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Environmental Flows in the Indian Context - Challenges and Potential


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Presentation made at Workshop held to felicitate Prof Ramaswamy Iyer, New Delhi 25- 27th November 2013, IIC - IHC New Delhi. Gives an overview of the status, potential and implementation challenges of E flows in Indian context

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Environmental Flows in the Indian Context - Challenges and Potential

  1. 1. ‘Environmental flows in the Indian Context: Prospects and Challenges'
  2. 2. Out of 30 world river basins marked as global level priorities for the protection of aquatic biodiversity nine are from India due to their extensive and continuing development. These basins include Cauvery, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Godavari, Indus, Krishna, Mahanadi, Narmada, Pennar and Tapi. With an exception of Ganges-Brahmaputra, all the above basins have also been categorized as “strongly affected” by flow fragmentation and regulation.
  3. 3. Arrested and diverted flows ! • Periyar basin – flows completely diverted by dams • Sutlej basin – 60 km river length to be destroyed by Luhri Hydro electric project in already dammed river (The head race tunnel of Luhri project will bypass over 50 km length of the river + 6.8 km long reservoir ) • Ravi basin - When all four hydro electric projects in 70 km stretch between Chambal and Kajoli get commissioned just 3 km of the river would flow through original river bed • Teesta basin in Sikkim – If Teesta IV ( 520 MW) sanctioned last free flowing stretch of Teesta ( 10 km downstream + 4. 37 km reservoir ) will be lost forever
  4. 4. Flow Regulation • Lower Demwe 1750 MW - Lohit sub basin of Brahmaputra river in Arunachal Pradesh - the flow lean season to fluctuate between 1729 cumecs during peak generation and 35 - 70 cumecs during non – generation hours on a daily basis ( Dr. Azad Rehmani ‘s report on Lower Demwe HEP ) • Proposed 163 MW Athirappilly HEP – will create daily flow fluctuation of 1 : 17 impacting downstream riparian islands and major irrigation project operations
  5. 5. Flow is The ‘MASTER VARIABLE’ Flows decide the fate of the river – ecological, evolutionary, morphological, socio – cultural, continuity from source to sea • Dams are direct modifiers of flows • Dam cascades fragment ecological continuity and integrity, aquatic habitats • Inland fisheries declining – ‘severe and drastic changes in the entire hydrological cycle of the river by dams and water abstractions has affected recruitment of most species, especially large carps, which like flowing water’ CIFRI
  6. 6. Environmental Flows A river’s right vs apportioning flows What is the right perspective ?  A river’s right to flow – ‘Who are we to decide how much water should be allocated for environmental needs, or the evolutionary and ecological needs of rivers?’ Prof Iyer 2005  Allocation of flow regime for ecological and livelihood needs where there are competing water needs and regulated flows  River basin perspective – water to be left for the environment from first order stream till river reaches sea for entire river basin  E flows is ultimately a compromise – can only maintain the ecological function of river to a certain desired state as close as possible to the natural flow regime  A societal judgment and a trade off .
  7. 7. E flows Assessment - Approaches Objective Setting – Prescriptive approach Geomorphologic, ecological, socioeconomic and cultural objectives of the river first established by expert groups and then river flow regime established – WWF India’s E-Flows Assessment in Upper Stretch of river Ganga Scenario based setting – Interactive approach - Several scenarios of flow regimes / flow allocations examined and the best option is arrived at
  8. 8. E flows In India – a procedural requirement • Building Block Methodology ( BBM ) – an objective based prescriptive approach widely accepted and used in EIA and CIA studies in India • BBM - Some flow components within hydrological regime of a river considered more important than others for maintenance of riverine ecosystem Reality in India • Does not involve community consultations • Socio cultural needs of people not included • Do not take entire stretch of the river • Connectivity between river and riparian and flood plains missed out
  9. 9. E flows in India - Challenges • Lack of understanding of the river as an ecosystem in itself • Proper understanding of ecological limitations of hydrological alterations (ELOHA) lacking • Lack of reliable data base on rivers especially the linkages between flow regime and ecological processes • Correct interpretation of e flows lacking - E flows interpreted as ‘minimum flows’ by MoWR and as ‘minimum environmental flows’ by MoEF • Present approach of e flows for justifying maximum extraction of water should be replaced by flows as close to natural regime – aim for the best
  10. 10. Objective setting of E flows very critical • Clarity in setting of objectives needed – the ecological, socio – cultural, livelihood needs to be met need to be made clear before assessing the e flows • Should be open to change over time • No uniform norms for all rivers • Who sets the objectives is very important – river dependent communities do not have significant role in decision making • A democratic consultative decision making process of setting objectives needed
  11. 11. Challenges • Norms for developed and heavily degraded river basins to be different from those for relatively un disturbed basins • E flows is not a technical process alone - People using river should know why so much flows should be left , realise and accept their importance • Adaptive management should form integral part of any agreement with clear clause that downstream flow allocations are liable to change if community based monitoring of e-flows so suggest • Importance of protecting rivers and improving flows as a climate change adaptation strategy
  12. 12. Legal and Policy aspects Can we have a comprehensive law to protect rivers ? • Make e flows legally mandatory for dammed rivers • Reservoir operations strategy to improve downstream flows • Ecological criteria for arriving at minimum distance between dams to be made legally mandatory • Protection of free flowing rivers/ stretches of rivers/ tributaries from further development • For pristine rivers recognize and determine first user right of the river over its flows and then decide extent of development possible • Monitoring and compliance of e- flows allocated
  13. 13. Larger Challenge • Allowing water for the environment is also a political decision or choice in India rather than a purely eco – hydrological allocation. • Extent of Ecological literacy among politicians, technocrats and bureaucracy ? • Convincing all the concerned including the political entities that ‘Everybody loses in the long term if eflows are denied for short term political gains of a few’
  14. 14. Towards reviving our rivers…… Latha Anantha, With inputs from Shripad Dharmadikary, Dr. Partha Jyoti Das, and Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India – e flows team