Local communities lead recovery efforts as Nepal’s springs dry up due to climate change and construction

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Of the 306 municipalities in 56 of the 77 districts surveyed, 74% said their municipal springs had dried up, resulting in water shortages and even migration.

Springs are natural springs that appear when groundwater pressure forces water to the surface of the earth. They are important as a source of water for drinking and irrigation in Nepal’s hilly and mountainous regions, and to keep rivers flowing during the dry season.

Researchers say this dry spring phenomenon is most common in Nepal’s Chure region, which covers nearly 13 percent of the country, followed by hillsides and mountains. They found that road and infrastructure construction, earthquakes, and climate change are the main causes of springs drying out or dying.

“This is an important question because Nepal is one of the main water sources, but most of the research has been done on rivers and lakes,” Bhumika Thapa, lead author of the study, told This Week He spoke to inAsia. “There is a huge gap in government policy. Fountains have been neglected in our country.”

A woman carries water in Nepal’s Kavre Palanchok district. When the springs dry up, locals have to walk further to fetch water.Photo: Bhumika Thapa

the problem at hand

According to a 2023 study by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, 20 percent of the 444 springs in the Namobuddha municipality of Kavrepalanchok, where Bandi Pokhari is located, have dried up, and the output of many other springs has decreased.

Thapa, a former researcher at the non-profit Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, said construction and infrastructure in one village can affect spring water in other nearby areas because of the underground geology.

For example, the Buddhist holy site of Namo Buddha is undergoing a flurry of construction work to accommodate the growing number of tourists who come for hiking and views of the Himalayas, while an alternative road expansion project linking Kathmandu with eastern Nepal is underway. It’s starting. In 2020.

A spring in Dhankuta, eastern Nepal.Photo: Bhumika Thapa

Smriti Gurung, a professor of aquatic ecology, biodiversity and conservation biology at Kathmandu University, said rapid urbanization, deforestation, landslides and groundwater extraction are depleting springs, while climate change is exacerbating the problem. However, he says, people “often don’t realize this.”

“Low precipitation can impede infiltration or reduce infiltration rates, which can result in spring water not being replenished,” she says. “On the other hand, excessive and unpredictable precipitation can cause watershed erosion, flash flooding, and temporary over-discharge in rivers, followed by a lack of base flow and again preventing spring recharge. There is a possibility.”

Changes in weather patterns are impacting rainfall in Nepal, with the country recording last year’s eighth lowest annual rainfall since 1981 (91.2 percent of its 2023 rainfall), according to data from the climate division of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. ) was reported. In 2023, he experienced below-normal precipitation in 9 out of 12 months.

A spring water source in Bhojpur, eastern Nepal.Photo courtesy of Bhumika Thapa

Both Gurung and Thapa say such erratic rainfall affects groundwater recharge and ultimately spring water release.

Gurung said drying up of springs could lead to soil degradation, crop instability, drinking water shortages and frequent droughts, while concentrating pollutants could affect water quality. .

In Bhanj Pokhari, locals like Ghatan are already seeing the impact.

Gatan said the lack of springs has affected agriculture and cattle breeding, and some local residents in the area have been forced to relocate due to water scarcity. Thapa’s research showed that of the 306 municipalities surveyed, 7 percent of reported communities were forced to evacuate due to spring water availability and water quality.

“But it affects women and children more,” Gatan says. “Women have to travel further to fetch water, and when children go to fetch water, they sometimes miss school.”

A recharge pond in a village in Kavrepalanchok district, Nepal. Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

community preservation

In Bandi Pokhari, community leaders like Ghatan are currently working to not only raise awareness but also take action to protect the springs after attending training programs through various environmental organizations. .

Over the past few years, her community has built recharge ponds designed to recharge groundwater around areas used for newly constructed roads. Gatan is also planting more trees around the spring, the area that feeds the spring with groundwater, and voluntarily collecting monthly fees from local residents to organize awareness programs. He said there was.

“Today, the recharge pond is a water source for 150 people in my community. This is our accomplishment,” she says.

Thapa said the pond will recharge groundwater in about a year after the rainy season, and water will start flowing from the spring the following year.

The recharge pond in Nepal’s Namobuddha municipality was created as part of the Resilient Mountain Solutions initiative. Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Meanwhile, the Namobuddha municipality is also helping to conserve the spring water, and has invested an annual budget of about 2.2 million rupees (US$16,580) in spring conservation since last year, said Santosh Kafre, the municipality’s environmental officer. said.

The city has also launched a “one ward, one pond” campaign in 11 wards in an attempt to recharge groundwater for spring water.

“A lot of people are pumping groundwater through deep borings, but that only depletes the groundwater,” Kafre said. “It’s not a sustainable approach. Building these ponds and conserving traditional natural water sources will benefit the entire community.”

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Gurung believes that protecting springs requires scientific knowledge, active community participation, good governance, as well as a coordinated effort by all stakeholders. She added that it is also important to map springs and spring water sources and assess their water quality.

However, Thapa said Nepal lacks such data, and although some local governments and communities have built recharge ponds to preserve springs, there is currently no way to manage and conserve springs. He stated that there is no specific policy regarding this.

“When developing policies and laws, we need good information about the sector,” she says, noting that governments should start by documenting the spring water situation in each municipality.

“But if people don’t have it, what do you base your laws on? If you don’t know the impact of those problems, what do you do about them?”

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