Wular Lake

Wular Lake (also spelt Wullar), One of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia, is in Bandipora district in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The lake basin was formed as a result of tectonic activity and is fed by the Jhelum River. The lake’s size varies seasonally from 12 to 100 square miles (30 to 260 square kilometers). Boating, water sports and water ski have recently been launched by the Government of India Tourism in collaboration with Kerala Tourism and J&K Tourism. The contract for the operation of the site was awarded in September 2011.

In ancient times, Wular Lake was also called Mahapadamsar (Sanskrit: महापद्मसरः). Nilamata Purana also mentions it as ‘Mahapadmasaras’. Mahapadamsar is referred as Bolor by Al-Biruni {960-1031 AD}. The lake, with its big dimensions and the extent of water, gives rise to high leaping waves in the afternoons, called Ullola in Sanskrit; meaning stormy leaping, high rising waves. Therefore, it was also being called ‘Ullola’. Its corrupted form saw its transition as ‘Bolor’ by Al-Biruni and over the centuries corrupted further to ‘Wulor’ or ‘Wular’. The origin may also be attributed to a Kashmiri word ‘Wul’, which means a gap or a fissure, appellation that must have come also during this period. The word Wul {Gap or fissure}, is also indicator of its origin to a fissure or gap created.

Natural history
The lake is one of the 23 Indian wetlands designated as a Ramsar site. However it faces environmental threats including the conversion of large parts of the lake’s catchment areas into agriculture land, pollution from fertilizers and animal wastes, hunting of waterfowl and migratory birds and weed infestation in the lake itself.

Wular Lake is an important fish habitat, the main species being the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), rosy barb (Barbus conchonius), mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), Nemacheilus species, Crossocheilus latius, and various snowtrout species in the genera Schizopyge and Schizothorax. Snowtrout species identified in the lake include the Sattar snowtrout (Schizopyge curvifrons), Chirruh snowtrout (Schizopyge esocinus), Schizothorax planifrons, Schizothorax macropogon, Schizothorax longipinus and Chush snowtrout (Schizopyge niger).

Fish from Wular Lake make up a significant part of the diet for many thousands of people living on its shores and elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley. More than eight thousand fishermen earn their livelihood from the lake, primarily fishing for the endemic Schizothorax species and the non-native carp. Their catch comprises about 60 percent of the total yield of fish in Kashmir. Hundreds of other local villagers are employed by cooperative societies that trade the fish catch. Many other families harvest plants such as the grass Phragmites and the waterlily-like Nymphoides from the lake for animal fodder.

The lake sustains a rich population of birds. Terrestrial birds observed around the lake include the black-eared kite, Eurasian sparrowhawk, short-toed eagle, Himalayan golden eagle, Himalayan monal, chukar partridge, koklass pheasant, rock dove, common cuckoo, alpine swift, Indian roller, Himalayan woodpecker, hoopoe, barn swallow, golden oriole and others.[4]

The Kashmiri sultan Zain-ul-Abidin is reputed to have ordered the construction of the artificial island of Zaina Lank in the middle of the lake in 1444.

Tulbul Project
The Tulbul Project is a “navigation lock-cum-control structure” at the mouth of Wular Lake. According to the original Indian plan, the barrage was expected to be of 439 feet (134 m) long and 40 feet (12 m) wide, and would have a maximum storage capacity of 300,000 acre feet (370,000,000 m3) of water. One aim was to regulate the release of water from the natural storage in the lake to maintain a minimum draught of 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in the river up to Baramulla during the lean winter months. The project was conceived in the early 1980s and work began in 1984.

There has been an ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the Tulbul Project since 1987, when Pakistan objected that it violated the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. India stopped work on the project that year, but has since pressed to restart construction. The Jhelum River through the Kashmir valley below Wular Lake provides an important means of transport for goods and people. To sustain navigation throughout the year a minimum depth of water is needed. India contends that this makes development of the Tulbul Project permissible under the treaty, while Pakistan maintains that the project is a violation of the treaty. India says suspension of work is harming the interests of people of Jammu and Kashmir and also depriving the people of Pakistan of irrigation and power benefits that may accrue from regulated water releases.

In recognition of its biological, hydrological and socio-economic values, the lake was included in 1986 as a Wetland of National Importance under the Wetlands Programme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India for intensive conservation and management purposes. Subsequently in 1990, it was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Amongst other developments, two million trees will be cut to restore Wular Lake under the National Lake Conservation Programme. The Environment ministry of India has approved Rs 4 billion for the restoration project for the lake that will take 5 – 10 years and is after long delays scheduled to start in December 2011. The partner organisation South Asian Voluntary Association of Environmentalists (SAVE) is a joint initiative of individuals with the aim to protect the ecology and to conserve the nature at Wular Lake.