19.54 to 3.6 kms: Ancharlake on verge of extinction

Encroachments, pollution take a toll on water body Govt looks the other way

Once known for its crystal clear waters, the Ancharlake here is on the verge of extinction due to the failure of the state government to take measures for its conservation.
In absence of any regulation by the successive regimes, the lake has been marred by extensive encroachments, pollutions and siltation for the past over two decades. Studies reveal that the lake has shrunk from 19.54 to 3.6 kms.
The Ancharlake receives major lease of its waters from Dal lake through Nallah Amir Khan via Gilsar and Khushalsar. Besides a network of channels from Sindh river feeds the lake from its western shore. The lake is also fed by springs within the basin and along the periphery and finally merges with Jhelum river at Sangam.
The lake has approximately 66 sq.kms of catchment comprising of long stretches of elevated land on the northwest, which is used for raising different types of vegetation including agricultural fields, apple orchards and willow plantation.
Numerous springs feeding Anchar have been completely choked by dumping of garbage and inflow of drains. “Anchar received fresh lease of water from these springs, however most of them disappeared under constructions,” said Muhammad Sultan, 75, a local while pointing towards several structures at ShalbafhMohalla on the banks of Anchar. 
A large stretch of the lake behind SKIMS Soura has turned into a marsh due to emptying of drains and dumping of garbage. “This was the most beautiful area of Anchar thronged by tourists for shikara ride. Sadly, official apathy has turned it into a cesspool,” said Sultan.   
Environmentalists said pollution is taking heavy toll on the lake’s flora and fauna. “This famous water body has become a messy conglomerate of hutments, hospital waste, radh fillings, floating gardens with huge sedimentation. Bathymetric survey and satellite imagery records the decrease to less than four kms of water expanse,” said Abdul MajeedBhat, an environmentalist and geo-scientist.
“Algal blooms, Azolla and coliform provide death knell to the lake’s survival. Decrease in nadru, fish and chestnuts production indicates the lake is in its last throes,” Butt said.
Dr MRD Kundangar, a noted environmentalist who has conducted many studies on Anchar said its water quality has extensively deteriorated due to pollution. 
“The ingress of heavy loads of untreated sewage directly discharged into Anchar from its immediate catchment and Gilsar and Khushalsar lakes has affected its water quality. The uncontrolled use of pesticides and weedicides in the paddy fields and orchards in the catchment is also posing serious threat to it. Most of the zones near habitations have become dumping sites of all allochanthus and non-allochanthus materials which has resulted in chocking of the body and hampered the flow of waters,” DrKundangar said.
Experts said the overall degradation has seriously affected livelihood of large communities living in and around Anchar through decline in fish productivity, prolific growth of aquatic vegetation, loss of biodiversity, decline in water bird population and water quality deterioration.
“The main disturbance in the lake is from the heavy silt flowing from the Sind nallah. The siltation process has greatly affected the lake ecosystem, resulting in the formation of the extensive marshlands. Large chunk of peripheral areas, especially on its eastern banks have been encroached upon by the people, by filling it and changing into vegetable gardens and even into residential areas,” said DrKundangar. 
Experts recommended immediate conservation measures including dredging out land mass including the willow plantations and restoration of waterways to improve circulation of Anchar.
The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) entrusted with conservation of Dal Lake, last year submitted an action plan to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India for restoration of Anchar and its adjoining lakes.
The restoration plan submitted under the National Lake Conservation Programme envisages arresting raw sewage by establishing a sewage network, improvement in hydrology, regulation of flows, dredging and beautification of peripheries of the lake. However, LAWDA officials said the project has not been approved yet. .
Union Tourism Ministry had also announced to fund the restoration of Anchar, Gilsar and Khushalsar in view of their immense tourism potential. 
“We have submitted a proposal for restoration of these lakes to the Ministry, however we are awaiting sanction from it to start the conservation works,” said Director Tourism, TalatParvez.

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