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EVEN as heavy rains are battering Assam and Gujarat, people in Tamil Nadu are desperately looking to the skies for relief. The vagaries of nature have not just put farm-ers in a fix but also residents of the Cauvery delta who are reeling under shortage of portable water. With no rain in sight, there are ominous signs that the drought is likely to prolong. The unprecedented low water levels in Met-tur dam has sparked off fear among farmers. With only 50 per cent of storage levels attained compared to the previous year when the dam's sluice gates were opened on September 20,2016, current low water levels might further delay the dam's opening this year. That is unless rain hits the Cauvery catchment area. As on July 26,2017 (Wednesday) morning, the water level in Mettur Dam stood at 28 feet, compared to 56.75 feet against the Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of 120 feet last year. Though the majority of the delta districts rely on the northeast monsoon, for samba (long-term paddy) cultivation, the Mettur Dam water levels play a key role.

Last year, as the poor monsoon in the Cauvery catch-ment area and non-adherence of the Karnataka government to pursue orders of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) in releasing water to Tamil Nadu, waters of the dam did not flow. Samba cultivation took a massive hit in the delta, as was the case with kuruvai. In the last five years, kuruvai cultivation was deemed a failure. Speaking to Express, Mahadanapuram V Rajaram, working president of the Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, said "We have never seen water levels in Mettur dam at the 25 to 28 feet range during July-August. This is a precarious condition and farmers fear the worst for samba crops. It looks like the opening of Mettur dam could be delayed even further this year." The last time samba paddy cultivation provided a good yield was in 2014-2015 and it was normal in 2015-2016. Because of the unprecedented drought in 2016-2017, the year turned out to be the worst-ever samba season, followed by a poor kuruvai crop, resulting in a double whammy for farmers. Unlike previous years, where the ground-water supported farmers and residents, in yet another blow the groundwater table in delta districts except for Thanjavur has depleted this year. Meanwhile, in south interior Karnataka, where all major reservoirs, including Harangi, 1 lemavathi, KRS and Kabini, contribute surplus water to Mettur Dam, deficient rainfall has been recorded between June 1 and July 21, 2017.

According to an IMD re-port, actual monsoon in south interior Karnataka fell by 23 per cent. This means it is doubtful that the Karnataka government would raise sluice gates of these reservoirs unless there is constant rain for days on end in the Cauvery catchment area in south interior Karnataka. 'The situation would be scary if Mettur dam is opened like last year and in a worst-case scenario, if the dam's opening is delayed later than in 2016. Samba paddy cultivation will become costly. Yet another samba failure would lead to an unimaginable impact on livelihoods of the farming community," said Puliyur Nagarajan, state president of the Tamil Maanila Congress farmers' wing.He added, "With water levels in the four major reservoirs contributing to Mettur dam nearing FRL, farmers here have asked the State and Centre to persuade Karnataka release at least 20,000 cusecs of water per day to Tamil Nadu so that water levels at Mettur dam could rise by at least one foot a day?' K P Ramalingam, president of the Tamil Nadu Natural Waterways Production Move-ment, said the Mettur dam's opening any-time after the first week of September will be of no use to farmers, as it was last year.

source:epaper. newindianexpress. com//c/20881719 

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