BHUBANESWAR: Pressure on freshwater supply and climate change are not the only perils Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary stares at in not so distant future. The mangrove ecosystem so critical to Odisha's identity and existence is set to be suffocated and stifled by a growing load of pollution from industrial, mining as well as human activities.
The basins of Brahmani and Baitarani are home to dozens of industries that include some of India's major Central PSUs in steel, aluminium, coal, thermal power apart from private industries in fertilizers, ferrochrome and cement, and standalone mines among others.
The pressure they exert on river Brahmani is immense - not just in terms of drawal of water but also waste water generation. The Hydro-ecological Assessment of Bhitarkanika report by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) quotes data to throw light on enormity of the situation and why State’s second Ramsar site needs an integrated management system in place now more than ever.
Raw water estimated at 86.26 million cubic meter (MCM) is drawn from the river every year for industry and mining activities. There are at least 10 mines spread over a combined 7,450 hectare that consume over 15,800 kilo litre (KL) water daily.
Waste water from discharge from these mines stands at a staggering 9,480 KL. Brahmani river remains the most vulnerable.
Water samples collected from highly-industrialised Angul in Brahmani basin to determine quality status carried out in past decades showed upstream sites had 10 times lower concentration of heavy metals than downstream site samples.
Fly ash generated during power plant operations and ash ponds in coalfield area also create environmental hazard, the report says and calls for monitoring.
Industrial development, dense population along Brahmani river and fecal contamination can result in high BOD and deterioration of water quality. "In Bhitarkanika mangroves, sediment-associated trace element concentrations are also increasing as a result of anthropogenic inputs, and would influence the biota and bio-geochemistry of this ecosystem," the MoEFCC report claims.
A study in 2008 had found that Brahmani and Baitarani rivers have extremely variable trace of element concentrations, consistently higher than world river average. It reported high concentration of heavy metals at the estuarine sites of the national park.
Industrial pollution set to pose serious threat to Bhitarkanika
Another study in 2013 threw up heavy metals concentration in sediment samples which was much higher than the bio-accumulation potential of mangrove species of Bhitarkanika. "At present, there is no arrangement for monitoring heavy metal content and presence of pesticides in river water which should be included in monitoring scheme. The samples collected through monitoring programme can be analysed either by dedicated established laboratory close to Bhitarkanika or by laboratories having facilities to analyse the same," it adds.
The industries in basin come under the "grossly polluting" category but instead of that there is no devastating problem to aquatic or other living being in environment due to the availability of water and presence of enough flow current which have strong self purifying capacity.
But it should not be ignored for long time because several large industries are in the pipeline, the report adds. It also cautions against possibilities of oil spills because of existing ports and oil refinery. No major problem relating to oil spill has been faced in the sanctuary so far but no arrangement to tackle this problem exists.