Goa located on the west coast of India, in the Konkan region, is under the influence of two major global biomes of the Western Ghats. Thus, within the geographical area of Goa. There is a wide range of ecosystems and habitats like forests, Ghats, alluvial plains, coasts, rivers, estuaries, mangroves, wetlands, etc. Through history, the inhabitants of Goa have been successful in their interaction with these natural systems. Through the Khazans – saline land cultivations on lands reclaimed over centuries from marshy mangroves swamps, they dealt effectively with the problems of saline water ingress, a natural feature of tidal rivers.
Water harvesting systems were intelligently created and maintained based on deep knowledge of topography. The sand dunes were protected and preserved in the coastal region. Forests were protected and unexplored with rich biodiversity in the Western Ghats. As a result, when Goa became a part of India in 1961, Having a coastline of 131 km and have a geographical area of 3702 (sq. km). Goa was the greenest of states and became a major tourist attraction with its scenic beauty and unexplored beaches and the state remains India’s beach tourism capital.
However, Goa is fast becoming a victim of its own popularity and is facing huge water challenges because of poorly managed tourism development. While Goa is perceived to be water abundant it faces complex water challenges. Goa has nine rivers, six of which originate and flow into the sea within Goa. Goa is one of the most rapidly developing states, experiencing rapid and largely unplanned development in many sectors, including tourism.
Groundwater is overexploited, particularly around mining areas and along the coastal belt.
Goa has far exceeded its carrying capacity due to heavy footfall. Which pushes for greater prosperity, driven in part through tourism–which in 2010 (the latest data available) accounted for 8% of the state’s gross domestic product and attracted 8.8 million tourists in 2018, or six times Goa’s population—residents. Studies have shown that mass tourism is creating a huge impact on the socio-economic conditions of the people as well as their culture. Further, there is a huge burden on the existing infrastructure, which is minimal or absent in most coastal villages. The most scenic locations are squeezed of water resources and choked by sewage and litter.
The number of major hotels and resorts has increased by 170% from 42 in 2008 to 113 in 2018, according to the state department of tourism. In comparison, budget hotels grew 100% from 2,142 in 2008 to 4,286 in 2018. Low budget hotels need 573 liters of water per room per day. Luxury hotels, in contrast, need 1,335 liters per room per day. And these are conservative estimates. Landscaped gardens, swimming pools, mini-golf courses, three or more restaurants, and other water-intensive activities for the recreation of tourists dominate the appropriation of water, even during the dry season of April and May. Water has become a limited resource and is most often appropriated for the recreation of a few at the cost local communities. While tourists swim in pools, engage in water sports, and live in luxuriously landscaped locations, the locals have to face water shortages. They also face a constant threat of groundwater deterioration which affects their livelihoods, especially those directly engaged in farming.
Policies related to water use within Goa also need to be updated. The state has enacted two acts: The Goa Irrigation Act, 1973 which deals with regulation of surface water for irrigation purposes, and the Ground Water Regulation Act, 2002 which deals with groundwater resource management. These Acts have schemes for providing subsidies and/or financial assistance to people and groups who build traditional and modern water conservation structures. they have not been amended to reflect the current, more demanding realities of increased pressure on surface water due to a rise in demand for water for irrigation, expanding tourism and real estate development and mining. The draft Goa State Water Policy proposes a hierarchy of needs for water allocation. It recognizes that while water is necessary for agriculture, hydropower, recreation, industry and navigation, priority should be given to ensuring availability of potable water to all households in the state.
Tourism also takes a heavy toll on water resources as hotels use a lot more water than average residents. 37% percent of the hotels use groundwater while 25% percent buy water from tankers (who also get most of their water from wells), thereby increasing the strain on groundwater. Private sector corporations and industries, particularly in the mining and tourism sectors, are very influential drivers of decisions made by the government. The tourism industry for example, consumes enormous quantities of water – while luxury hotels and spas enjoy a continuous supply of water, and boast large swimming pools and golf courses, water for residential and small-scale use is in short supply. The tourism industry, in fact, causes a change in population dynamics, and therefore water usage and allocation, in Goa – a state of approximately 15 lakh people receiving an influx of around 40-50 lakh tourists per year. Pollution and over-extraction of groundwater sources by the private sector are adding to the already existing strain on publicly supplied centralized water systems. Large corporate hotel chains regularly flout coastal zone regulations, but the Goa government tends to turn a blind eye. Private sector actors are ‘blind’ towards the issue of water scarcity, now or in the future. They believe that water is an abundant resource. They are wary of over-regulation by the government (which becomes a way for extracting bribes when regulations are flaunted) or the ‘scaremongering’ of the civil society actors around climate change, ecosystem collapse and appropriation of the rights of communities and dolphins. They seek to influence water policies by forming coalitions/industry associations to influence policymakers and/or establishing relationships of patronage with powerful government actors.
State government departments –agriculture, forestry, tourism etc., also operate in silos, and lack mechanisms for information sharing and coordination of water policies across departments. The government seems unduly focused on managing water supply through centralized systems of water, even while it is primarily dependent on groundwater and open wells. Private sector corporations and industries, particularly in the mining and tourism sectors, are very influential drivers of decisions made by the government. There is a proliferation of nongovernmental organizations engaging with environmental and development issues in Goa. Many of these are local to Goa; others are national NGOs with Goa chapters, and ‘ecological refugees from Indian metros, where the environmental battle has been largely lost.
The Goa Tourism Master Plan prepared by KPMG for the state government includes proposals for large golf courses, marinas, and beach clubs, which if implemented, would overburden Goa’s already fragile water ecosystem.