Mining havoc: Impact of mining on water resources in Goa - Article from Dams, Rivers and People

Goa's valiant fighter against illegal mines, Ramesh Gauns shares the horrifying impacts of mines on rivers, groundwater and streams in Goa.
25 Jun 2011
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Pumping of water from Cavrem Sheikh Salim mine, severely lowering groundwater table in the village. Image courtesy: Sebastian Rodriguez, Mand GoaPumping of water from Cavrem Sheikh Salim mine, severely lowering groundwater table in the village
Image courtesy: Sebastian Rodriguez, Mand Goa

Dying rivers of Goa: Impact of mining on water resources

Goa is the smallest state of India with a population of 1,347,668 as per census 2001 and an area of 3,702 sq. km. Distance between North to South is 105 km while East to West it is hardly 50 kms. It is located in a very strategic location between Arabian sea to the West and Western Ghats to the East. Western Ghats in Goa covers an area of 700sq km. The coastal line is only 104 km in length where as the area of this coastal belt is only 83 sq km. Most of the tourists, around 25 lakh annually revolve around this area of the coast.

Geographically, Goa can be divided roughly into 3 categories, Sahyadri watershed, Middle plateau and the Final flood plains/alluvial flats. Goa's 11 talukas are divided according to these categories with Western Ghat talukas, Mid land talukas and Coastal talukas. Though the 4 coastal talukas of Bardez, Tiswadi, Mormugao and Salcett cover an area of only 24% of the total geographical area, they support 59% of Goa’s population. The 4 Midland talukas of Pernem, Bicholim, Ponda and Quepem cover 30% area with a population of 29%, where as Western Ghat talukas covers an area of 46% and are home to only 12% of Goa's population.

Potential threats from mining

Mining has caused severe problems to the ecology and hydrology of the tiny state and most of these have been intentionally downplayed by every office, be it state or the academicians and others. Nearly everyone is involved in mining in some way or other and hence, no one has tried to look at mining seriously and comprehensively.

As mentioned above, Goa’s North to South length is a mere 105 km length, of which 95 km comes under this mining stretch. There is no parallel in the country to this extensive mining ratio. This stretch literally divides Goa into two parts, West and East. All these mining leases occupy the plateau region of Goa. It is important to note that Goa has 9 major rivers and 42 tributaries which mainly originate in the Western Ghats. During the High tide, tidal influence is felt up to a distance of nearly 40km inside the river and further upstream movement of the saline water is blocked mainly because of the higher elevation of tributaries and the rivers flowing from the Western Ghats. With the ongoing operation of more than 800 mines in this transition region, it is feared that the insurgence of saline water will move further upstream, severely affecting water availability. The rate at which mining is progressing, this seems to be a matter of just a few more years.

Mining in Goa is concentrated in four talukas namely, Bicholim in North Goa district and Salcete, Sanguem and Quepem in South Goa district. Some 400 mining leases had been granted in Goa till 2002-03, covering approximately 30,325 Ha.

Since June 2007, 120 mining projects came up for clearance with the Ministry recommending clearance for an overwhelming 48 per cent of the projects .The remaining 52 per cent of the projects are still pending with the Ministry, but the Environment Appraisal Committee has not rejected any project.

On an average 2.5 to 3 tonnes of mining waste have to be excavated to produce tones of iron ore and approximately 55 million tones of waste will be generated every year. This is a huge quantity. The impact would be much more significant as most of the proposed mining leases are surrounded by agricultural field and since rainfall in the region is very high, overflow of mining waste will cause extensive damage to agricultural land and water bodies.

If proper action is not taken by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, then surely these small projects will eat up the existing forest and natural resources and after few years leave behind exhausted pits, filled with water.

- Centre for Science and Environment

Mining and Mandovi river - Lifeline of North Goa

River Mandovi is the largest river in Goa and is known as the lifeline of Goa. The river emerges in the Western Ghats, moving westward and meets the Arabian Sea after draining a forested area of around 43500 hectares. Basin area of Mandovi is of 1549.8 sqkm. There are more than 27 large mines operating in its catchment area with numerous loading points to load barges with iron ore for shipment to mainly China since 2004. These mines together generate about 1,01,250 tonnes of rejection per year (Centre for Science and Environment, Rich land Poor people: Is sustainable mining possible?). According to studies conducted by Dr. Sengupta, from the National Institute of Oceanography, 70000 cu tons of iron particulates get deposited in river Mandovi every year ! With rainfall of more than 120 inches and open cast mining on the hills, huge mountains of mining rejections reach this river, which is getting heavily silted.

Back in 1986, report concluded that the benthic (estuarine bottom) fauna like clams in Mandovi and Cumbarjua canal estuarine system of Goa have been severely affected by massive inputs of mining rejects and the resulting environmental stress has caused irreversible ecosystem instability. Reduced dissolved oxygen concentration; high suspended solids and blanketing of bottom deposits by mining rejects, has resulted in more than 70% reduction in clam production; near extinction of resident fauna and the appearance of a low diversity bottom fauna, comprising of tolerant but vagrant species. Ever increasing entry of mining rejects, which has reduced the healthy and highly productive estuarine environment of 1972–73, into an impoverished biotope, in less than 10 years, unless prevented will result in the total extinction of estuarine life in the near future.

- A H Parulekar, Z A Ansari, B S Ingole,1986, Effect of Mining Activities on the Clam Fisheries and Bottom Fauna of Goa Estuaries India, Proceedings Of The Indian Academy Of Sciences - Animal Sciences.

It is interesting to note that there are very few such studies available currently which compare the 1986 condition with the current condition, with many fold rise in mining rejects.

