Irrigation to several farms have been stopped, water is at it lowest levels in many of the tanks and dams. The punishing drought has already produced parched fields, pockets of smog and an impending crisis. The question is are we ready?
One of the severest droughts that has been converging on many parts of the country has sucked soils dry, and sharply reduced the water levels at reservoirs prompting the government to brace not just for blackouts, but a bleak drinking water scarcity.
“The ongoing dry spell will put many provinces at an acute risk of running out of drinking water by mid- March unless we receive sufficient rainfall which is highly unlikely,” said Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Dinesh Gunawardena. “Our reservoirs and dams at present are retaining what seems to be the lowest level of water in years.”
Earlier this week, the Minister brought to the notice of the Cabinet, the unsatisfactory status of some of the major water treatment plans in the country citing that the drips are coming to an end and if water is not conserved, and apt requirements are not coordinated by the respective institutions, no amount of last ditch efforts will hold water.
“The President understood the severity of the situation and has issued strict instructions that priority should be for supplying drinking should the problem escalate,” he added. “According to weather reports, although there has been sporadic rainfall, it hasn’t been sufficient in the catchments areas.” He asserted that the prevailing droughts have also caused increased salinity intrusion to many of the main rivers prompting the Water and Drainage Board to place immediate stopgaps.
Salinity and consumption
“Its no secret that we are facing an issue of salinity intrusion at many of the rivers,” said General Manager of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, Engineer B.W.R Balasuriya. “We have seen this with the Kelani River late last year, it has worsened at the Kalu Ganga because of the influx of low tide and high tide as such we’ve had to close the mouth of the river until the next rainy season.”
He added that sand bags were placed at the Kelani River and it served a successful temporary measure to ensure that water salinity does not go upstream.
“The present crisis brought on by the drought is understandable and as such we now have meetings every Friday to ensure all stakeholders are up-to-date with the information they need,” he said. “Our water supply should last us until April when the next rainy season will take over to replenish the rivers.”
When inquired of a drinking water scarcity, he added that it was decided that water would not be released to farmers for irrigation and the Water Board would retain the minimum amount available for drinking.
“Despite our pleas to conserve water and use treated water only for drinking/cooking purposes, we have noticed that consumption has spiked greatly during the last few months compared to the years before,” he said. “It could be due to humidity, but we still urge consumers to conserve whenever possible and use other sources of water (wells) when necessary.”