Threat of Water Extraction on the Ganges

Typical daily scene along the Ganges River, with people bathing and having their ritual ablutions. ... rel=
Typical daily scene along the Ganges River, with people bathing and having their ritual ablutions. Hindu temples in the background. Varanasi, India.
© WWF / Michèle DÉPRAZ
Water withdrawal poses a serious threat to the Ganges. In India, barrages control all of the tributaries to the Ganges and divert roughly 60% of river flow to large-scale irrigation.

India controls the flow of the Ganges into Bangladesh with over 30 upstream water diversions. The largest, the Farraka Barrage, 18 Km from the border of Bangladesh, reduced the average monthly discharge of the Ganges from 2,213 m3/s to a low of 316m3/s.

The Tehri Dam, which has been under construction since 1978, became operational in 2005 and is the 5th largest dam in the world. Two hundred miles northeast of Delhi, its reservoir completely submerged 40 villages and the old Tehri town, causing the resettlement of 100,000 people.

Tehri Dam provides 270 million gallons of drinking water per day, irrigates thousands of acres of farmland and generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity mainly to the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

This is part of the 'garland of rivers' project in which the Indian government plans to link 37 major rivers (including all the major rivers flowing from the Himalayas). The rivers would be linked through a series of dams and canals spanning the subcontinent to provide stable drinking water supplies to urban and rural populations and harness some 34,000 MW of hydroelectricity.

In this US$125 billion 'interlinking of rivers' scheme, India proposes to divert vast quantities of water from the Ganges (and Brahmaputra) to support water and agriculture needs of the drought-prone states in the south and east. This would further aggravate water poverty in Bangladesh.

In addition, governments along the Ganges are heavily subsidizing electricity for tube well pumps, plan to expand surface water irrigation, and ban distribution of all surface water diversion.
 / ©: WWF
Threat to the River: Over-extraction of water
Over-extraction for agriculture in the Ganges has caused the reduction in surface water resources. This has increased dependence on ground water, the loss of water-based livelihoods, and the destruction of habitat for 109 fish species, and other aquatic and amphibian fauna.

Lowering water levels have indirectly led to deficiencies in soil organic content, and reduced agricultural productivity. Lastly, over-extraction of ground water has seriously affected water quality. Inadequate recharging of groundwater impairs the natural cleansing of arsenic which becomes water soluble when exposed to air, and threatens the health of 75 million people who are likely to use water contaminated with up to 2Mg/L of arsenic.

Climate change will exacerbate the problems caused by water extraction. The Himalayan glaciers are estimated to supply 30-40% of the water in the Ganges, which is particularly critical in the dry season prior to the monsoon rains.

The projected annual renewable water supply for 2025 indicates water scarcity. Although the Ganges catchment drains virtually all of the Nepal Himalayas and water supply per person in the basin ranges from adequate to ample, its dry season outflow (from December to February) to the sea is non-existent. Overall, excessive water diversions threaten to eliminate natural flows and severely damage people's livelihoods in the Ganges.

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