Barge carrying Coal and Iron Ore on the Mandovi. Photo with thanks from: carrying coal and iron ore on the Mandovi
Image courtesy:

Mandovi is also known as Mhadei in its upper course in Sattari, one of the talukas from Western Ghat. There are 6 mining leases here witinin a distance of just 1 km and a Dabose water supply scheme, supplying drinking water to Sattari and nearby regions !

Mining and River Zuari- Life line of South Goa

If Mandovi is the most important river of North Goa, Zuari is the lifeline of South Goa. This river has a basin of 973sq km and also emerges from the Western Ghats. There are more than 10 large mines operating along the river and playing havoc with it. These mines are generating 3330 tonnes of rejection/day, which ultimately find place in the river during monsoon, get deposited on the river bed and affect the riverine ecosystem very severely! The river banks are dotted with numerous loading points, destroying its riparian belt.

Mining and drinking water

Total area of river basins and watersheds in Goa comes to be 95.41% of the total geographical area of the state making Goa an ecologically fragile state. But with such a massive destruction of life support systems, future of the land seems bleak.

The River Khandepar is an important river on which the first project to supply water was installed by Portuguese in 1954. Its called Opa project has a capacity of 115 million litres per day (mld) and supplies water to Goa's 30% of the population, including capital city, Panaji, Ponda and 55 villages. This river has 21 mines in its catchment area within a distance of just 1 km ! The river is immensely silted yet the Water Resource Department does not take action against the polluters. PWD Engineers, on the condition of anonymity claim that in monsoons, the mineral laden mining dumps clog the pumping system and there are frequent water cuts due to this disruption in pumping (Times of India, 08/06/2008).

The turbidity levels of Kahndepar water go beyond 2000 NTU (Napheno-Turbidity Units) during monsoon whereas the water treatment project has capacity to treat water with maximum turbidity of just 200 NTU! So 30% of the population of Goa gets mineral water in the true sense, encouraging health problems like dysentery, diarrhoea mainly amongst children and aged. The siltation has also cause problems water holding capacity of the river. Hence the Government has begun pumping water from another river to add to the water in river Khandepar.

Mining in Selaulim reservoir: Sanguem is the largest taluka of Goa with an area of 836 sq km. This taluka has to its credit 295 mining leases. It has a forest area of 578 sq km with Goa’s largest reservoir called Selaulim which supplies water to 55% of Goa's population. The irony is that people from Salcett taluka hold maximum mining leases in Sanguem and consume 23% of the total water supplied, where as Sanguem people consume only 2% of tap water. There are more than 15 mining leases in the catchment of this reservoir. There are illegal mining operations in the catchment area, adjoin the reservoir banks, endangering the reservoir and rapidly increasing its siltation rate.

It virtually means that these two water sources which supply water to Goa's 85% of population are under severe threat from mining. This will have impact on water supply to people for drinking, in the near future.

The Tourism Department has quoted in Economic Survey (Page 194), a document published by Government of Goa, "The Government pipelines are either dry or do not have capacity to cater to the need of the tourism industry." Suggesting the "...commissioning of the Tillari project ( in Sindhudurga, Maharashtra) at the earliest".

This is indeed shameful. Goa has 9 major rivers and 49 tributaries, all perennial water bodies. Goa gets 120 inches of rain annually, yet, in order to support its population and the economically important tourism sector, Goa has to look to Maharashtra for water. All this because of absolutely no regulation of the mining sector which is controlled and dominated by the State and its politicians and people in power, making it difficult for the common man, to even raise his/her voice against the unlawful deeds.

19 mines within 500 m of Selaulim dam: Chief Minister Digambar Kamat agrees

The state government on Tuesday admitted that 19 mine sites are located within 500 m of Selaulim water reservoir. As per the reply tabled in the legislative assembly by chief minister Digambar Kamat, of the 19 mining sites, 17 are within 200 m of the reservoir. Kamat also conceded that nine of the mines that extract iron ore and manganese, from these sites, do not have environmental clearance.

( Times of India, 230311 )

Mining near and inside Selaulim reservoir. Photo: With thanks from Sebastian RodriguesMining near and inside Selaulim reservoir
Image courtesy: With thanks from Sebastian Rodrigues

Mounts of mining waste, with Selaulim reservoir in the background. Photo: Ramesh GaunsMounts of mining waste, with Selaulim reservoir in the background
Image courtesy: Ramesh Gauns

Water Resource Department in Goa:

The WRD does not have any data on the pollution or siltation of the water bodies in Goa due to mining. When asked under RTI on the ground water status for Goa, they provided a report prepared in 2004, jointly by CGWB & WRD – Goa, which is completely misleading. It in no way represents the true picture of Goa, but bases its conclusion on studies done for mere 14% of the total geographical area. All the mining activities are in the talukas having more than 59% of Goa's area where no study is done as per their answer to a specific question related to these talukas!

Further out of 105 mines under operation, 60% of the mines are operating below the ground water level as per the Regional office, MoEF Bangalore, stated in a joint meeting with people affected by mining !

Policy Responses:

Goa has a Draft Mineral Policy (2008) and has recently drafted Forest Policy and has put it out for comments, but there is no River Policy or Water Policy. Looking at the immense harm the mining sector is doing to the water resources in Goa, one would expect the State Mining Policy to lay guidelines for protecting the water sources. However, the Policy does not even acknowledge the impact of the sector on rivers and water bodies and does not lay any sort of guidelines regarding distance of mines from water bodies, sustainable waste disposal, safe transport of ore from rivers, etc.

Goa is preparing a Vision Document on the eve of Golden Jubilee year of Liberation, but does not think of having an exclusive policy on water, looking at the threats of mining and pollution threat to drinking water. It is clear that if Goa does not learn its lessons from the harm which has already been done, it will become a water deficient state in few years affecting not only its ecology, but its economy and life support systems too.

-Ramesh Gauns

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