THE three-year drought that Karnataka has been facing, brought on primarily by the continuous failure of the southwest monsoon, has had a major impact on both surface water and groundwater systems in the Cauvery basin. Inflows into the Cauvery water reservoirs have reduced drastically. This has affected agriculture all through the Cauvery basin, both in Karnataka and in Tamil Nadu. According to figures released by the Karnataka government, the normal area sown in the command areas of the Cauvery river system is 4.5 lakh hectares. In 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 the sown area was only 2.39 and 2.38 lakh ha respectively. This dropped to 2.10 lakh ha in 2003-2004, which is only 46 per cent of the normal area.
The southwest monsoon, which contributes 80 to 90 per cent of the annual rainfall in the catchment area of the Cauvery, sets the pattern for the kharif crop extending up to November-December. It also determines the reservoir storage position. "For the last three years, the rainfall has been significantly below normal in the Malnad and coastal regions," said V.S. Prakash, who heads the Drought Monitoring Cell of the Karnataka government. "Even Wynad, where the rainfall contributes directly to the Kabini reservoir from where releases to Mettur are made, received only 62 per cent of the normal rainfall," he told Frontline. The combined storage position in the four reservoirs of the Cauvery basin was 11.5 tmc ft at the beginning of January 2004 as against 21.7 tmc ft on the same date last year. The water released to Mettur, measured at Biligundlu, was 6.4 tmc ft in December 2003, 2.45 tmc ft in January and 1.05 tmc ft in February.
"Every farmer sows his crop and then lives on the hope that the rainfall position will improve," said Prakash. "In Karnataka, the major cropping season is dependent on the southwest monsoon. Additionally, we also depend on it for our drinking water needs. And there is no question of Karnataka farmers being able to raise a summer crop in the command area."
The State government made an appeal through the media asking farmers to cut back on paddy and sugarcane cultivation owing to the deficient rainfall and the difficult reservoir position. As a result, the area under semi-dry crops went up by 15 per cent. In addition to this, the State government also went in for 90 days of cloud seeding to alleviate the water distress, the areas of concentration being the command area below the Cauvery basin reservoirs comprising the districts of Mandya, Mysore, Chamrajanagar and Bangalore Rural. According to official sources, at this time last year the Cauvery canals carried a flow of 1,500 cusecs whereas this year the flow is just 50 cusecs. This is because the drinking water supply of 38 urban centres, including Bangalore, is dependent on the storage level of the reservoir.