The River Story

Let me tell a story,

Long long ago, in the days when man decided to settle down, put down his roots, a group of people come across this piece of paradise, wonderful weather, chirping birds, flowing water, greenery all around. Well every paradise had its ugly spot, and these parts had some big swamps and tons small canals and lakes allover and man, the determined creature he was, decided to dry out these swamps and make life in paradise. And life bloomed on paradise, more swamps were drained, more lakes filled, more home built and more families lived in paradise. Well if it were a fairy tale, I need to conclude it saying happily ever after. Unfortunately, there was no happily ever after. And the story goes on.
Years rolled by, more people moved into paradise, and then there were politicians who came in, every 5 years they visited their constituencies and promised to drain the swamp and have more schools, more parks and work for the betterment of the society. Well as you know no politician delivers his promise but everyone did help in draining the swamps. And then rolled in disaster, thunder, lighting, heavy winds and severe storms, flooding paradise and killing people. The surviving residents of paradise were heart-broken, distressed and begged for help. And there stepped in the Government, they send out the agency (henceforth referred as GA). The GA raring go and solve problems of the public, claim to control flooding and supply drinking water for the ever growing population of paradise. The next 20 years GA builds countless dams, canals, drainage ditches creating a network. Their policy was simply dig, ditch, drain, and dam, and to hell with everything else. They changed the course of the flowing river and built an enormous reservoir to supply water to the residents of paradise. A mighty fine job, they called it. The GA was praised and felicitated. Paradise residents were happy and more residents from other parts decide to move to paradise, after all it is paradise.

Is this the end of story? Happily ever after? Unfortunately no, the story goes on.

Fifty years later, there was trouble in Paradise, the chirping birds were no longer around, there was no water to drink, and paradise was turning into hell. And again the residents of paradise went running to the GA. And another major study resulted, man now equipped with radar and enormous databases and amazing scientific knowledge learnt that unless the dams were broken and the river made to flow in its natural course, paradise will of course turn to hell. Man realized that there are certain rules of nature, which he cannot change. That meant another big effort, and years and money into restoration of paradise. It meant houses built along the natural course of the river had to be relocated, dams broken, and in short a waste of all the efforts put in years earlier. Today paradise residents teach their kids, never mess with nature, develop your lives around it, you can not change the course of nature.

Unfortunately this is a real-life story.Paradise is the Everglades natural system in the state of Flordia, USA, the flowing river is the Kissimmee River, the chirping birds are the ergets and other wading birds, and GA is the Army Corps of Engineers. Today a major Everglades restoration project is underway and is one of the biggest environmental projects in the US. People have realized changing nature to suit mankind is not going to work.

Now coming to India, the Ganga flows in its own course, floods the Northern plains with fertile alluvium. There are numerous rivers all along and each has its own course. Are we going to do the same mistake the Army Corps did in US 50+ years back? In US, the damage was limited to one state as the river flowed there, but in India’s ambitious project, the whole country is under the axe. Legally, environmentally the hazards of such a project are going to be enormous. Has the Government studied the impacts of the 200+ billion US dollars project on the environment? The Government calls the interlinking of rivers a brilliant and innovative idea, it would surely seem so to the layman, but as an engineer I am taught to be cautious, look at the impacts and after the example of the Everglades I feel the project will be a disaster to the environment and the nation.

What is your take?