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Tribune Special
Poor quality groundwater in Punjab
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 12
In what is a shocking warning on the deteriorating condition of underground water in Punjab, a recent study has produced evidence that large tracts of land in the state are being irrigated with poor quality water. It forewarns against the continuous use of such water as it will lead to a drop in crop yield - the biggest source of income and the backbone of the economy in this ‘‘granary of India’’.

A study by the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, Ludhiana, with inputs from the New Delhi-based National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, says only 42.3 per cent of the farmlands in the entire state are irrigated with good quality water. The rest of the water is classified into three categories. Poor quality, that is totally unfit for irrigation , 7.7 per cent; saline quality, having high salt content, is used in 5.3 per cent of the area; and lastly it is the sodic quality, having a high content of residual sodium bicarbonate, used 42.1 per cent of the state.

The districts of Bathinda and Moga have only 19.77 per cent and 14.98 per cent of good quality water, respectively. The others on the low-end of the scale are Muktsar, Mansa, Faridkot, Sangrur and Amritsar where good quality water is just available to 38 per cent, 35 per cent, 33 per cent, 34 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

In comparison, Gurdaspur is the best district with 87. 58 per cent good quality water. Ludhiana (78 per cent), Ropar (70 per cent), Fatehgarh Sahib (68 per cent) and Hoshiarpur (66 per cent), are among the better districts. The good quality water is present along the flood plains of the river Satluj due to regular recharge of groundwater with fresh water.

As a part of the study, samples from a total of 3,940 tubewells across the state were collected and a comprehensive analysis was carried out. This is part of a booklet ‘‘National Resources Information for Sustainable Agriculture in Punjab’’, collated by the remote sensing centre last week. Already depleting underground water level has been the cause of worry for planners and agriculturists.

First is poor quality of water that is totally unfit for irrigation. Over 42 per cent of the samples in Moga district were found to be of poor quality while Bathinda, Muktsar and Faridkot, have 24.32 per cent, 19.35 per cent, 10.61 per cent and 8.47 per cent of poor quality water, respectively. In these four districts the availability of good quality water is among the lowest. It is either poor, saline or sodic quality. Sangrur, and Amritsar also have small pockets of poor quality water. The study says this type of water will cause serious problems to crop yields and restrict soil health.

Saline water can cause salt accumulation on crop root zones. This type of water is used extensively in the districts of Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa and Patiala, respectively. This needs to be mixed with canal water or has to be used in well drained area to avoid accumulation of salt, the findings of the study say. This can render agricultural land useless.

Sodic quality of water is largely found in varying quantities across the state. The worst being Kapurthala that has 71.39 per cent of such water. Other areas largely affected by this phenomena are Sangrur, Moga, Patiala, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Faridkot. The findings warn of indiscriminate use of such water while suggesting the addition of gypsum to overcome it.

It may be recollected that the matter of poor quality groundwater was raised by farmers in Bathinda when the President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had come for a function four months ago.

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