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Uttarakhand’s Kosi river is dying; only an immediate intervention will save it

From Catch News: Uttarakhand’s Kosi river is dying, which could spell doom for the region. Data from the last 25 years shows that the lean flow capacity of the river during summers has witnessed a massive, over 700%, drop, while the river’s total length has reduced from 225 kilometers to just 41 in 40 years.

Akash Bisht, Catch News

The Kosi river in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region is dying, and experts suggest that if immediate measures are not taken to rejuvenate the river, it could spell doom for the region. Data from the last 25 years shows that the lean flow capacity of the river during summers has witnessed a massive, over 700%, drop.

Equally worrying is the fact that the constant neglect and lack of foresight by successive governments has resulted in a shortening of the river’s total length from 225 kilometers to just 41 in the last 40 years.

This has worried experts, who believe that if “biological or mechanical measures” are not taken, the perennial nature of the river could be affected, possibly even leading to the river’s disappearance altogether.


Professor JS Rawat, who teaches Geography at Kumaon University in Almora, has been studying the river for the last 25 years, and his research shows that the flow discharge in the river has been in a state of constant decline.

From a high of 790 liters/second in 1992, the Kosi’s discharge fell to a paltry 50 liters/second in 2016. “This is a disaster waiting to happen considering that people of more than 350 villages and towns live on its banks and use its water for multiple purposes,” Rawat warns.

Courtesy Prof. JS Rawat

The summer flow of non-glacial rivers of Uttarakhand, including the Kosi, is dwindling very fast, largely due to low groundwater recharge as a result of a disturbance in rainfall rhythm brought on by man-made climate change. Rawat warns that if immediate measures to revive the Kosi are not taken, it will become a seasonal river within the next two to three decades.

“Recent hydrological surveys in the non-glacial fed river system, viz., the Kosi river have shown that there are two sharp hydrologic indicators which warrant that if no immediate mechanical and biological measures of river regenerative measures were taken in the recharge zones, the perennial river systems of the Kosi watershed shall disappear in near future and the watershed shall lead towards desertification,” he says ominously. Put simply: A swift and decisive intervention is needed if we are to save the Kosi from drying up.


Considering his deep interest in reviving the river, Rawat offers a solution to stop the Kosi from disappearing. In his 25-year-long research, he has identified 14 recharge zones and 1,820 rain-fed streams that, according to him, could be of significant help in reviving the river.

Rawat suggests that biological and mechanical measures are the only answer, and has even prepared a detailed plan on how to go about saving this pristine river. “Biological measures, include planting more trees, shrubs and other plants for groundwater augmentation in the recharge zones. Mechanical measures would include rainwater harvesting by building check dams upstream of the river to ensure constant flow in the river during the lean months,” he says.

The areas of the watershed above the origin points of perennial streams are the major source areas of rain water infiltration which feed the perched aquifers in hills that provide groundwater flow to the perennial streams. Thus, the headwater regions, which recharge groundwater aquifers, are termed as recharge zones.

Such headwater recharge areas of the Kosi watershed have been delineated using the GIS (Geographic Information System) technique, and these 14 different recharge zones provide groundwater to the 90 perennial streams within and outside the Kosi watershed.

Rawat also presents a detailed account of these 14 recharge zones, and suggests a coordinated action plan be undertaken in these zones. He explains that to regenerate the dead stream network of the watershed, massive mechanical treatment has to be done which includes construction of infiltration holes, infiltration wells, infiltration trenches, bio-percolation tanks and check dams in the 14 recharge zones.


Underlining the need of biological treatment through afforestation and horticultural development, Rawat wants support from Uttarakhand’s Department of Forests, Irrigation and Horticulture, and the Uttarakhand Tea Board.

“However, the problem is that if you approach any of these departments, they would say how river rejuvenation is not part of their department’s responsibility,” Rawat reveals, exposing the sort of government apathy that has lead to this precarious situation. “It is for this reason that I propose creation of a Uttarakhand River Regeneration Authority (URRA) for regeneration of dying non-glacial and glacial fed rivers. The Kosi River Regeneration plan may be the pilot project of the State in this regard for which a detailed work plan has been worked out for implementation of river regenerative measures,” he adds, offering a solution that will guarantee responsibility and accountability.

Like many other rivers in the region, the Kosi is a non-glacial and rain fed river which makes the job of saving it even trickier. Originating from Dharpani in Kumaon, the Kosi passes through Almora before entering Ramnagar district, after which it enters Uttar Pradesh where it joins the Ramganga.

