The week of 24 to 27 November 2014 saw a unique gathering in New Delhi. Possibly for the first time in India, social activists, environmentalists, academics, researchers, project-affected people and grassroots workers all came together to celebrate India’s rivers, and the role they play in our society, economy and ecology. The gathering was called India Rivers Week (IRW), and was subtitled Rivers in Crisis.
While the reason to convene the Rivers Week may have been the crisis that faces our rivers, the gathering itself was a celebration of rivers, their contribution, and the many struggles and efforts to protect and conserve our rivers. IRW was organised by the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP), INTACH, Toxics Link, WWF and Peace Institute.
The Conference was inaugurated by a keynote delivered by well-known water expert and former secretary of the Central Water Resources Ministry, Shri Ramaswamy Iyer, while Shri Jairam Ramesh, former Minister for Environment and Forest was the chief guest. Minister for Water Resources, Sushri Uma Bharati delivered the valedictory address.
However, some of the most important discussions of the Conference took place between these two high profile events.
While it was not an academic conference, the IRW spent two days on extended deliberations on four key issues – What is a River (defining a river)? What are the essentials of a healthy river? What are the main threats to a river? Last but not the least, what would be a road map to river restoration?
While defining a river might sound trivial, in practice, it has serious legal and regulatory implications. Most of the time, a river is understood very narrowly – only as the water that flows through it. This leads to legally permitted interference in rivers like floodplain encroachment, embankments, the regulation of flows through dams etc.
The IRW deliberations came out with a holistic description of a river indicating that a river is much more than just water, that even the flow needs to be understood down to its constituents such as water, silt and sediment, nutrients; that the floodplains and many channels entering the river are part and parcel of it; that the aquatic and terrestrial bio-diversity is an integral part of the river; and that a river performs many functions beyond the economic and commercial, including social, cultural, ecosystems and life support. The IRW has recommended that laws to protect rivers be designed keeping this holistic understanding in mind.
hey say 350,000 litres of furnace oil spilled in the river will cause serious ecological disaster in the biggest mangrove forest in the world.
Forest officials say oil from the tanker which sank early on Tuesday after being hit by another vessel spread around 20 kilometres of Shela River until the afternoon.
The situation was getting worse as the local government offices including the forest department and Mongla Port Authority had no tools to control or clean up the oil spill.
Sundarbans east region Divisional Forest Department official Amir Hussain Chowdhury told bdnews24.com: "The Mrigmari-Nandabala-Andharmanik dolphin sanctuary is facing serious threat due to the oil spill. The sanctuary may have to be moved."
The Sundarbans is the biggest roaming ground for this kind of dolphins, known as Irabati Dolphins or locally as Sushuk. The area adjacent to the Shela River has been declared sanctuary for the dolphins by the government.
Biodiversity and ecology researcher Pavel Partha told bdnews24.com: "The oil will reduce the amount of oxygen in the water. This will create a crisis for all the aquatic animals including the dolphins."
He was concerned that the plants and aquatic resources of the mangrove forest would be fatally harmed.
His concerns were also echoed by Khulna University's environmental science department Prof Dilip Kumar Dutta.
"This huge amount of oil on the water would heavily affect the coastal biodiversity for a long time," he said.
He said there was a slim chance that high and low tide would clean up the oil from that part of the river fast because water flow in the downstream was not strong.
Efforts to revive the Snowy River are continuing with a major water release from Lake Jindabyne Dam on 14 October.
More than 10,000 megalitres of water flowed down the river in just eight hours, the biggest single pulse in a two-week flush designed to mimic the spring snow melt.
The high-volume release was part of continued efforts to restore the parched river, which was reduced to just 1 per cent of its annual flow rates by the construction of the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
The scheme, providing hydro-generated electricity to the national power grid, took 25 years to build and was completed in 1974.
The latest water release was the fourth annual pulse designed to flush accumulated sediment from the riverbed and make it easier for fish to spawn.
Simon Williams from the New South Wales Office of Water said the tactic was proving effective in the stretch of river just below the dam wall.
"Its enough to create a healthier channel, a more defined channel," he said.
But Snowy River Alliance chair John Gallard said total environmental flows were still short of the 21 per cent agreed to by New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth in 2002.
"We only have 15 or 16 per cent at max," he said.
Twenty-one per cent of the river's pre-dam flow equated to 212 gigalitres, but because some of the water entitlements bought for the environment were dependent on weather conditions elsewhere only 157 would actually flow past the dam this year.
Louise Crisp from Environmental East Gippsland said at Marlowhere the Snowy meets the sea, it remains choked with sediment.
"In the long term what we need is considerably more water to actually have an impact right down to the mouth of the river and keep it open as it once was," she said.
Indigenous groups who lived and fished on the unrestricted Snowy River agreed.
Local elder Alison Williams said the project brought traditional knowledge and Western science together.
"The water plays a pretty significant role in the way we occupy our land," she said.
"Our story lines run from the Murrumbidgee down to Orbost [in Victoria].
"Given that the climate's changing and the environment is changing we rely on that water and we have to walk that path together."
Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust (AK), a nonprofit organization conserving the environment and resources of southwest Alaska, received the prestigious National Land Trust Excellence Award from the Land Trust Alliance during its annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island.
The award, presented Sept. 18 during the welcoming dinner of Rally 2014: The National Land Conservation Conference, celebrates the dedication and passion of Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. It also honors the efforts of the organization in broadening support for land conservation, showing initiative in collaborating with others, and creating innovative communications, education and outreach solutions. Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust Executive Director Tim Troll accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
Bud Hodson, chairman of the board of Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, said 2014 is a particularly meaningful year to receive this award.
“This year is the 25th anniversary of the land trust movement in Alaska,” he said. “In 1989, our state enacted the Uniform Conservation Easement Act, and the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust was formed. We followed a path pioneered by our sister land trusts in Alaska. For us, this recognition underscores the importance of the conservation work yet to be done in Alaska and the critical role land trusts will play in that work.”
In addition to helping protect 23,000 acres, Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust has worked to protect the region’s water and fish, increased understanding of the effects of mining and climate change on wild salmon, and educated youth about conservation by keying its efforts to the local sport fishing culture.
“One example of its significant impact in the region is the role it played in a local citizens’ effort to challenge the reclassification of state lands in Bristol Bay,” said Michael P. Dowling, chairman of the Land Trust Alliance Board of Directors. “The state is the largest landowner in Bristol Bay, and in 2005, the state reclassified most of its lands to allow for easier permitting of development projects. The land trust took the lead in the development and drafting of a science-based, alternative plan from citizens that ultimately helped convince the state to restore protective wildlife habitat classifications on 2.9 million acres and recreation classifications on 1.2 million acres of state land in Bristol Bay.”
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