Lessons from Farakka as we plan more barrages on Ganga

Originally posted on SANDRP:


“When Farakka barrage was built, the engineers did not plan for such massive silt. But it has become one of the biggest problems of the barrage now” said Dr. P.K. Parua[1]. And he should know as he has been associated with the barrage for nearly 38 years and retired as the General Manager of Farakka Barrage Project (FBP). I remembered the vast island of silt in the middle of the river barely a kilometer upstream of the Barrage and the people who told us their homes were devastated by the swinging river.

Silt Islands just upstream the Barrage. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

Silt Islands just upstream the Barrage. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

Though called a barrage, Farakka Barrage is a large dam as per ICOLD, WCD and CWC definitions, with associated large dimensions and impacts. To call it a Barrage is misleading.

Commissioned in 1975[i] across Ganga in Murshidabad District of West Bengal and just 16…

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Impact of 98 Mini Hydel Projects on Cauvery on Bangalore’s Water Supply

Originally posted on SANDRP:

In recent news reports, it was reported that “following the drastic fall in the water-level in the Shiva Balancing Reservoir (SBR), the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has asked Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. (KPTCL) and Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd. (KPCL) to stop power generation from four mini-hydroelectric projects in the Cauvery basin, at least till May.”[1] The projects which were asked to stop generation include: Madhavamantri, Satyagala, Shiva Anecut and Shimsha mini-hydroelectric projects.Image

However, the fact is that KREDL (Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited) has allotted and commissioned a whopping 98 mini hydel projects on the Cauvery, most of them downstream Krishnaraj Sagar Dam, many of them commissioned. These projects are in the Mysore, Mandya and Chamrajanagara Districts. Actual numbers maybe higher as we have not included projects from Ramanagara in the list as we are not certain how many of those would fall in Cauvery…

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Life by the Ganga: Haridwar

Originally posted on KING SPEAK:

The Ganga gushes ashen, venerated and violated at Haridwar. Every morning the town worships her, each evening pays homage to her. The river is a way of life for the townsfolk. Millions from all over come to take a dip in the river and sample its magical power to wash away sins.


Upstream, not far from the holy town, a series of sluices breaks Ganga’s flow, forcing her through channels – the braided channel opens and pours itself into strands past ghats, hotels, guest houses and homes standing elbow to elbow, fighting and falling over each other for a closer perch near her flowing waters.

A broad, red-tiled promenade runs along the river front. Hundreds of believers throng this pathway to salvation round the year. Birth and death, togetherness and loneliness, plenty and poverty, acquisition and renunciation, the river flows past life’s every bend.


A 50-something buries his face in…

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Are rivers just cusecs and megawatts?

At the Water Futures II held in Kolkata and Dhaka by IUCN, though transboundary water sharing was the core of the discussion, various peripherals of country-wise issues were spoken as well. From environmental historians, to hydrologists, the pool of people shared their thoughts, perspectives and knowledge with a gamut of participants from different backgrounds.

A new mandate was raised- sediment sharing management and policies from both the countries. Beyond geopolitics of water, policies, treaties, water sharing, there emerged a stronger need to have a human-centric approach to water as perceived by the ‘need’. Ifteqar Iqbal, author of the book ‘Bengal Delta’ neatly elucidates the context of rural impoverishment and its link to environmental changes.

The first need is to understand the ‘need’ for water, to look at how flood water was managed by people in the right way, and what we really want when we talk about basin sharing. Do we represent the people living on the either sides of the basins or are we just lamenting about lack of action from both the countries? How are we understanding the issues from people’s end, and how do we ensure that their voices are heard when decisions are being made. This crucial question still remains a question in itself. There are no clear answers to this.

People who live on chars(river islands formed from sedimentation) might not understand the India-Bangladesh boundaries. However, they very well understand the flood patterns of the river and utilise it in the right way. So, why can’t we understand the river through local knowledge of people? An expert spoke of inundation irrigation. Sample this. Red silt is dragged to people’s fields. Along with this comes the egg and larvae of fishes, which predate on the mosquitoes. Fish, in turn, also become a source of protein for people. This has been the regime of flood dependent agrarian system in Eastern India. It worked very well.

Participatory management, which caught some space in this entire debate is a need if we are looking at solutions on a larger scale. The key stakeholders (the people living there) need to be involved to document their knowledge on water management practices, and if they can be used now and how.

The bone of contention is beyond power and politics. It is people. Water is first a need for our farmers, with a whopping 88% needed to fulfill our irrigation needs. And from what experts said, domestic water supply is well taken care of. So, what are we essentially fighting for? Some experts also said that the demand for water very well exceeds the water supply at the basins. So, what is the whole point of discussion and fighting over river basins? Everything seems lopsided and the mass, at large are the ignored majority here.

Then, when we do raise a question about transboundary water sharing, why not look at:

  1. Common cultures that bind us
  2. The endangered species we share
  3. Learning and adapting best practices for solutions

How long should we wait for the subsequent treaties to be signed? It took 20 years for the Ganges treaty and by this count, you can think about the staggering number of years needed to resolve the rest. What will people dependent on these river basins do until then?

