As residents of Nathuakhan village in Uttarakhand herald spring, level of their natural water resources like springs, rivulets and ponds is declining. So for spring rejuvenation, Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) and other prominent civil society organizations worked to empower local communities to take up sustainable land management.
Springs, rivulets and ponds are the veins of the Himalayas’ water system and are fundamental for sustaining livelihoods, and supporting the cultural heritage and collective well-being of mountain communities. Many people in the Himalayan region are experiencing climate change impacts such as an increase in extreme precipitation events and longer drought periods.
Climate change propels spring rejuvenation
Climate change continues to impact the availability, quality and accessibility of potable water resources in the Himalayas, as confirmed by the Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
According to a 2018 report by the Indian government, less than 50% of Uttarakhand’s population has access to adequate quantities of safe drinking water. As a result, the call to revive springs in the mountains is becoming louder and more urgent. This is where CHIRAG comes in for spring rejuvenation.
To achieve measurable and replicable results, CHIRAG has deployed a practical method, originally inspired by a more technical process designed by the Pune-based Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM).
To achieve measurable and replicable results for spring rejuvenation, CHIRAG has deployed a practical method, originally inspired by a more technical process designed by the Pune-based Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM). Researchers teach local communities about mountain geology and explain how water flows beneath the rocks, to help them understand how rivulets form and travel underground before reaching the surface. They involve residents in creating recharge structures such as contour trenches, deep pits and percolation pits, which in turn help revive the springs. Thus efforts are on to teach the locals about spring rejuvenation. Rainwater collects in these pits during the monsoon, and between late June and early September soaks into the aquifer, rather than running off the land. This process also helps protect the local vegetation, preserving soil integrity.
A useful technique
After testing their method on more than 400 springs in the lower Himalayan Kumaon region (one of the two divisions of Uttarakhand state, a region of rich biodiversity), CHIRAG researchers found that the method is both effective and replicable in a wide range of natural settings for spring rejuvenation. Surendra Negi, a team leader at CHIRAG, said, “This springwater-revival method resonated with locals.” One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand the science behind the rejuvenation process, Negi explained. An intermediate level of education is enough to engage with the scheme, something that is crucial to its success. “Community engagement,” he added, “is the backbone [of the project’s] replicability in Uttarakhand.”
The Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR, a research-based NGO in Uttarakhand) is studying the health of springs in Nainital, the district where village Nathuakhan is located. CEDAR is also gauging the participation of local residents as citizen scientists through field visits. The ongoing project, led by CEDAR in partnership with CHIRAG, started in late 2019. By 2021, it was showing results.