Nainital: Nainital’s glistening eye is drying up this summer. The water level in Naini lake, from which the town in the panoramic Kumaon Hills derives its name, has fallen by an unprecedented 18 feet below the normal level this summer as per a report by The Times of India.
Environmental experts are worried and tourists are dismayed. At Tallital, the southern end of the lake, there is a “zero” mark. The depth of the lake and water level are measured from this mark.
“In the monsoon, the water level reaches 12 feet above the zero mark, which delineates the normal water level. At present, the level is 18 feet below the mark considered normal,” Vishal Singh, a senior research scholar from the Centre for Ecology Development and Research (Cedar), said.
“One has to only look at how the shoreline of the lake has receded. This year seems exceptionally bad,” boatman Rajendra Prasad Shilpi, 50, said, standing by the lake that is Nainital’s only source of water. Experts have blamed ille construction, felling of gal construction, felling of trees, concretisation of the catchment area and destruction of natural springs. “Of the 60 natural springs in the city that recharged the lake, only 30 exist today, and even those have an alarmingly decreased water flow,” Ajay Singh Rawat, former head of Kumaun University’s history department, said.
“The level of water in the body is reported to be 18 feet below normal, something I have never witnessed. The lake is going to turn into a mere pond if strict steps are not taken,” Rawat said. He has been campaigning for long to save the jewel of Nainital. Irrigation department (Kumaon Zone) chief en gineer D C S Khetwal said, “The water level has been declining continuously.”
In the past few summers, the water level had been recorded at three to four feet below zero. Last May, the level of water was two feet below zero. In the 1970s, when the quaint town was emerging as a popular shooting destination for Bollywood and real estate developers had started arriving, the water level in the summer would be measured at one feet below the zero mark.
Another contributing factor, experts pointed out, was the neglect of Sukhatal, which recharges more than 50% of the lake. “Despite strong evidence through research conduct ed by the National Institute of Hydrology approximately 20 years ago about the importance of Sukhatal, it was blatantly neglected by the authorities,” Vishal Singh of Cedar said. A 2015 study by Cedar, in collaboration with Cambridge University, found Sukhatal provides more than 40% subsurface flow to Naini lake round the year, including in the drier months. Sukhatal can absorb large amounts of rainwater due to its topography, which includes limestone and dolomite.
After Ajay Singh Rawat filed a PIL in the Uttarakhand high court in 2012 requesting the court to convert Nainital into an eco-sensitive zone in order to save the area’s ecosystem, the court last year ordered IIT Roorkee to submit a detailed project report about the beautification and recharge of the Sukhatal area.
Experts also said the town and the lake are unable to meet the needs of a burgeoning population and the increased tourist inflow. “The consumption of water in the hill town has increased manifold. Earlier, it was around 6-7 MLD per day; it has now shot up to 16 MLD,” Rawat said.
There has been no comprehensive research in the last two decades of the changes required to preserve the lake and surrounding water bodies.
The dire state of the eyeshaped water body has prompted concerned citizens to launch a petition on change.org urging chief minister T S Rawat to save the lake. The petition has garnered more than a thousand signatures in a few weeks, including those of celebrities such as singer Shubha Mudgal. A barefoot march is also being organised in the city on June 3 to raise awareness of the need to save the lake.