River High Impact Activities

The term ‘river’ is meant not just the water in the stream, instead the aquatic life, the flora and fauna flourishing in its water and on its banks. Also, rivers are part of a larger system each constituent of which is dependent on other components. Rivers provide water for our very survival and sustenance. It is hard to imagine any project of social development that does not have water as a pre-requisite — be it for industrial, agricultural, or domestic use.

Agriculture is by far the biggest consumer of water accounting for 70% of overall water consumption in our country. Although agriculture in the country primarily depends on monsoon rainfall for irrigation, it also makes use of its large number of rivers, canals, ponds, and groundwater as sources of irrigation. In addition to providing water required for irrigation, rivers also increase and maintain the fertility of soil making it suitable for agriculture. In addition, various types of plants grow in the rich soil on the banks of the rivers. Just as rivers affect the agricultural yield, in the same way, various agricultural practices impact the health of rivers.

Heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides may lead to their flowing into rivers during floods or heavy rains posing a threat to their purity and cleanliness. Excessive extraction of water can affect the flow of the river and the volume of water it carries. Crop residue burning leads to black carbon aerosols being released into the atmosphere which affects cloud formation and cloud coverage thereby modifying rainfall patterns.

Likewise, large-scale deforestation and construction activities lead to changes in land use and land cover, thereby disturbing the ecological balance. Such activities can also affect the holding power of the soil leading to surface runoffs. Building of dams and hydropower projects modify the natural flow of a river. Excessive fishing may lead to a disturbance of balance in aquatic life. If any component of the river system is affected, it has far-reaching consequences for the whole river system. Besides modifying the flow of the river, these activities can potentially pollute its water by discharging or adding impurities or toxic substances.

However, before initiating steps towards controlling these areas to make them more river-friendly, one has to assess the comparative role played by these occupations/industries. Otherwise, the more important sectors may get overshadowed or eclipsed by smaller or even trivial issues.

The various areas addressed under this portfolio include agriculture, non-agricultural land use, hydropower, navigation, flood control, sand mining, and fishing.