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Monsoon strengthens

Monsoon strengthens, reservoir storage levels are dire

The residents of four states of North India must comply with water rationing until the monsoon breaks over the region. While there were protests in New Delhi last week at the Delhi government preparing to ration water, water storage in the country's array of major reservoirs is at desperately low levels. The Central Water Commission's latest weekly report of 81 important reservoirs was released on 25 June 2009, just as the south-west monsoon finally set in over the Konkan and western peninsular India. The weekly bulletin showed just how dire the situation in India's biggest and most vital reservoirs had become.


There are 23 reservoirs which each have a storage capacity of over two billion cubic metres (BCM). Each reservoir is rated with what the CWC calls a full reservoir level (FRL). These 23 reservoirs together have a capacity of 106.4 BCM. But, at the beginning of the last week of June, together they contained only 9.59 BCM, less than a tenth of their rated full storage capacity. Dozens of towns and cities depend on their water for household, sanitation and commercial use. In four of the biggest big reservoirs, there is no water at all: Gandhi Sagar in Madhya Pradesh (FRL of 6.82 BCM) is down to zero. So are Rengali in Orissa (FRL of 3.43 BCM), Balimela also in Orissa (FRL of 2.67 BCM) and Sriramsagar in Andhra Pradesh (FRL of 2.3 BCM).

In eleven other reservoirs, the water storage level is under ten per cent of the full reservoir level, and in eight of these this year's level is lower than the average recorded for each for the last ten years:

  • Tehri in Uttarakhand (current storage is 0.02 BCM against FRL of 2.61 BCM)
  • Almatti in Karnataka (current storage is 0.04 BCM against FRL of 3.1 BCM)
  • Indira Sagar in Madhya Pradesh (current storage is 0.34 BCM against FRL of 9.74 BCM)
  • Pong in Himachal Pradesh (current storage is 0.28 BCM against FRL of 6.15 BCM)
  • Bansagar in Madhya Pradesh (current storage is 0.30 BCM against FRL of 5.16 BCM)
  • Tungabhadra in Karnataka (current storage is 0.19 BCM against FRL of 3.26 BCM)
  • Rihand in Uttar Pradesh (current storage is 0.40 BCM against FRL of 5.64 BCM)
  • Hirakud in Orissa (current storage is 0.45 BCM against FRL of 5.37 BCM)
  • Linganamakki in Karnataka (current storage is 0.35 BCM against FRL of 4.29 BCM)
  • Gobind Sagar (Bhakra) in Himachal Pradesh (current storage is 0.54 BCM against FRL of 6.22 BCM)

On 24 June, the India Meteorological Department released its second stage forecast for the south-west monsoon. This is its summary: "IMD’s long range forecast update for the 2009 south-west monsoon season (June to September) is that the rainfall is likely to be below normal. Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be 93% of the long period average with a model error of ±4%." This official revision only confirmed what our agricultural communities had reckoned with from mid-June, when the delay of the south-west monsoon had become apparent. The IMD had issued its first stage forecast on 17 April, saying that, "Rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be Near Normal. Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall is likely to be 96% of the long period average with a model error of ±5%."

However, a 'country average' and a 'country forecast' are essentially without meaning, for rainfall and climate in India is recorded as 36 meteorological sub-divisions. The state of Maharashtra for example is divided by the meteorological sub-divisions of Konkan, Marathwada, Madhya Maharashtra and Vidarbha. From 23 June, farmers in the Konkan began preparing for the kharif sowing while those in eastern Maharashtra must continue to wait for the line of northern advance of the monsoon to cross them. The 36 meteorological sub-divisions and the 35 states and union territories are placed into four broad geographical regions, each of which has been assigned a different forecast value for the south-west monsoon based on the Long Period Average (LPA) which is based on monsoon data from 1941 to 1990.

Disaggregated by the four broad geographical regions, the 2009 monsoon forecast is least worrisome for Central India, which is expected to receive 99 per cent of its LPA. The South Peninsula is forecast to receive 93 per cent of its LPA, and North-East India 92 per cent of its LPA. North-West India however is expected to receive only 81 per cent of its LPA (this region includes Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh). All the four broad regional forecasts, the IMD cautions us, carry a 'model error' of ±8 per cent. If the North-West India forecast is not corrected upwards by a monsoon revival in July, the impact on urban settlements, agriculture, industry and power will be significant. The Central India forecast based on LPA indicates a recovery that will be felt in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, all states that contribute significantly to India's kharif oilseeds, pulses, coarse grains and cotton. The LPA-based forecast for North-West India however means that farmers in Punjab and Haryana may not be able to count on the benefits of irrigation - the lead time between a recovery in rainfall and a halt to the net drawal of water from the reservoirs in North India can be 10-14 days.

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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.