With the Bhakra reservoir level going below 1,500 feet in May, nearly 50 feet lower than the same time last year, the states of Punjab and Rajasthan are staring at an irrigation crisis during the paddy-sowing season.
More worrying is the decline in water inflow since melting of snow in the glaciers is almost half of the normal this year. The water level at Bhakra on Saturday was recorded at 1,495 feet against 1,545 feet on the corresponding day in 2017.
In the Ranjit Sagar dam, the water level is 1,636.6 feet, against 1,685 feet the same day last year.
Water released from Bhakra is considered the lifeline of the Malwa belt in Punjab and many parts of Rajasthan.
The dam has the minimum drawdown level of 1,462 feet against which present level is 1,495, while the reservoir level is reducing by about 0.7 foot every day.
From May 20 to 25, the Bhakra level receded by 6 feet, while the same increased from 1539.33 feet to 15.44.9 feet (by 5.57 feet) last year. This shows the severity of problem that the reservoir is not getting dequate inflow of water.
“The less water inflow at Bhakra in May is due to less snowmelt which in turn depends on how much snowfall occurs on high reaches during winters.
During the 2017-18 winter, there was 50 per cent of the last year’s snowfall. This estimate was prepared on the basis of satellite images by the National Remote Sensing Agency,” said an official not authorised to speak to the media.
He said if rain does not occur in the catchment area and inflow due to snowmelt decreases, Bhakra will not have the cushion of storage available to meet paddy irrigation requirement and the farmers will have to depend on the monsoon.
The situation of other reservoirs/dams is no different as their water level has also gone down.
The Bhakra and Beas Management Board (BBMB) has already asked Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to use water judiciously.
“On Tuesday (May 29), the BBMB technical committee in a meeting will take a decision on the reservoir operation and irrigation needs of the state next month,” said an official.
Storage of 6 northern reservoirs down
In the northern region comprising Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, the Central Water Commission (CWC) monitors six reservoirs which have a total live storage capacity of 18.01 billion cubic metres (BCM).
As per a reservoir storage bulletin on May 24, 2017, the total live storage available in these reservoirs is 2.7 BCM which is 15% of their total capacity.
The storage during the corresponding period last year was 24% and average storage of last 10 years during the same period was 26% of their live storage capacity.
Thus, storage this time is less than the corresponding period last year and also the average storage of last 10 years.