Boatman Noor Muhammad struggles to row as his boat goes deep into the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar, the main city of Indian administered Kashmir. He presses hard on his oar to untangle the ship from the thick vegetation.
“It’s very difficult to paddle most of the lake,” he complains. He says the authorities “spend a lot of money but don’t clean it properly.”
Weeds, silt and untreated sewage increasingly suffocate the vast scenic lake, which towers over the city and attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year.
Dal Lake appears pristine in the area where hundreds of beautifully decorated houseboats float on its surface that tourists and honeymooners hire.
But further from shore, the lake is a mix of mossy swamps, thick weeds, garbage-strewn plots, and floating gardens made of reed rafts.
Research conducted by the University of Kashmir in 2016 found that only 20% of the lake’s water was relatively clean while 32% was severely degraded.
At least 15 large drains in the city drain into the sprawling lake, contaminating it with sewage and pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen, officials say.
Barge owner Tariq Ahmad says around 900 registered barges contribute only a “small fraction” of the lake’s pollution.
In response to a right to information request from Ahmad, authorities said in 2017 that about 44 million liters (11 million gallons) of sewage was dumped into the lake from the city every day.
In addition, about one million liters (260,000 gallons) of sewage came from the barges, they said.
Officials insist they are doing everything possible to save the rapidly deteriorating lake.
Bashir Ahmed, a government official overseeing the cleanup of the lake, said they carried out regular weeding, treated more than 30 million liters (eight million gallons) of sewage per day and demolished illegal structures in the area. watershed of the lake.
“It’s an urbanized lake. We have to understand that there is a huge amount of sewage in the lake, ”Ahmed said.
More than a dozen mechanical dredgers are deployed to dig up silt and weeds, while hundreds of workers, some in small wooden boats, haul foul debris from the lake.
Environmentalists say efforts such as weed removal have helped, but more needs to be done to save the lake, especially untreated sewage.
“If you’ve stopped the poison on one side and let the poison come to the other side, it really doesn’t make sense,” said environmentalist Aijaz Rasool.