A latest study about the condition of the lake has revealed that almost 25 percent of its area has been lost while over 80 percent of the water body faces threat of degradation

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           The jewel of Kashmir’s tourism industry, Dal Lake, is shrinking and if immediate steps are not taken for conservation of the water body, it may get extinct in near future, a latest study has warned. While at least 80 percent of the lake, an attraction for the tourists from across the world, is facing a threat of severe to medium degradation due to multiple pressures from unplanned urbanization, high population growth and nutrient load from intensive agriculture and tourism, the lake has lost 24.49 percent of its area during the last 155 years, as per the study – “The long-term biophysical and demographic changes in Dal Lake’ – which has been conducted by Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, head of Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University. The study has quoted from multi-source data to look at the changes within the lake since 1859 and in the vicinity since 1960s and it briefly explains the reasons for the changes observed during the last 155 years while recommending for densifying a few hutments within the lake and removal of the floating garden land masses. “We have identified about 10 000 kanals of the lake area under built-up and floating gardens and some of it could be apportioned for various uses (built-up, tourist infrastructure, museums, parks and expansion of the open waters etc).

          This is a big idea (eco-tourism/economic driven (selfsustaining) model for lake conservation) that needs discussion and scientific assessment at various levels,” Ramshoo told Kashmir Leader. Over 50,000 people live in 58 hamlets within the lake and around 750 houseboats are moored in its waters. The new residential colonies coming up on the lake and tourism infrastructure along its 15.5-km-long boulevard has added to the degradation of lake’s ecosystem. “The unregulated changes in the land use and land cover within and in the vicinity of the lake have showed significant changes in the built up area. This is corroborated by the census data which shows higher than national population growth rate. These changes in the land system and demography have adversely impacted the water quality of the lake as evident from the very high concentration of nitrate nitrogen and ortho-phosphate phosphorous,” reads the study, a copy of which is with Kashmir Leader. The lake, which has shrunk from 31 to 24 square km from 1859 to 2014, has witnessed significant changes in land use and cover, apart from increasing human population, which is double the national growth rate.

            “The information about the existing land cover, demography and water quality was integrated and analysed in Geographic Information Systems to identify the trophic status of the lake. The analysis indicated that 32 per cent of the lake falls under severe degradation, 48 per cent under medium degradation while as 20 per cent of lake waters are relatively clean,” reveals the study that has attributed the degradation of the Lake to increased load of nutrients –mostly nitrogen and phosphorus – which act as fertilisers for weed growth in it. “The changes in land use, land cover and demography have adversely affected the pollution status of this pristine lake,” reads the study, adding the growth and expansion of the aquatic vegetation has reduced the open water spread of the lake to 10.5km, a reduction of 50 percent compared to the water spread in 1859. The proliferation of floating aquatic vegetation, as per the study, has severely impeded the transmission of sunlight into the lake subsurface, impairing photosynthesis and allied biogeochemical processes in the water column and thus accelerating the lake eutrophication.

The proliferation of floating aquatic vegetation in the lake has severely impeded the transmission of sunlight into the lake subsurface, impairing photosynthesis and allied biogeochemical processes in the water column and thus accelerating the lake eutrophication.

         The study has found that the drastic increase in the concentration of nitrates, phosphates and sediments has changed the trophic status of lake ecosystems as the past four decades of water quality assessments indicate deterioration of lake waters which have turned the water body from mesotrophic to eutrophic. Also, the land system changes in the catchment have led to high influx of nutrient and sediment into the lake ecosystem. To determine the changes in water quality of the Dal Lake, the study analysed seven water quality parameters from 82 well-distributed sites across the lake. “The expansion of floating gardens within the lake and agriculture lands in the catchment have contributed to the increased nutrient load into the lake due to the increasing use of fertilisers,” the study reads, revealing that the built-up area within the lake has increased by 217 per cent since 1962.

        “The increase in the built-up area coupled with changes in population and settlements have led to the high discharge of untreated nutrient-rich sewage into the lake,” reads the study. At present there are four Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in the lake but only three of them operational. Experts have been arguing that even the operational STPs located in different parts of the lake are not efficient in treating the sewage influx from the lake surroundings. Besides all the STPs are located mostly towards north of the lake and therefore a substantial amount of wastewater and storm runoff is discharged untreated into the lake from the other sides. As per the study the integrated analysis of the data revealed that the central portion of the lake, with human settlements and floating gardens, falls in a high pollution zone, primarily because of the discharge of untreated household wastes and nutrient-rich agriculture runoff into the lake. “It, therefore, becomes imperative for the lake planners to set-up additional and adequate STPs all along the periphery of the lake and a few within the settlements in the lake interiors so as to restore the quality of waters in the lake, reads the study.

         At least 80 percent of the lake area falls under medium to severe pollution threat, the study has revealed adding that keeping in view the pollution status of the lake areas, it has become imperative to set up six additional STPs, both in the lake interiors and peripheral areas. “Out of the six proposed STPs, three should be installed in the lake interiors and the remaining three along the northern part of the lake. The six proposed STPs are suggested to overcome the current deteriorating ecological condition of the lake as the existing four STPs are not sufficient and efficient enough to satisfactorily treat the wastewater influx into the lake,” the study points out. The study has, without any delay, called for devising a robust strategy for minimizing the impacts of the environmental unfriendly anthropogenic activities going on unabated in the lake interiors on the health of lake. “As is evident from the pollution status of the lake around human settlements, the increasing human-biophysical interactions observed in the lake interiors have adversely affected the overall health of the lake ecosystem,” warns the study.