Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in northeast India, also called the only Floating lake in the world due to the floating phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil, and organic matters at various stages of decomposition) on it, is located near Moirang in Manipur state, India. The etymology of Loktak is Lok = "stream" and tak = "the end". The Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is the last natural refuge of the endangered sangai or Manipur brow-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi), one of three subspecies of Eld's Deer, covering an area of , is situated in the southeastern shores of this lake and is the largest of all the phumdis in the lake.
This ancient lake plays an important role in the economy of Manipur. It serves as a source of water for hydropower generation, irrigation and drinking water supply. The lake is also a source of livelihood for the rural fisherman who live in the surrounding areas and on phumdis, also known as phumshongs . Human activity has led to severe pressure on the lake ecosystem. 55 rural and urban hamlets around the lake have a population of about 100,000 people. Considering the ecological status and its biodiversity values, the lake was initially designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on March 23, 1990. But the lake was designated by the Ramsar Convention under the Montreux Record on June 16, 1993 for the reason that:
a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur.
Topography and geography
Of the two river systems which drain the Manipur state—the Barak river and the Manipur River—the Manipur River flows through the Manipur Valley. The river rises in the north at Karong, flows south of Imphal and hence is also known as the Imphal River. Along its course through the valley, downstream of Imphal, the bed slope of the river is gentle. Drainage pattern, typical of hilly terrain, is sub-dendritic, sub-parallel and sub-radial, which is dictated by the structure and lithology of the area. Imphal, Iril and Thoubal River valleys also exhibit a meandering river course.
At the Ithai barrage outlet of the Lake, the direct catchment area draining into the lake is out of which is under paddy cultivation, under habitation and under forest cover. The area of the lake is , comprising large pockets of open water and marshy land formed at the southern part of the Imphal valley up to the confluence of Manipur River and Khuga River in the district of Imphal West. The Lake is divided into two zones, namely, the Core Zone which is the no-development zone or totally protected zone comprising and the balance area is called the "Buffer Zone". Within the lake and on its periphery, there are 14 hills of varying size and elevation; in the southern part of the lake are the Sendra, Ithing and Thanga islands.
- Lake Zonation
Geographically, in terms of biodiversity and pressure of human activities, the lake is broadly divided into northern, central and southern zones as elaborated below.
The Northern Zone, extending from eastern side of Nambol River near Ngaikhong Khunou to Phabakchao including Maibam Phumlak, has five main streams/rivers namely, the Nambol, Merakhong, Ishok, Waishel and Nambul flowing into the lake. The zone is separated from the central zone by large phumdis (varying thickness of ) that stretches from the northwest to the southeast. During January to March, phumdis in this area are usually burnt for construction of fish cum paddy farms; many large fish farms with raised levees have been built. Phumdis in the Lake circular ones, called athapums, are artificially created for fishing. The Central Zone, extending from Awang Laisoi pat (western side of Nambol River near Ngaikhong Khunou) to Laphu pat (between Khordak channel and Imphal River) encloses prominent islands of Thanga, Karang and Ithing. It is the main open water zone of the lake, which was relatively free from phumdis in the past, but over the years 'athaphums' (artificially created phumdis for fishing) constructed by villagers for fishing have proliferated choking the entire lake. The State Fisheries Department has established a fisheries centre within this zone at Takmu pat for fisheries development
The Southern Zone encompasses the Keibul Lamjao National Park, Ungamel and Kumbi pats at the southern part of the lake and the zone is linked with Khuga River by the Ungamel channel. The Imphal River is also linked with this zone by the Khordak channel. The western catchment drained by the Kangshoibi River flows into this zone. Proliferation of phumdis has been observed near the mouth of Ungamel channel, Kumbi pat, Nongmaikhong and Khordak area.
Cretaceous limestone, the Disang with Serpentinites (Lower to Middle Eocene–Upper Cretaceous), the Surmas and the Tipams (Miocene) are the dominant rock formations in the catchment of the Manipur basin. Higher reaches of hills have the Disang and Tipam groups of rocks while Surma group occurs in the lower reaches. Grey sandstone–grit–conglomerate–limestone sequences intruded by serpentinites containing minor amounts of enstalite, chromite, amphiboles and magnetite constitute the Disang formation. Argillaceous and arneceous sequence represents the Surma and Tipam groups, respectively.
