On the Gradual and Alarming Degradation of the Karst Springs of Anantnag

On the Gradual and Alarming Degradation of the Karst Springs of Anantnag
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Dr. Nadeem Ahmad Bhat

Nature has bestowed Kashmir Valley with ample fresh water resources in the form of snow and glaciers, lakes, springs, rivers, streams and groundwater. Towards South Kashmir, the Land of Springs , that is , Anantnag is bestowed with numerous fresh water springs. Most of the springs emanate from limestone and are termed as Karst springs. Some of these famous springs are Achabalnag, Kokernag, Verinag, Martandnag, Andernag, Hemalnag, Gajnag, Malaknag, Panzethnag and so on. For decades, the spring water has been used for drinking and domestic purposes, agriculture, aquaculture, floriculture, tourism and so on, besides having an historic importance. The water discharge of some of the springs measures hundreds to thousands of liters per minute.
However, alarmingly, according to research carried out by Dr. Ghulam Jeelani, Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, and his team, there is degradation in both the quality as well as quantity of these springs. Both natural and human factors have played a key role in disturbing this highly sensitive Karst system. Water discharge of the springs has decreased from the last 50 years due to climate change; some of the springs are totally dried up. The western disturbances, which bring snowfall and rainfall in the valley during winter and spring seasons are not much effective since the past few decades. As a result there is less snowfall and rainfall in the valley. The snow at higher altitudes lasts for few months up to June and July and after that glaciers and glacial lakes become the permanent recharging reservoirs for the streams and springs. Kolahai glacier – the main glacier of the area is also retreating very fast and is discharging less volume of water. Very low precipitation and fast retreat of Himalayan glaciers have resulted in decrease in the discharge of these springs.
According to the research work, most of the springs are recharged by the catchment streams. The water flowing through different streams of the area sinks underground and after flowing through a network of caves and solution channels comes out in the form of springs. Achabalnag is fed by Bringi Nalla near Adigam, where the water sinks into several caves or sinkholes and flows through underground for about 14 kilometers and finally appears at Achabalnag.
Similarly, Kokernag gets water from a tributary of Bringi Nalla near Gadol, located about 40 kilometers upstream from Kokernag. Martandnag, Hemalnag, Gajnag, Malaknag and Andernag are recharged from Sheshnag Nalla (on the way to Sheshnag Lake). It is pertinent to mention here that some of the Karst springs respond very quickly to hydrological events with very less response time. (Some springs like Achabalnag and Kokernag show a response time of few days)
Due to increase in population and infrastructure, there has been expansion of villages and towns more towards the mountainous regions, where the recharge sites of the springs are located. The recharge sites are perceived as being particularly suited for dumping of solid or liquid wastes, because it disappears underground as ‘out of sight is out of mind’.
The wastes containing microbes and chemicals enter into the streams and thus degrade the water quality of both streams as well as the springs. Karst environments lack the effective filtration mechanism, where breakdown of contaminants by microorganisms and by physical and chemical processes is very weak. Thus any contamination near recharge areas can lead to degradation of quality of water of streams and, in turn, the Karst springs. Although the quality of water of streams and springs is within the standards given by World Health Organization (WHO) but still there is an increase in concentration of some major ions particularly nitrates and chlorides. The reason for such pollutants in water is mainly due to agricultural and domestic waste disposals. The high concentration of chemical species is mainly observed during spring season, is due to flushing of sanitary waste disposal sites and surrounding soils in settlements without sewage and waste water treatment.
Keeping in view the above scientific facts, it is the responsibility of every citizen to preserve the precious source of water, both in terms of quality as well as quantity. The government should also take measures in preservation of these springs and also the recharge/feeding sites of the springs – in order to maintain the glory of Anantnag and the springs of the region

The author is a geologist and can be reached at: mnadeem83@gmail.com