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Go Goa Gone: Once water-abundant, state hit by acute scarcity

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST
The scarcity
  • With 120 inches annual rainfall and 11 perennial rivers, Goa had abundant water
  • It now faces an acute scarcity. 35 villages are worst affected
  • The reasons for this is illegal mining, deforestation and real estate development
More in the story
  • How bad is the crisis?

Goa has always been known for its natural beauty. The calm beaches with crystal clear water and evergreen forests have been major attractions for tourists from across the globe.

The state has never faced water scarcity. With average annual rainfall of around 120 inches and 11 perennial rivers, the state had abundant water to meet the requirements of residents as well as tourists.

But large scale mining and rampant deforestation has not only damaged Goa's ecosystem but also jeopardised its water security. Many parts of the state are now dependent on water tankers for their daily supply of clean drinking water.

35 villages in North & South Goa, are dependent on 350 tankers for their daily supply of water

At present, around 35 villages in remote parts of North and South Goa, are dependent on 350 tankers for their daily supply of water. Kepem Taluka in South Goa is the worst hit with 25 tankers having been deployed there. Women in the taluka are forced to walk miles together to fetch water.

Villages such as Sangem, Kankon, Parnem and Sattari in Kepem Taluka are worst hit as they are situated on hills. "The scarcity is at its peak from March to June. Because of low pressure, water can not reach us. This is all because of illegal mining and rampant deforestation," says Nilesh Gaonkar, of Adivasi Bachao Samiti, Caurem village in Kepem taluka.

Mining the scourge

He says that mining is the only reason for destruction of aquifers that has caused an acute water scarcity in Goa. "Several illegal mines in Kepem taluka have destroyed our water resources. We have been opposing the mines for more than 10 years now. But the previous government did not act. The current government immediately closed down all the illegal mines when it assumed office. However, efforts are on to somehow restart these mines," Gaonkar said.

According to principal chief engineer, water resource department, Dattatray Borkar, the government is spending around Rs 4 to 5 crore per year on water tankers. Despite ever depleting water levels in reservoirs and dams, the government claims that there is sufficient water.

Earlier, a drive through the narrow but excellent roads in Goa was an experience to cherish - dense forests on both sides, several water streams running along the roads and birds chirping. But in many parts of Goa, the situation began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The streams began to dry up as the mines went deeper and deeper. The water that was once crystal clear, has now become muddy and turbid.

"We never hesitated to drink directly from the stream. But now, it is not even possible to wash our hands in the streams. The waste from mines is now flowing into the streams," Gaonkar said.

Water sources in danger

Ramesh Gauns, a resident of village Dicholim is fighting against illegal mining in Goa for over two decades now. He says, "The Western Ghats are vital for Goa. The state has a 700 sq. km. stretch of Western Ghats. All the rivers in the state originate in Western Ghat. The rainwater absorbed by the forest percolates in midline areas such as Bicholim, Samgem and Kepem. Illegal mining, rampant forest destruction and the rapidly growing real estate development business have threatened water security of the state".

He has done a scientific study of the impact of mining on Goa's ecology and water security. "The water carrying capacity of all the rivers in Goa is rapidly going down due to ever growing silt accumulation. The silt is mainly the mining overburden which is flowing into these rivers with rain water. All mine operators have violated the norms pertaining to depth and gone even below the sea level. As a result, the entire water in the aquifers has flown into the mine pits, which in turn is pumped out and wasted," he says.

All mine operators have violated the norms pertaining to depth and gone even below the sea level

Gaun says that it isn't just mining, even the sudden boom in Goa's real estate sector is a major threat to the state's water security.

"Builders are on a rampant construction spree and they aren't leaving even an inch for water to percolate in ground. Construction and real estate development contributes 9.6-9.8% to Goa's GDP."

Mindless policy making has completely destroyed natural mechanism of aquifer and the ecological destruction has also affected the rainfall pattern of the area. Apart from the natural reasons, Goa's water security is threatened by around 30 lakh tourists visiting the state annually. "The total resident population of Goa is 15 lakh, and the number of tourists is double who use three times the water Goan people use. This is yet another reason for stress on water supply system of the state," Gauns says.

Gauns cautions, if the government does not act in time and protect the forest and natural water resources, the day is not far when rationing of water would be the only way out.

Edited by Aditya Menon

First published: 3 May 2016, 10:24 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.