With an average annual rainfall of tropical monsoon climate prevails in the valley. Temperatures range from 0 to 35 C (32 to 95 F). February and March are the driest months.
Loktak Lake is fed by the Manipur river and several tributaries and Ungamel Channel (Ithai Barrage) is its only outlet now. The origin of the Manipur river system and its tributaries, which flows in a north-south direction and drains into the lake is from the hill ranges immediately to the west of the lake. The five major rivers with indirect catchment area of are the Imphal (also called the Manipur River), the Iril, the Thoubal, the Sekmai and the Khuga. The other major streams which drain into the lake and which bring in lot of silt are the Nambul, the Nambol, the Thongjarok, the Awang Khujairok, the Awang Kharok, the Ningthoukhong, the Potsangbam, the Oinam, the Keinou and the Irulok. The Lake, located on the southern side of the Manipur river basin, is at the lowest elevation in the valley and no other major river flows into the lake, except a few rivulets.
Though hydrological data on river basin has not been adequately monitored, the Department of Earth Science, Manipur University has in its report of 1996 assessed the average runoff of Manipur River as 519,200 ha m (4,209,000 acre ft; 5.192 km3) from a total catchment area of at the Ithai barrage. The ground water potential has been assessed estimated around per annum.
Water resources development
Several water resources development projects have been built in the Manipur River basin to meet growing demands for irrigation. Seven river valley projects have been completed; these are the Singda Dam Project, Thoubal Dam Project and Khuga Dam Project which are of multipurpose type, the Imphal Barrage Project and the Sekmai Barrage Project—both medium irrigation projects. The most discussed project is the Loktak Multipurpose Project, which provides hydropower, irrigation and water supply benefits but has attracted adverse criticism for the drastic alteration caused by the project to the hydrological regime of the Loktak Lake and associated wetlands.
Loktak Multipurpose Project
Loktak Lake and location of the Hydropower Project The Loktak Hydropower Project on the Manipur River or Imphal River, with the Loktak Lake forming the head waters to provide regulated storage for power generation, was built in 1983 as a multipurpose project with power generation of 105 MW (3x35 MW) for power supply to Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Tripura, and lift irrigation to an area of in the Manipur valley. The main components of the project, as built, are, a) the Ithai barrage, across the Manipur river of height and length with three spillway bays, b) water conductor system for trans-basin diversion comprising an open channel of length, a cut and cover section of length (bed width , followed by a Head Race Tunnel of diameter (horseshoe type) and long to carry a discharge of () for power generation and for irrigation), c) a surge shaft, d) penstocks and e) a surface powerhouse and a tailrace channel on the right bank of the narrow Leimatak River with three units of 35 MW capacity each generating an annual energy of 448 GW h (1.613 PJ). The downstream Loktak Power Project in cascade to utilize the regulated releases from the upper project for further power generation of 90 MW is proposed to be taken up for joint implementation by NHPC and the Government of Manipur. The project has invited severe criticism since the water level in the lake at the Ithai barrage is maintained throughout the year at FRL from considerations of power generation from the well planned water conductor system. The problem in the lake is, however, diverse; economic activities in and around the lake, and encroachments by 50,400 fishermen for extensive fishing activity are also cited to be some of the reasons. Other reasons for the distress situation in the lake are a) jhum (shifting) cultivation, b) extensive deforestation and unscientific land use practices in the catchment areas which bring large amount of silt into the lake and c) undefined ownership of the lake where the stakeholders are the districts of Imphal west district, Bishnupur and Thoubal causing lack of integrated approach to the lakes potential for providing benefits.
A rich biodiversity with habitat heterogeneity has been recorded during a scientific survey carried out between January 2000 and December 2002 in different habitat patches of the lake. The lake s rich biological diversity comprises 233 species of aquatic macrophytes of emergent, submergent, free-floating and rooted floating leaf types. But in the declining trend of vegetation, the important flora recorded are as under.
The important vegetation of the phumdis recorded are Eichornia crassipes, Phragmites karka, Oryza sativa, Zizania latifolia, Cynodon spp., Limnophila spp., Sagitlaria spp., Saccharum latifolium, Erianthus pucerus, Erianthus ravennae, Lersi hexandra, Carex spp.; Phragmites karka is reported to be the dominant species.
