water extraction. In fact, such act will cause desertification in efflux of time due to steady drop in the water table. We need to study yet further on the consequences of water extraction and negative impacts on public health as well as Environment.
Hence, when comparing bottled water with tap water, the differences are not very distinguished. So, the game is not worth the candle. However, consuming bottled water nowadays became cherished trend and also one of prime criteria to measure the living standard.
Water pollution and deforestation
In addition to above causes, we can highlights deforestation and pollution of water reservoirs as another significant cause that leads to water shortage in this region. This region is faced with an acute environmental problem due to undesirable pollution of its water from various wastes. This may be because of industrial wastes or individuals’ negligence. Deteriorating the quality of water therefore is another significant problem in this region leading to water shortage.
Rapid urbanization, population density and increased industrial activities are major factors that contributing large effluents which are directly discharged to the water ways and streams. Studies shows that in Sri Lanka, roughly 90% of marine pollution is on account of land-based and only 10% is sea based. It is also true that due to lack of pollution prevention and proper monitoring and management, water pollution is inevitably emerged. Similarly, deforestations by illegal activities have been largely contributing to water shortage and subsequent dry weather. Forest conservation officers said the water retention areas have been affected due to forest fires in reserves in Bylathsinhala and Horana.
In fact, it seems to think of this crisis as recent phenomenon which was not over here two decades before. Hopefully, the rainy days will be followed by dry season. Therefore, we should address this issue seriously. It became the fate that the onset of summer starting mostly from of March till mid of March make us to realise this severe problem and later on we tend to forget entire sufferings upon advent of another rainy days. This is of cause a curse since we never get lessons from past experience.
We should ask ourselves the following questions. Are we completely unaware of our environment and its periodical seasons? Didn’t we have any basic knowledge about our environmental cycle of which our ancestors excelled based on their empirical knowledge?. I am pretty sure that our forefathers had a strong bond with environment. Moreover, they had secured much knowledge about flora and fauna of our country through their empirical experience and acted accordingly. But they never exploited any resources as we carelessly do nowadays. Exploitation of any water spring, rivers and reservoirs must be deemed as violation and offensive and also should be designated them as nation’s preserved wealth. So that, we can minimize the crisis at larger extend and preserve our environment for our future generation without leading our lives in fantasy.
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Sinhala_Man / September 7, 2020
At first sight an unlikely scenario. This is an area that seems to have so much of rain, and as the writer points out, even other sources (rivers) to augment seasonal variation.
It is precisely such conditions that attract the rapacious and the greedy.
Further study is surely necessary.
Those with expert knowledge must takeover.
Cuda Meedeniya / September 8, 2020
Thanks Rifaq, a super article addressing the core issues relating to fresh water. Whilst we live in an island blessed with a “perfect” ecosystem, as identified, we are fast destroying many essential components which maintain its (dynamic) equilibrium.
Multiple components of fresh-water ecosystems including catchments, river reserves and river-bed sands, are being damaged due to unplanned use. This uncontrolled exploitation driven by commercial interests and supported by a lack of coordinated regulation, will not only result in major environmental damage, but also in economic losses beyond the smaller gains achieved by the over-use of the ecosystem components.
De-vegetation of catchments and river-side buffer-zones, in combination with river sand mining will result in the lowering of the water table and incursion of sea water into our river systems as you correctly elucidate. It causes rapid drying of surface water, of wells and drying of agricultural lands during short spells of drought. It reduces deposition of sands on our beaches resulting in coastal erosion. It causes flash-flooding of our coastal cities and towns. It causes bank erosion and impacts structures such as bridges and culverts. It causes landslides. It reduces the flow of dissolved organic matter into our sea impacting local fisheries (and even possibly the resident blue whales). It impacts multiple heath related matters (e.g. drinking water) relating to river water pollution.
sbarrkum / September 8, 2020
By 2004 there was salt water intrusion in the Gin Ganga in the South/Galle. Salt water was reaching Baddegama about 10 km inland, and making the paddy fields* brackish and unusable Water depth was about 40 feet near Telikada. All due to unregulated sand mining.
There were two step solutions.
a) Dams at Telikada and Wackwella
b) Tidal barrage near the Gintota Railway Bridge.
A tidal barrage opens outward during low tide allowing fresh water to flow out.
At high tide barrage closes and prevents salt water intrusion.