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The third largest river in Goa, the Sal River is based in South Goa and starts in Cavelossim. It is one of the nine major rivers of Goa and all of these rivers add to the Goan economy due to their impact on fishing and trade. It passes through Margao, Dramapur, Chinchinim, Navelim, Assolna, before leading into the Arabian Sea at Betul in Goa. Despite having a catchment area that is only one third the size of the Zuari River, it hasn’t received much attention from the government. The Sal River measures 35 kilometers in length and has a basin size of 301 square kilometers.
The Sal River is the life line to the Salcete taluka. The Salcete is made up of an area of approximately 300 square kilometers which is linked to the Sal River. Being the only river that flows in a north-south direction prior to flowing in to the Arabian Sea at Betul, the Sal River is a geologically odd one because it runs parallel to the west of geological coast.
Sal River opens in Cavelossim, which is a town in Southern Goa and is home to one of the best known beaches in Goa. This is the Salcete beach, which beings in Majorda in the Northern part of the town and ends at Cavelossim in the South. It is at the Southern part of the town that the Sal River flows into the Arabian Sea.
Heavy siltation and water pollution has in recent years, often stopped fishing vessels from moving into the sea. The fishermen in the area feel that this issue, which is rampant at the Sal River’s mouth at Betul, should be taken up by the Indian government on an urgent basis. Drainage management in the area will not succeed if it doesn’t respect the river basin, its hydrography and doesn’t take into consideration the eco-restoration of the heavily silted and polluted channel between Magao’s Khareband all the way to Betul.
The backwaters of the river Sal is a beautiful aspect of unseen Goa. It is only accessible by kayak and only a few get to experience this ecosystem. This is a part of Goa that is rarely seen by the majority of tourists due to the difficulty in accessing it. It is especially a delight for those who enjoy bird watching as forty different species of birds can be seen, and this includes four different types of Kingfishers, along with a range of Herons, Egrets, Waterfowl, Drongos and Cormorants.
A steady and rising increase in urbanization, drastic use of land, reckless hill cutting, encroachments, waste dumping and constant human interference over the past half century has led to the river becoming an ecological tragedy.
The Sal River starts as a small stream, which is now facing danger of extinction due to development. The stream is located at the ancient site of Mahalsa temple on the Verna hills. It could originally have been named the Verna River. Despite the popular Indian tradition of building temples at the site of the sources of a river, no such temple was built at the start of the Sal River. This is because despite its cultural importance, the Sal River was never treated as a sacred river.
After a distance of 10 Kms, the Sal River becomes wider and at Verna four different streams combine in the paddy fields between Arossim and Cansaulim to form the main channel of the Sal River. Until the river reaches Mugul, 12 different streams feed it. All of these are become increasingly polluted and in terrible condition. This in turn is endangering the ecology of the river. After crossing Mugul Bridge, a small stream flowing from Agali near the Holy Spirit church meets Sal River. The river then crosses south central railway line near Damodar College. From here on, the river takes a turn in a westward direction, and this takes it to the river Khareband. From Khareband, Sal River turns into an estuary.
The course of the Sal estuary from Varca to Betul is complex in nature. The interference by mankind is clearly visible. The river has been steered to feed vast fertile Khazan paddy fields, salt pans and interior creeks.
The Sal River flows on a flat plain and its morphology makes the river basin extremely vulnerable to the impact of rising sea levels. A potential threat to the river in the future is that due to Global Warming the sea levels will rise and claim all of the land from Salcete, which is only a few metres above the present sea level.
The Sal River does not have any tributaries.