How these villages in the Hindu Kush Himalayas of Nepal are reviving their spring water

A six-step method was developed and applied to do so

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 28 June 2022

The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) cover about five million square kilometres, from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. The region is the world’s largest store of snow and ice outside the poles. It is appropriately called the Third Pole.

The HKH are the freshwater towers of South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia. Water originating from their snow, glaciers and rainfall feed Asia’s ten largest river systems.

Together, these rivers provide water, ecosystem services and the basis for livelihoods to a population of around 240 million people in the region. The basins of these rivers provide water to 1.9 billion people, a fourth of the world’s population.

Access to safe, affordable and sufficient water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene is a growing concern for residents in the middle mountain watersheds of the HKH region. The situation is getting worse because many springs, which are the primary source of water in the mid-hills, are either drying up or their discharge is decreasing.

In Fulbari village of Namobuddha Municipality in Kavre district (Nepal), many springs have dried up, placing grave stress on the local population. Field studies conducted under the Resilient Mountain Solutions (RMS) initiative in June 2019 showed that of 50 springs surveyed within a small area of 4.44 sq km, only 28 were running, while 22 had completely dried up.

Other studies from the HKH region paint a similar picture. The springs in Fulbari and other places in the mid-hills of the HKH are drying up due to both natural and anthropogenic factors.

These include erratic and high-intensity rainfall; longer dry spells; earthquakes; land-use change leading to reduced infiltration; road and infrastructure construction; degradation of traditional ponds; groundwater extraction through pumps and lack of proper management systems.

The pressure from depleting springs is increasing the hardship of the local population, especially women and children, who bear the primary responsibility of fetching water for household use; this is also increasing the vulnerability of poor and marginalised communities.

So how are springs actually revived? Given the complexity and urgency of the issue, a methodology was designed that could be useful to field practitioners and researchers as well.

ICIMOD, in partnership with Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), Pune, India, developed and applied this 6-step methodology for reviving springs.

  • Comprehensive mapping of springs and springsheds: In this step, a reconnaissance survey is carried out to delineate springshed area.
  • Setting up a data monitoring system: A rainguage is installed and locals are trained in collecting rainfall and spring discharge data. This baseline data is useful in deciding which springs need to be revived. This data is also shared with the community. 
  • Understanding social and governance aspects: In this step, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and questionnaire surveys are conducted in order to understand current patterns of water use and ways in which communities manage their spring water resources.
  • Hydrological mapping, layout development and identification of recharge area: During a transect walk, geology of the place is observed which includes latitude, longitude, elevation, spring location and measurements. This data is laid out on a google earth base map. This is followed by a cross-sectional layout. Finally, spring and aquifer types are identified and its recharge area is outlined.
  • Developing springshed management protocols: Spring revival and management activities are conducted in this step. This includes hydrogeological inventory for springsheds and their operational and maintenance guidelines. Recharge structures are also built in this step.
  • Step 6 is about measuring the impact of spring revival through continuous monitoring and analysis.

The situation is quite similar in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) where water insecurity is increasing. According to a NITI Aayog report (2018), nearly 50 per cent of springs in the IHR have dried up or have reduced discharge.

Spring water quality has also diminished. Drying up of springs not only affects rural water security, but also river flows, riparian and wetland ecosystems and biodiversity. Climate change is expected to further exacerbate these problems.

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