Why not achieve self-sufficiency through decentralised approaches as we go along? As we talk politics and policies in confined doors, farmers and villagers are going back to indigenous water saving practices to save their farms and get their daily supply of water. Drip irrigation is a classic example of this. It is amazing how a technology travelled all the way from Israel and has marked a tremendous success story in India. There is a need to document such stories, to learn and adapt, as we grapple with an endless wait on treaties. We cannot wait for policies to materialise as people struggle. What can we do now is the question! And the answer clearly is looking at adaptive mitigation measures to ward off the problems and look at innovative solutions to water availability and disaster management. This could not just be an interim relief to people living on shared basins, but also be a sustainable solution in the long run.


Bird brains more precise than humans’

(Phys.org) —Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

A University of Queensland (UQ) study has found that budgerigars can fly between gaps almost as narrow as their outstretched wingspan rather than taking evasive measures such as tucking in their wings.

UQ Queensland Brain Institute researcher Dr Ingo Schiffner said previous research showed humans unnecessarily turned their shoulders to pass through doorways narrower than 130 per cent of their body width, whereas are far more precise.

“We were quite surprised by the birds’ accuracy – they can judge their wingspan within 106 per cent of their width when it comes to flying through gaps,” Dr Schiffner said.

“When you think about the cluttered environments they fly through, such as forests, they need to develop this level of accuracy.

“When they encounter a narrow gap, they either lift their wings up vertically or tuck them in completely, minimising their width to that of their torso,” he said.

The researchers wanted to know precisely how birds judge gaps between obstacles before engaging in evasive manoeuvres.

In testing, budgies flew down corridors with variable widths between obstacles, and their flights were recorded with high-speed cameras for analysis.

Dr Schiffner said the research would be applied to robotics work at the Queensland Brain Institute’s Neuroscience of Vision and Aerial Robotics laboratory.

“If we can understand how birds avoid obstacles, we might be able to develop algorithms for aircraft to avoid obstacles as well,” he said.

“For instance, urban drones used for deliveries would need to fly through complex environments such as tight alleyways or between trees at the front of homes.

“For us, it isn’t the ability to tuck in wings that is of interest if we are talking about fixed-wing or rotor aircraft, but whether we can replicate what happens neurologically in birds as they navigate.”

To judge airspeed, budgies use optic flow – the rate visual cues pass by the eyes. They do not see three-dimensionally like humans, due to the lateral placement of their eyes and lack of binocular overlap.

“Seeing in three dimensions requires two eyes or cameras with sufficient visual overlap, so using with just one camera would be very useful, saving weight and keeping autonomous vehicles small.”

The paper, Minding the gap: In-flight body awareness in birds, is published in Frontiers in Zoology.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-bird-brains-precise-humans.html#jCp


Migrating birds sprint in spring, but take things easy in autumn

Passerine birds, also known as perching birds, that migrate by night tend to fly faster in spring than they do in autumn to reach their destinations. This seasonal difference in flight speed is especially noticeable among birds that only make short migratory flights, says researcher Cecilia Nilsson of Lund University in Sweden, in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.


Nilsson, in a group led by professor Thomas Alerstam, used a tracking radar to measure over three years the speed by which flew over Falsterbo Peninsula, a bird migratory hot spot in south-western Sweden. The seasonal differences they found correspond with those recorded for other nocturnal passerine migrants at other sites in southern and northern Sweden.

The seasonal differences in airspeed are more noticeable among short distance migrant birds. Nilsson and colleagues suspect that such birds fly faster in spring because they have a greater urgency to reach their breeding grounds first and to choose the best territories, mates and other resources. While the time savings made in spring might seem miniscule, these remain important because they influence the arrival order of individual birds. In autumn, the birds take things more slowly because they are not as pressured to reach their winter grounds.

Wind is the one weather condition that influences birds’ decisions the most about when to take off. In fact, Nilsson and co-authors discovered that passerine birds can actually fine-tune their flights to make full use of winds, making their flying and subsequent migration easier. Short distant migrants have higher ground speeds (speed relative to the ground below) than airspeeds (own speed relative to the air around the bird) in both seasons. Hence, these birds make use of wind assistance. In contrast, long distance migrants often travel with airspeeds exceeding ground speeds, resulting from flying in headwinds, in autumn. These findings correlate with previous studies done at the University of Lund which showed that long distance migrants receive very little wind assistance on average.

Nilsson and colleagues also found that short distance migrants have a more flexible flight schedule, because they are able to wait for good nights. Long distance migrants on the other hand must fly on more nights to reach their destination in good time, even if it means traveling during unfavourable wind conditions. While waiting for nights with good wind conditions will save them energy, it will prolong their migration.

“These results indicate surprisingly fine-tuned seasonal modulation of airspeed and responses to wind. Associated with different behavioural strategies, passerine birds thus are adapted to different levels of time selection pressures during spring and autumn migration,” Nilsson summarizes.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-migrating-birds-sprint-easy-autumn.html#jCp


The Birds

Originally posted on Ramble On:

Lately, my Dad’s been experiencing the empty nest syndrome – and it has nothing to do with my brother and me. (We wouldn’t leave if pushed!) It’s the little family of red-vented bulbuls that had become part of our family for a few weeks that he misses.


It started with mamma bird and papa bird scouting the neighbourhood for the ideal spot for their home, however transient. And you know what they say about real estate – it’s all about location, location, location. Apparently, all the trees in the apartment complex weren’t as perfect as the curtain rods in my parents’ drawing room.



They didn’t seem afraid of us, and flew rather confidently into the room whenever they pleased. My Dad welcomed them in by leaving the balcony door open almost all the time. On the rare occasion that it was shut, they’d patiently wait outside. We also had to…

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