There is a very beautiful saying in Tamil about Cauvery: “Only if Cauvery comes walking, she is prosperity. If she comes running, she is a disaster.” You can make her walk only if there is substantial vegetation in the catchment. Catchment does not mean just the one valley where the river arises. Every square inch of land in a tropical climate is catchment. Wherever you have trees, water will percolate into the soil. If there are no trees, the water will runoff.
A river is not a source of water, it is the destination. How slowly it reaches the destination will determine how many days of the year we will have water in the river. Right now, there is not enough vegetation, so the rain water runs off into the river too quickly, which floods.
Right now, we are trying to hold this water with dams, which is not working. Almost 20% of our dams are silt-ridden. You see a lot of people talking about deepening the lakes and ponds. The lakes had feeder streams that fed them water throughout the year. All of those feeder lines are gone now because we have built homes and buildings over them. If you just deepen a lake, water will come in during the monsoon, but it will not flow the rest of the year.
Artificial methods will not work in the long-term. The only sustainable way to hold water is by putting enough vegetation on the land. If the soil is rich with organic matter from plant and animal waste, it will retain the water, which trickles down to groundwater and then into the river.
Water is a resource that needs to be managed. But we think about water only when we run out of it. No resource is an assured resource unless we manage it well. Water scarcity is not something we should be looking at only in summer. Just watch how much water is running away post-monsoon. We must be alarmed right then. Unfortunately, we wake up only when we don't have water to drink.
The studies say that if there are 10,000 trees in an area, 38 million liters of water will enter the soil in a year. The Cauvery basin is 83,000 sq km in area and we have taken off 87% of the tree cover. Imagine how much water we are losing!
Does that mean we have to bring back forests everywhere? That is simply not possible. The only way forward is agroforestry. If we encourage farmers to shift to organic tree-based agriculture, the organic material from the animals and trees will continuously replenish the soil.
Shifting to tree-based agriculture not only replenishes the river and soil, it can also increase a farmer’s income by 300 to 800 percent. If large-scale demonstrations of tree-based agriculture are created that clearly show how farmers’ incomes can increase, farmers across the country will naturally want to take to it.
This is why we have launched “Cauvery Calling.” We are focusing on revitalizing Cauvery. We want to show the world that in ten to twelve years’ time, you can actually revive a river significantly, and at the same time, multiply farmers’ income. The most important thing is that this is not ecology versus economy. Reviving ecology can be very lucrative for the land owner. This is what we are trying to bring about.
Ranked amongst the fifty most influential people in India, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, visionary and a New York Times bestselling author Sadhguru has been conferred the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 2017, the highest annual civilian award, accorded for exceptional and distinguished service. (Views expressed are personal.)