Almora in Uttranchal is facing an acute water crisis, which has been exacerbated by rapid, unplanned urban growth and the mismanagement of vital natural resources that has led to the drying up of natural sources of water. This summer, the Kosi river, one of the major sources of drinking water, may dry up, causing a crisis. What's worse is that while Almora and neighbouring villages are reeling, local hotels and resorts offer spring water in abundance to patrons by buying the land on which springs are located. This makes the crisis worse for local people.
Founded in 1563, Almora traditionally depended upon its naulas and dharas (seepages and natural springs). The area has shallow aquifers that feed its springs. But over the last 150 years the number of springs has declined from 360 to 60. Those that remain are rapidly becoming seasonal with low flows.
Faced with a desperate situation, the government water department decided to extract groundwater by installing hand pumps along the town's main road in 2005. Most of the pumps were hastily installed and "by the end of the year, two or more of the 20 to 24 hand pumps in the town had gone completely dry", claims Rawat. "All the remaining hand pumps will run dry within the next five to seven years," he adds. Uttaranchal Jal Sansthan, the state's water authority, possesses no monitoring system to study the quantity extracted by the hand pumps. "Since most of the hand pumps are constructed along the road, villages located above and below the area do not get any water supply," says Lalit Pande, director of Uttarakhand Seva Nidhi, an Almora-based ngo.
Matters have come to such a pass largely after the people stopped taking care of the naulas and dharas . The sharing of water rationally by the community and its involvement in making sure that water sources were in good repair and spring water used with caution ended when centralised piped water supply was introduced and local people slowly became dependent on piped water. Little or no attention was paid to storing rainwater.
The first piped water scheme from springs was introduced in 1886 when traditional sources first began to dry up. The Baltoudi drinking water scheme, which packed up in 40 years, was soon followed by the Shail drinking water scheme, which suffered a similar fate.
The town presently gets most of its supply of drinking water from the Shahyi Devi gravitational water supply system and water from the Kosi. The British built the former in 1932 at a cost of Rs 175,000. The scheme harnessed water from seven springs originating in forests located 35 km from Almora. The forest spring-water is collected in two-metre deep tanks and then flows down to a larger storage tank at Kankar Kothi for distribution .
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