India: Conservation and management of Bhoj Wetlands (#329)

Due to substantial population growth putting increased pressure on the water resources, their quality has started to deteriorate. This is perceived as a serious issue since water is inseparably linked with the socio, economical and cultural aspects of livelihoods. Action was taken through an integrated lake conservation programme, aiming to improve water quality. The most important lesson learnt is that awareness raising, education and stakeholder participation are essential. 

Bhopal city, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, is endowed with several man-made lakes created through the centuries. The Upper Lake and Lower Lake are the most important.  The Upper Lake has special significance since it has been a source of piped water supply to the city of Bhopal for over 75 years. Even now, the lake accounts for some 40% of the city’s water supply.

Until 1947 the water quality of Upper Lake was so good that it required no treatment before being supplied to the public. However, tremendous population growth of the city (about 70,000 in 1951 to about 1.4 mil. in 2001) and rapid urban development around Lower Lake and on the eastern and northern fringes of Upper Lake subjected both the lakes to various environmental problems resulting in deterioration of their water quality mainly due to inflow of untreated sewage.

The Bhoj Wetlands of Bhopal comprises of the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake. These lakes are of immense importance since they are inseparably linked with the socio, economical and cultural aspects of the people of Bhopal and are referred as lifelines of the city.

Action taken

The Government of Madhya Pradesh implemented an integrated lake conservation programme during 1995-2004 with the financial assistance of JBIC (Japan Bank of International Cooperation).

The basic objective of the project was to improve the water quality as well as to increase the storage capacity of the lakes. The project activities involved both preventive and curative measures like increasing the storage capacity of the lake through de-silting, control of weed through de-weeding, prevention of pollution in the lake through diversion and treatment of sewage, catchment area protection through creation of buffer zone etc.

The implementation of these activities resulted in increasing the water holding capacity of Upper Lake by 4%. Post project water quality monitoring confirms improvement in water quality of the lake when compared with the data of the pre-project implementation stage. 

During implementation of conservation measures various types of administrative, social and legal issues have been encountered. The case study discusses how these issues have been addressed while implementing the conservation measures.

Lessons learned

A. A Lake and Its Catchment Must be Managed as a Composite Whole
Management of lakes and reservoirs for their sustainable use is directly linked to their catchment.

A number of measures must be taken to protect the catchment, including:

  • Developmental activity that affects its green cover and landscape should be prohibited, and developmental activities associated with human settlements in the catchment should be restricted;
  • Nonpoint source runoff (i.e., from the drains) must be trapped; and,
  • Agriculture activities in the catchment require an awareness generation, conducted via the government extension services machinery, especially to facilitate a change in fertilizer consumption patterns, from chemical to organic fertilizers.

B. Awareness Raising, Education and Stakeholder Participation are Essential

Stakeholder involvement, including lake-dependent communities and common people, should be an integral part of any management program. Their interest in the lake needs to be sustained through awareness campaigns and other eco-friendly activities.

C. Lakefront Protection is a Must

The lakefront is always prone to encroachments and pollution, thereby requiring protection as a major management action. This could be achieved by declaring a buffer zone from the full tank level of the lakes as a “No Construction Zone,” by developing and demarcating the area as a biophysical zone. Nevertheless, protecting the lakefront and water-spread area from abusers is a continuing battle.

D. Administrative and Financial Mechanisms for Expeditious Decision-Making are needed
Project implementation in a government mechanism is usually handicapped because of a maze of red tape and delays in the decision-making process. For special projects, however, there is a need for administrative and financial innovations in project execution, as has been demonstrated by various state government decisions, which helped expedite the decision-making process.

E. Continuity of Project Staff is Essential
This lesson is of utmost importance when executing a time-bound conservation project. In the project, the technical staff involved in project preparation and execution remained with the project for long periods of time, thereby facilitating project continuity. However, frequent changes of the project head during the period when its execution was in full swing affected the project implementation progress.

F. Need to Sustain Measures
By their very nature, conservation measures are never one- time activities. The sustainability of the measures must be ensured for a long period, in order to achieve fruitful results.

Importance of the case for IWRM

This case provides insight regarding the issues involved in the implementation of an integrated urban lake conservation and management project.