From Wayanad to Bengaluru, how Karnataka designed a perfect detour for Kabani

The Perikalloor ghat on River Kabani that connects Kerala and Karnataka. File photo: Jithin Joel Haarim/Manorama

Wayanad: As the summer set in this year, officials of the Irrigation department noticed something strange. The river Kabani, the lifeline of border villages in Wayanad was being sapped of life. It had to do with searing temperature, they thought. What piqued their interest was the pace at which the river was drying up.
There was one way to find out, track the river. They did just that and what unravelled was a story of how Karnataka ensured a systematic flow of water from the Kabani, across its arid land zones, watering the farm fields and most importantly ensuring supply to Bengaluru which was badly affected by water shortage.

Going by the data of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), the daily water consumption of the city is around 1450 million liters per day (MLD) from the Cauvery river and an additional 650 MLD drawn from borewells. Since February, there has been a daily shortage of 500 MLD. The crisis worsened in March.

According to irrigation department officials of Wayanad, on February 11, around 13,000 Cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water was released from the Kabini Dam at Beechnahalli to Cauvery, aimed at addressing Bengaluru's water shortage. (Kabani is the only major river in Kerala that flows to the east, while others join the Arabian sea in the west).

The water utilisation pattern of Karnataka was tweaked to accomplish this feat, officials said. Normally the Kabini Dam at HD Kote taluk in Karnataka is the first stop for the water flowing down from Wayanad. The Kabani river would flow to T Narasipura (90 km), then to the Shiva Anicut (50 km) reservoir. ''From there the water is pumped to a major water treatment plant at TK Hally in Mandya district, apart from filling countless water bodies in and around Bengaluru, and then to the scattered water supply network through various stages of pumping, filtering and purifying,'' an official, who preferred anonymity, said.

This year, the Karnataka government was forced to divert the entire water stock from Kabini reservoir to Bengaluru as the water level of the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam at Mysuru, had gone down alarmingly. There were more reasons. The Cauvery catchment area in Coorg and Nagarhollai, the main catchment area of KRS, received lower than normal rainfall last monsoon.

People use a coracle to move through the shallow waters of a dried up River Kabani in Wayanad. File photo: Jithin Joel Haarim/Manorama

The irrigation department of Karnataka had sounded the warning bells in January in the farming belts of the Kabani basin on what was coming. Officials from the agriculture department had directed farmers in the Kabani basin to reduce farming activities as there would be water shortage from the Kabani reservoir.

All this when Kerala utilises less than 4 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic feet) water of the total 30 TMC water allotted by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which was constituted to resolve the inter-state water dispute. While the agrarian community in Wayanad found going tough in the extreme summer, Karnataka found a way out through a meticulous network of dams, lakes, canals and water pumping and purifying stations.

''The water utilisation of Karnataka is a model to be followed by Kerala,'' said noted surface water scientist Dr EJ James, who was the expert witness of Kerala in the Cauvery tribunal. He said that the Karnataka state utilised almost the full quanta of water allotted by the tribunal. “Normally, only 75 per cent dependable flow could be utilized and the rest of water should go downstream,'' he said adding that by utilising the Cauvery water, Karnataka has been ensuring 40 TMC to address Bengaluru's drinking water requirements.

River Kalindi, one of the tributaries of Kabani originates from the Tirunelly Hills, along with many small rivers that originate from Wayanad, strengthens the flow of Kabani. In turn, Kabani merges with Cauvery, the chief water source for the major towns of Karnataka, including Mysuru and Bengaluru.

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