Kongba River reels under man's vagaries
Source: The Sangai Express / Nando Waikhom

Imphal, March 09 2021: Kongba River, which has been neglected for years, is now on the brink of extinction making acres of paddy fields and agricultural lands in Imphal East district vulnerable.

Anthropogenic activities, uncontrolled discharge of untreated waste in the water have not only contaminated the river, but also disrupted its ecosystem and surroundings.

Water hyacinth and unwanted plants which grow thickly in the river block the water current at several points.

As water runs thin in the dry season, locals along the river in Kongba basin make "ring-bands" to collect water for use.

Having a catchment/watershed area of 114.594 square kilometres, Kongba River originates from the hill ranges of Senam Kom and Mapao Keithelmanbi in Sadar Hills (East) Block at a general elevation of 1421 MSL (meters above sea level).

It then descends into the Manipur valley at Sawombung Block and flows through 31.7 kilometres between Imphal River and Iril River before joining with the Imphal River at Kyamgei-Bashikhong Irong confluence in Imphal East, at a general elevation of 726 MSL.

Even though Kongba River is short and small, a good number of villages and vast paddy fields are dependent on it for daily use and irrigation purposes.

Moirangthem Mohindro, a 67-year-old resident of Uchekkon Takhok Mapal lamented that the contamination level of the river is alarming and added that it can no longer be used even for bathing, washing and other household chores.

He informed that the water from Kongba River is being pumped up and used for irrigation when the nearby paddy fields of Loumanbi, Takhok and Kachipat Loukon are running short of water during the agricultural season.

Mohindro said agriculture practice in the region has been hit hard as the river bed of Kongba River has become very shallow and prone to flood during monsoon while it remains almost dry during other seasons.

Hidam Mohen (62) from Uchekkon Khunou lamented that the river, which has helped many farmers down the years, is now dying.

Asserting that the river usually gets flooded or swollen when it rains just for two or three days consecutively due to its shallow beds, the sexagenarian added that the frequent occurrence of flash floods in Kongba River has resulted in the dying of crops in the nearby paddy fields, making farmers often plant crops twice in a year.

NIT's Assistant Professor (Water Resource) Dr Ngangbam Romeji cautioned that there is an alarming depletion in the seasonal average discharge of Kongba River when its flow data and hydrodynamic regime were examined.

Saying that only few hydrological studies or gauging have been conducted as many consider the Kongba River as an elemental sub-basin, he claimed that there has been a drastic change in the hydrological regime of the river during the last 20 years.

The Professor who conducted many research works on water sources, including Kongba River maintained that the said river has a total of 23 sub-basins (sub-watersheds) although its drainage length is just 30.70 kilometres.

"The average data (hydrological model output) of Kongba River in 2000 showed a seasonal flow of 32.48 cumecs (cubic meters per second).

However, it had gone down to 13.53 cumecs m3/s in the average 2020 seasonal study," he informed.

Informing that the amount of silt load in Kongba River has also been increasing steadily in the last two decades, Romeji said that the sediments/silt load in the river in last year was 28.803 against 17.806 gm/day in 2000.He pointed out that increasing siltation and decrease in the seasonal flow of Kongba River indicates the impact of deforestation and soil erosion on the river.

The Professor further observed that transportation of sediments in the river causes recession and incision in its flow path besides retreating floodplains and river banks.

Raising the need for immediate and holistic conservation and restoration of Kongba River, Romeji claimed that the ecological and biological characteristics of the river have severely deteriorated in terms of pH, Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) content, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) count and phytoplankton percentage.

It may be noted that BOD level is a common metric for water pollution.

When organic matters like dead plants, sewage and wastes are present in water, bacteria baareaks them down, causing much of the available dissolved oxygen being consumed by aerobic bacteria and robbing other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to live.

On the other hand, contaminants that are larger than 2 microns are termed as TDS and its moderate to high presence in water poses a lot of health hazards while pH is a measure of acidicity and base of water ranging from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral.

Meanwhile, Wanglembam Mani (53) from Kongba Uchekon asserted that many rare varieties of fishes and faunas had already disappeared from the river and no fish varieties other than "ngachik" can survive for a long time in the water of Kongba River.

Saying that many fish varieties, including Pengba, Ngaton, Ngasep and Sharengoibi were caught abundantly from Kongba River when he was young, he said that the water of the river is now even perilous for consumption by animals.

While decrying that the release of effluents and waste from drains, shops and chicken centres from urban areas like Porompat and Kongba pose serious threat to Kongba River, he conveyed that efforts of local clubs and local authorities to conserve the river do not last long with general public failing to lend support.

He also said that the effort to conserve the river will be useless until the authorities concerned install adequate dustbins along the river and bring about a proper waste management system.

Mani went on to claim that locals in and around the Kongba Bazar are facing acute shortage of water as ponds have become extinct in the area and the water from the said river is no longer usable.

Mention may be made that a NITI Aayog study in 2018 and reported by the Hindu warned that India is facing its 'worst' water crisis in history and demand for potable water will outstrip supply by 2030 if steps are not taken.

The report said that nearly 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about 2,00,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.

It noted that 21 cities will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people and if matters are to continue, there will be a 6% loss in the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050.In Manipur, it is also common to see ponds and water bodies being filled up to construct houses, buildings and other structures like community halls and playgrounds even when the communities are facing water shortage.

In addition, NIT's Assistant Professor Romeji also pointed out that the impact of gradual and compounding disposal of household waste in the river is alarming and needs immediate control and conduct "river and waste management studies" with concerted effort of the Government and experts.

It is more or less becoming an unavoidable responsibility for both the Government and public to conserve rivers and water bodies, he said.

(This feature was written under Media Fellowship on Climate Change reporting of the Directorate of Environment & Climate Change, Manipur) .

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