How cost-effective technologies like GIS helped rural Sikkim rejuvenate springs

Water, food security for upcoming generations enhanced, say residents

By Pradeep Kumar Mishra
Published: Monday 12 September 2022
How cost-effective technologies like GIS helped rural Sikkim rejuvenate its springs Photo: iStock

Irregular rainfall patterns have affected the groundwater level across the country. The Himalayan slope increases runoff and disturbs recharge of natural springs. 

Springs in Resum Forest in Rinchenpong town in West Sikkim district, for instance, were either losing discharge or becoming dry.

The government of Sikkim mapped geological formations, identification of recharge areas, identification of springs and aquifer beneath them with help of organisations like People’s Science Institute (PSI) in Dehradun and Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) in Pune.

Mapping was done using geographic information system (GIS) softwares like Google Earth Pro in Namchi block of south Sikkim. “Experts from external organisations were called to use the technologies and map the springs with their underlying features so that rejuvenation works can benefit at larger scale,” explained CS Rao, principal secretary, rural development department, Sikkim. 

As on September 2, 2022. Source: India Water Resources Information System, Government of India

The Government of Sikkim launched “Dhara Vikas” programme in 2008 as a part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), under which the catchment areas of the springs were mapped. Their hydro-geology was studied using geo-spatial technologies. 

Initially, 237 springs were identified in West and South districts, out of which 15 springs were chosen for a pilot run. First, hydro-geomorphological conditions were understood and later, a feasibility test for recharge was done by locating their source, recharge areas and catchment mapping. 

The detailed mapping of aquifers were done and lineaments that convey the rainwater to springs were identified to increase the recharge.

In Rinchenpong constituency of Kaluk Block in West Sikkim, contour trenches were constructed in the catchment of springs, with lineaments in Resum forest. After the pilot implementation of 15 springs, the program was scaled up to various Himalayan foothill regions of Sikkim. 

Subash Dhakal, technical officer, Dhara Vikas Programme, Sikkim, said: 

Earlier, we planned to construct the trenches in the whole catchment of springs. After mapping the springs on Google Earth Pro with their lineaments, we observed that only potential zones (recharge points) need to be selected for construction of trenches. 

“This saved a lot of money,” he added. These funds helped in construction of trenches in potential recharge zones, which was 10-15 per cent of the entire catchment area of springs.

Visible impact

Due to such major interventions in catchments of springs, almost all the identified springs have been revived, and their discharge has seen a significant improvement. 

In the downstream of Resum forest, springs with discharge as low as 0.1 litre per second, have gained the volume of water in their aquifer. Now their discharge reached 2 litres per second.

Mapping of springs on Google Earth Pro. Source: Rural Development Department, Government of Sikkim

The increase in discharge of water in springs has once again overwhelmed the communities with hope for a secure future. In the steep slopes of Sikkim’s geography, fetching and carrying water was a huge burden to women of the families causing drudgery to them and impacting their health adversely. 

The scenario has changed now, and people can enjoy the fresh spring water as well as water and food security for their upcoming generations. 

“All of our springs were dying and we were unable to manage water for daily use and agriculture. The situation has improved manifolds now,” said Pranav Dhakal, resident of Rinchenpong.

The mapping was then scaled up in the west and south of the district to map the springs and ponds which were also rejuvenated. The success of this project is a fine example of how modern technology is solving water issues and helping humans to live a sustainable life. 

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