The Dal Lake is fed by the Arrah river, which flows through a dark and deep channel called Tel Bal. The lake is divided into four basins, namely, Hazratbal, Bod Dal, Nigeen and Gagribal. Nigeen is the deepest basin and Gagribal the shallowest. Sir Walter Lawrence wrote in his book, “Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner as pleasant as Dal Lake”. But today’s Dal is overwhelmed by pollution.
Being responsible citizens and students of Environment Sciences and Natural Resources, it hurts us a lot to see the whole ecosystem of Dal Lake as having suffered enormous damage at the hands of man, as a result of which the lake is moving towards a slow and painful death. Illegal construction around the lake has badly affected both the flora and fauna of the lake. Almost 50,000 people populate nearby small islands and household waste from them is inevitably dumped into Dal Lake. Such continuous disposal of waste has severely affected the lake’s water quality. Oxygen density in the water has come down from 10.2mg/litre to 6.8. Dissolved solids such as phosphorous and nitrogen have increased, due to which algal growth has occurred at a rapid pace. Also, there has been observed enormous change in the chemistry of water, due to which many native fish species have gone extinct and others have become threatened and vulnerable.
The increasing presence of nitrate and phosphorous due to untreated sewage received by Dal Lake has given birth to a few harmful plant species, like Azolla pinnata and Eichornia which pose a threat to other life forms in the lake. The lake which once covered an area of 75 square kilometres has shrunk to 12 square kilometres in the last two decades. The lake’s depth has also come down by nearly 12 meters. According to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, nearly 80,000 tonnes of slit, 31,000 kg of nitrates, and 4,000 kg of phosphates are added annually to the lake. In the past three decades, nitrate and phosphate-rich water has been responsible for gastrointestinal diseases for people living around the lake and also for different non-native species of animals and plants growing in the lake. However, due to its location and beauty, tourist rush remains round the year due to which excessive pollutants in the form of swage are added.
In 1938, biologist Jacob visited Kashmir and reported 16 fish species of Schizothorax. Unfortunately, due to pollution and unregulated fishing, the number of the species has reached five, according to Head of Fisheries Department at SKAUST, Dr Masood ul Hassan.
There is an immediate need to formulate an ecologically sound management plan that helps to conserve the lake in a real ecological sense. The first and foremost step to combat pollution would be to construct more STPs and check the amount of untreated sewage flowing into the lake. Steps should be taken to involve more people to create awareness, especially among hotels and local shops, as this would help to keep waste disposal at bay. The recent decision to declare Dal Lake as a protected wetland should be given practical shape with immediate effect, so that violators, illegal poaching, and illegal construction can be regulated by the Environment Protection Act and Wetland Conservation and Management rules. There is a dire need of measures by the Department of Fisheries to keep the fish population in equilibrium with the lake ecology and to prevent further extinction of native Schizothorax species. Besides this, LAWDA in collaboration with other agencies associated with environment protection must explore environment-friendly strategies for the management and conservation of such an important wetland site.
Abrar Yousuf Mir is an MSc student and Shiekh Marifatul Haq is a research fellow at School of Biological Sciences, University of Kashmir.