The J&K Lakes Conservation & Management Authority (LC&MA), formerly LAWDA, works beyond extracting unwanted lilies and weeds from the famous Dal and Nigeen Lakes in order to preserve their aesthetics. Both lakes have huge watersheds in the vicinity from which silt flows directly into which however has been a major concern for the department. In this regard, the LC&MA formed a few years ago an exclusive division to de-silt water bodies and launched several key measures on scientific grounds.
Rising Kashmir City Correspondent Irfan A Mir speak with Project Officer, Watershed Management Division, LC&MA, Ghazala Abdullah on actions taken by the division under his leadership. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Rising Kashmir (RK): Tell us about the purpose of the execution of the Watershed Management Division? And when was it formed?
Ghazala Abdallah (GA): It was in 2001 when J&K Lakes Conservation & Management Authority (LC&MA) formed the Watershed Management Division to deal with emerging watershed issues and resolve them within the necessary resources available. Most people don’t know how we work. Dal and its watersheds are shaped like a bowl. Once there is rainfall, all the runoff and other waste from the landmass flows directly into the Dal, which becomes a reason why the water body is muddy and blocked in many places. .
RK: How big is your division dealing with Dal?
Georgia: Dal Lake has an area of approximately 25 km² while its watershed covers 337 km². The watershed is a vast territory and its maintenance is a Herculean task. If we manage and take good care of its watershed, this obviously means that we take care of the aesthetics of Dal Lake.
RK: What are your measurements aimed at?
Georgia: We take several measures which include vegetative measures and engineering measures. The only objective is to block soil degradation, improve water quality and improve soil productivity. We try to our best to meet these motivations.
RK: Tell us about vegetative measures. How does this help to uncover the silt in the Dal?
Georgia: As part of vegetative measures, we mainly carry out plantings in all catchment areas which include Dignibal, Hadura, Bakura, Takya-Sangrishi, Astanmarg Dara, Khimber, Charidalaw, Brein Astanpur and Sharisbal. Our division has planted 62,000 saplings which include black locust, wild apricot and others to stop soil erosion. It helps us a lot in reducing soil degradation. We mainly start planting in autumn (November – December) and spring (March – April).
Over the next year, the watershed division will plant more than one lake of trees to consolidate the soil surface. We have planted in the areas of Nalla Amir Khan, Foreshore Road and Telbal Settlement Basin and in the coming times we will also address the unplanted areas there so that the land mass near the water body is protected and reinforced.
RK: Elaborate the steps you have taken in the catchment areas? And how do people lend their response?
Georgia: In addition to planting, we distributed several kinds of seeds to people living in the watersheds. We provide them with seeds for free. In addition, we organize awareness programs there to make them aware of their interest in cleaning Dal Lake from silt and other waste. We convince the inhabitants to plant trees on their premises, which is however beneficial both for the inhabitants of the watersheds and for the department. They are the stakeholders in the conservation of Dal Lake. The distribution of seeds and awareness programs have strongly influenced them and to make them aware of their role. So far we have received good responses from them. Even now, they keep LC&MA informed of emergencies if they occur in catchment areas.
RK: What about the awareness programs carried out in the watersheds?
Georgia: From 2019 to 2020, we conducted 37 awareness meetings in all catchment areas. The main objective was to educate the masses to stop using chemicals and fertilizers and switch to organic farming. In this regard, we have received the submission from the other end with passion. We dug 18 compost pits as part of a pilot project in the Dignibal region to which people expressed their good response. In 2022, the Watershed Management Division will dig more than 206 compost pits. People have started to throw their kitchen waste in these pits which turn into organic form after a while. In this way, the inhabitants use it as a fertilizer in their vegetable gardens.
RK: What measures do you take within the framework of engineering measures?