In the habitat patch with rooted floating plants, vegetation comprises the a) Nelumbo nucifera, b) Trapa natans, c) Euryale ferox, d) Nymphaea alba, e) N. nouchali, N. stellata and f) Nymphoides indica.
Endangered Sangai species of Eld's Deer in the lake precincts 116 species of birds have been noted in the lake including 21 species of migratory waterfowl (most migrating from different parts of the northern hemisphere beyond the Himalayas). Also recorded were 425 species of animals 249 vertebrates and 176 invertebrates). The list includes rare animals such as the Indian python, sambhar and barking deer. Keibul Lamjao National Park is the natural habitat of one of the most endangered deer, the Brow-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi) which was once thought to be extinct, which was declared a national park only to preserve and conserve this species of Eld's Deer.
But the avifauna recorded in different habitats of the lake is reported to be declining. Briefly, the details of the avifauna recorded now are elaborated.
In the central part of the lake waterfowl, including dabbling ducks and diving ducks are reported but their numbers are declining due to proliferation of phumdis.
In the habitat part of the rooted plants, Hydrophasianus chirurgus, Metopidius indicus, and others were reported; once abundant now show a declining trend.
Small hillocks (though showing degraded condition) in the lake show big trees; birds of prey such as Milvus migrans lineatus and Circus aeruginosus have been recorded on these trees.
Species of hornbills found are the Brown-backed Hornbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, the Pied Hornbill and the Great Pied Hornbill.
- Aqua fauna
Fish yield from the lake is reported to be about 1,500 tonnes (6,600,000 lb) every year. The State Fishery Department has introduced millions of fingerlings of Indian and exotic major carps. Natural capture fishery without the requirement of any lease or licence was also in vogue in the lake. The lake fishery is now a mixture of capture and culture systems. Nine mini-hatcheries opened by the State Government has the capacity to produce one million fish fingerlings in a day. Fifty percent of the fingerlings produced were released into the Loktak Lake and the balance were distributed to beneficiary fishing committees. The new fish varieties introduced in lake were grass carp, silver carp and the old varieties of the local fishes like Channa punctatus (ngamu), Anabus testudinius (ukabi), Anguilla (ngaril), pangba, tharak, and ngashap stated to be under serious decline.
Hoolock Gibbon seen in the precincts of the Lake in the Keibul Lamjo National Park Fauna recorded in the precincts of the Lake in the Keibul Lamjo National Park are the Indian python, sambhar, barking deer, the endangered Sangai species of Eld's Deer, wild bear, Muntiacus muntjak, Rhesus monkey, Hoolock gibbon, stump-tailed macaque, Indian civet Viverra zibetha, marbled cat and Temminck's golden cat.
The Loktak lake and its precincts have faced serious problems due to loss of vegetal cover in the catchment area and construction of Ithai barrage at the outlet of the lake for multipurpose development of water resources. The issues are further elaborated below.
The degradation of the catchment area has occurred. Deforestation and shifting cultivation in the catchment areas have accelerated the process of soil erosion resulting in the lake s shrinkage due to siltation. The annual silt flow into the lake is estimated to be 336,325 tons.
The nutrients from catchment area and domestic sewage from Imphal city carried by Nambul River are discharged into the lake affecting its water quality, thus encouraging the growth of water hyacinth and phumdis. All these activities have direct bearing on ecological stability of the lake. Interference in navigation and overall aesthetic value of the Lake are other reported adverse effects.
The construction of Ithai barrage and maintaining constant water level at full reservoir level (FRL) has led to a) changes in hydrological regime thereby affecting ecological processes and functions of the wetland, b) inundation of agricultural lands and displacement of people from flooded lands and c) loss of fish population and diversity.
The thickness of phumdis has decreased in the Keibul Lamjao National Park thereby threatening the survival of Sangai deer and interference in the migration of fishes from Chindwin–Irrawady River system of Myanmar resulting in changes in the species composition.
