The days of the picturesque Umiam Lake, also called Barapani that greets tourists driving up to Shillong from the plains, seems numbered.
A Meghalaya House committee report says due to rampant siltation and dumping of waste, the lake is filling up at an alarming rate and its lifespan may not extend beyond 2024.
Created by damming the Umiam River in the early 1960s, the principal catchment area of the lake and dam is spread over 220 square km.
Umiam Dam, which impounds the lake, was built by the Assam State Electricity Board in the early 1960s.
The dam’s original purpose was to store water for hydroelectric power generation. The Umiam Stage I powerhouse, north of the lake, has four 9-MW turbine-generators, which entered commercial operation in 1965.
At that time, engineers said the lake and the hydel project’s lifespan will be at least 100 years.
But hydro-engineers now say the lake’s lifespan will be less than half of that.
Last week, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma called for urgent action to save the Umiam Lake, calling for both short term and long term measures to clean up the Umiam Lake.
He suggested that a committee with officials from Forest, district administration, MeECL, Shillong Municipal Board, District Council and Water Resources be instituted to work out measures for cleaning the lake.
“While the government will definitely look into long term measures to clean Umiam Lake, it is urgently required to stop further waste being dumped into the lake,” he said.
Sangma’s call to action was prompted by a report of the Meghalaya Assembly Committee on Environment which has expressed concern over the shrinking lifespan of the Umiam lake and the dam that sustains it.
“We have some technical reports that the Umiam Dam’s lifespan will not extend beyond 2024,” said committee member Himalaya Shangpliang said after a visit to the dam site.
Recently pictures of a dirty Umiam lake went viral on social media.
“If the lifespan is only till 2024 so what will happen later. I want all stakeholders to be alert. Now siltation is happening in the Umïam Lake and that has to stop… there is serious siltation that is happening which is coming all the way from Shillong city and other adjoining towns,” Shangpliang said.
Shangpliang also said that during their visit to the dam area, he found out that people living in the vicinity make a livelihood out of the wastes collected in the dam.
According to him these people make Rs 18 per kilogram. “Their profit is more when there is heavy rainfall. But we won’t encourage this,” Shangpliang said.
The Umiam Lake has emerged as a huge tourist attraction over the years.
With pine forests fringing the water and a view of the undulating Khasi Hills, the locale has all the makings of a great holiday hot spot. Water sports like kayaking and water skiing are on offer, along with boating and angling.