Georgia: As part of this concept, we use bulk dams (LBCD) and gabion dams (GCD) along the Nalla. LBCD is typically used to stabilize nascent and small gullies and branch gullies of a continuous network of gullies or gullies. In addition, we place Gabion Control Dams (GCD). These are small barriers made up of a series of gabion baskets tied together to form a flexible row that acts to slow the flow of water through drainage ditches or stormwater runoff channels. Their main objective is to stop soil degradation in watersheds. Once we build gabion dams, they stabilize soil degradation to a very high level and help control silt. Additionally, it helps protect the surrounding landmass. In this way, it reduces the sediment loading rate and nutrient loading rate of the watershed and prevents it from flowing into Dal Lake. We want to improve the aesthetics of Dal Lake by these measures.
RK: Do you have other measures in place to improve water quality and soil degradation?
Georgia: Recently, we started the construction of Contour trenches. We have mostly rocky areas where the ground stays dry. Contour trenches are ditches dug along a hill in such a way that they follow a contour and are perpendicular to the flow of water. The excavated soil from the ditch is used to form a berm on the descending edge of the ditch. Once there is rainfall, it flows directly into these trenches, which stops soil erosion and strengthens the landmass. So far we are done with at least 10,000 of these trenches in Hadura, Dignibal and other watersheds. The result of these trenches is satisfactory. In addition, we place sacks of soil there. We put 50 kgs of earth in a bag and along these on the shores of Nalla. As our watershed is muddy, if we put rocks or any other concrete material in it, it will not hold up and cause a landslide afterwards. I can say that our efforts are linked to the participation of people. If they don’t help us and cooperate with us, we can’t save Dal Lake on our own.
RK: What about sanitation in watersheds?
Georgia: In the past, we have built dozens of public toilets in the watersheds. However, after improving the way of life of locals and taking advantage of other government funded programs, people built toilets in their own premises and homes. Currently, these toilets are rarely used by locals.
RK: Since 2001, it’s been over 21 years. How far did you manage to stop the silt in Dal Lake?
Georgia: Recently, a survey was carried out in which it appeared that our efforts have yielded good results. There has been a significant decrease in siltation in Dal Lake in recent years. The results encourage us to try harder in the future and we hope that the time is not far behind when much of the silt will be trapped in the watershed. The catchment area plays a major role everywhere. The more we focus on catchment, the more we will protect our water bodies.
RK: There are reports of encroachment in the watershed. What is your opinion ?
Georgia: Once we receive a report of any encroachment, our division instantly reports it to our Enforcement Wing who deals with the matter as required by law. They demolish the structures if that happens and file FIRs against those involved. Because of our awareness programs, people cooperate with us. They provide us with information regarding such encroachment, which shows that they are also concerned about the conservation of Dal Lake.
RK: You planted saplings in the upper reaches, but the lower regions become crowded, dumping all their solid and liquid waste into the local canals, which however reach Dal Lake. How do you see it?
Georgia: This is really a matter of concern for us. We have taken note of it. Although we are taking action in the upper stretches, in the last few years there has been a lot of construction work done in the lower areas whose garbage and other materials flow into local canals and thus affect our Dal Lake. We have recommended to the government the construction of a few wastewater treatment plants (STP) in the catchment areas so that this waste can be stopped and treated. I hope the government will act on our suggestions.
RK: In the absence of a tangible mechanism, how is watershed waste currently treated?
Georgia: The catchment area is outside the domain of SMC. There are few areas where you can observe tons of garbage collected in the open. In the past, we have asked the authorities to send their vehicles once a week for garbage and other waste collection, but no action is taken on the other side. Nevertheless, we reiterate our call to the higher authorities to put in place a mechanism for collecting garbage in the watersheds.
RK: Your message to people?
Georgia: Our watershed is vast. If we maintain it, we will maintain our Dal Lake. People living in the watershed and surrounding areas of Dal Lake should refrain from dumping waste into water bodies. It belongs to everyone and affects everyone, if it is not taken care of. Our division will discuss again with higher authorities including the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to send their vehicles once a week here and process tons of unattended waste. In addition, I am appealing to my people as a Divisional Forestry Officer, J&K Forest Department (as I am on delegation here) to plant more and more trees that will help us protect our environment.