The population of a number of economic plants such as Saccharum species, Setaria pumila, Alpinia nigra, Hedychium spicatum and the major food plants like the Zizania, Latifolia, Carex species, Coix species, Narenga has decreased resulting in starvation conditions for the endangered Sangai deer. With the phumdis becoming thinner, the hoofs of the limbs of Sangai get stuck in the marsh and results in their drowning. Production of the edible fruit and rhizome (thamchet and thambou) of lotus plants has decreased to a great extent. Plants have also degraded due to polluted water.
Livelihood of people dependent on the sale of edible fruit and rhizome of lotus plant products and Euryale ferox (thanging) has suffered due to steep decline in the growth of these plant species.
Today, Loktak Lake is at the highest level of eutrophication and the only brow-antlered deer is at the verge of extinction.
Loktak Development Authority
To address all the issues raised on the health of the lake, as detailed above, Government of Manipur has set up the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) under The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 (Manipur Act 3 of 2006) with the objective "to provide for administration, control, protection, improvement, conservation and development of the natural environment of the Loktak Lake and for matters connected with as incidental thereto."
In order to address the various issues plaguing the functioning of the lake and the project dependent on it, a detailed project study was instituted by the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) & Wetlands International Asia (WISA) with funding provided by the India Canada Environment Facility (ICEF). A Project Report titled "Sustainable Development & Water Resources Management of Loktak Lake (SDWRML)" has been prepared. The report gives a review of its activities on the project done for over six years (from February 1, 1998 till the end of March 2004) with the following pertinent observations.
In an interdependent multiple socioeconomic cum historical cum technological/scientific milieu, the problem of the Loktak lake is multi-dimensional and complex.
The project had not made the desired impact on livelihood activities of the target communities.
The scientific data system and analysis was critical for planning appropriate interventions.
In the past, complex environmental problems were not adequately addressed.
LDA, basically an engineering organization, addressed several developmental activities with due involvement of local communities and its capacity to address the situation is well organized.
Even though the Ithai barrage and its operation by NHPC have contributed to the deterioration of the lake environment and the people around it, the mind set of the people (conditioned by the water level and submergence) that operation of the project needs drastic change to solve the lakes' problems had prevented examination of feasible alternate solutions, given the situation that drastic change of NHPC approach to operate the project was not feasible.
The project design was sound but focus on ultimate goal was not adequate. Participation of NGOs in the project was not sufficient. The design of a fish hatchery (a Chinese design) was too large and had to be scaled down. Documentation, communication activities of the project and MIS system were good.
Based on all the analysis, the future approach suggested involves mitigation measures as elaborated are: i) The Nambol River carries sewage of nutrients of Imphal town into the lake which results in prolific growth of phumdis and deteriorates water quality. This is an urban problem and there is urgent need to treat and control this aspect, even if it is expensive; ii) Reduce soil erosion and sedimentation of the lake by enlarging the scope of micro-watersheds in the catchment area treatment plan; iii) Construct a channel through the Keibul Lamjao National Park to enable phumdis to settle at the bed of the lake; iv) Resolve the encroachment problem, by demarcating the lake boundary, which would result in a targeted and concerted action plan; v) Implement action plans that are economically viable and technically feasible resulting in livelihood enhancement such as evolving an attractive resettlement plan for the phumdi dwellers backed by remunerative livelihood program; and vi) Examine introduction of fishing net instead of Athapum (Athapam means phumdis in circular shape floating in the lake, planted or cultured artificially for catching fish) practiced presently to be dismantled.
Well connected by road and air, Imphal, the capita city of Manipur is away from the lake, by road. The lake is a unique destination for tourism. The lake offers excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy the beauty of the lake and its several islands located inside the it that are studded with floating phumdis of different geometrical shapes. The important islands which offer facilities for visitors are the Sandra and Phubala.
A view of Sendra Tourist Home on a large Phumdi in Loktak Lake
The Sendra Tourist Home on the island with an attached Cafeteria in the middle of the lake is an ideal tourist spot. Visitors get a bird's eye view of life on the lake—small islands that are actually floating weed on which the lake people live.
Phubala resort, on the Phubala Island, is from Imphal.
At Moirang town on the fringe of the Loktak is the INA ( Indian National Army ) Museum which will be of interest to tourists. The exhibits include letters, photographs, badges of ranks and other articles associated with the INA. A bronze statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in uniform stands in the lawn.
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