Importantly, a large part of the Kosi’s catchment falls in Corbett National Park and is a major source of drinking water for the wildlife that inhabits this pristine landscape. The river is also one of the few remaining habitats of the elusive Mahseer fish, whose populations have dwindled in the last few years.

Rising pollution levels are also threatening the existence of the river and, despite several reprimands by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), experts claim that not much has happened on ground. The NGT has raised the issue of several resorts on the banks of the river in Corbett flushing their waste into the river, thus endangering the lives of wild animals.

The river’s condition has also been worsened thanks to the widening of NH 109 between Khaina and Almora. This road widening has resulted in tonnes of untreated solid waste being dumped in the river over the last year, further threatening its flow. If action isn’t taken swiftly, Rawat’s worst fears could be realised in the near future.

River inter-linking: India’s $168 billion ‘development’ nightmare
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The project envisages the building of many dams, canals and tunnels, which will lead to a huge social and environmental cost. The proposed Ken-Betwa link alone will destroy over 4,100 hectares of forests. If a single project of interlinking could accrue such an environmental cost, what will be the impact of 30?

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The Isha Foundation has for long been embroiled in controversies related to construction and expansion in forests of Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. The state government departments had also submitted in the Madras high court that the foundation violated norms. Giving Isha Foundation company in this campaign is the Adani Group, whose Adani Ports & SEZ Limited was found guilty of “multiple violations, immense ecological destruction and illegal reclamation of land in Gujarat”. This had led to the environment ministry imposing the highest penalty ever on a company, of Rs 200 crore, later modified when a change of guard happened at the Centre.

Sabarmati riverfront, inland waterways, Mahanadi dispute, are all newer forms of onslaught on rivers
The Sabarmati River Front has been in the news lately as a model of “river beautification”. When in reality, it is a dead river, filled with effluents and sewage. It was “rejuvenated” with Narmada water, which came at a great cost of the displacement of lakhs of people and destruction of the environment.

How the disastrous Ken-Betwa link project endangers India’s tigers, rivers and mountains
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Ken-Betwa river-linking project, if realised, will destroy livelihoods and ecology, including a portion of the Panna Tiger Reserve. Curiously enough, ground reports show that farmers in the project area are themselves not keen on it. Also included is a documentary, ‘Links of a Broken Chain’, as well as a detailed technical analysis of the project.


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One Response “Uttarakhand’s Kosi river is dying; only an immediate intervention will save it”

  1. Johnson Dantis
    4th March 2018 at 11:06 am

    It is really foolish on the part of writers, publishers and so called intellectuals to make statements like ‘River is dying’, ‘soil is getting destroyed’, ‘earth is dying’ while writing articles, journals etc.

    The fact is Earth has enough time and intelligence to get re-organized and reshape everything. In other words, humans will become extinct as a species if the resources and conditions which make earth habitable for them changes.

    So please stop making such foolish statements – as on reading such headlines, many people think someone else is dying and this is not meant for humans . To make this clear, most of them think when you make statement “River is dying” it is nothing to do with them but it is someone else’s problem, such as Earth and river. That we will carry on with Business as Usual as we are superior and can solve anything we need when needed. I hope many may wake up if you make headline statement like because of “River dying, all humans will die with it who are depending on it.”

    Assume if all species die for some reason like volcano, earth quake or some astronomical event taking place. Earth will re-organize and make river flow again in thousands of years – only human and other species will vanish.

    So making statement like we need to “save earth” shows only how arrogant human beings have become without understanding its roots. It does not signify anything else. So It is high time to have any real impact on others, please change your statement that humans will become extinct in due course when you associate with any aspect of earth such as rivers, plants, other species etc. In short ‘Stupid, it is not the earth that is dying as it does not need us for its functioning, but we who need the earth and its conditions for survival’.

    Please wake up before making such outlandish and foolish statements as it will be too late soon (or is it already late, not sure) – the way we are going to bankruptcy in all spheres of life and have taken everything for granted.

    We cannot save anything, but can preserve or save ourselves by following the laws of nature and living within its limits. Earth and its system is too complex for anyone to even comprehend. Let us be humble about this.

    For you to be humble, you need to know many things and how they work in this complex interconnected system. People need to at-least spend 10-15 years of time in their life to really based on their intellect and ability to experience things to find how holistic everything is, and how interconnected the earth is, which allows this modern/industrial world to function. You need to go through few thousands of histories of scientific development and its implications.

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