Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on June 2 said that the 12th Plan would focus on providing 24×7 water supply for every Bhutanese household. Over Nu 500 million were invested in Thimphu Thromde alone to ensure safe drinking water, he said.

However, in Thimphu, distribution disturbances, rapid developmental activities, large and growing population, and drying water sources are causing frequent drinking water shortage.

According to the Royal Audit Authority’s (RMA) performance report, only 1.53 percent of the population in Thimphu gets 11 to 18 hours of water supply. Twenty-nine percent of the residents gets less than two-hour water supply in a day.

Challenges facing Thimphu Thromde

Thimphu Thromde supplies more than 20 MLD of water every day through its four water treatment plants and six boreholes.

RMA report said that about 34 percent of water was lost along distribution network between 2015 and 2016, a rise from 32 percent in the year 2014-2015.

This means that of 20 MLD supplied by the thromde, 6.8 MLD of water is lost along distribution network.

The report also found irregularities in water distribution networks such as illegal tapping, water connection bypassing water meter, approval of water connection from transmission lines, provision of more than one water connection per dwelling and water supply diverted to community water tank.

The plant in Motithang has a capacity of 6.5 million litres a day (MLD), 6.5 MLD in Chamgang, 6.5 MLD in Jungshina, and 1.5 MLD in Dechencholing. Thimphu residents also depend on about 14 community water sources.

However, today, almost all the water sources are experiencing depletion in water generation.

In the past, the normal water flow from three water sources – Phumla, Dhameylung, and the spring water from Phajoding monastery, which goes to the treatment plant at Motithang was about 8.5 to 9 MLD of water everyday at this time of the year. Today, it has decreased to about 7.5 MLD.

Principal engineer with thromde’s water supply and sewage section, Naphel Drukpa, said that the capacity of the water treatment plant at Motithang, which is 6.5 MLD per day, could be increased up to 15 percent of the original capacity.

He said that the spring water from Phajoding is drying. “And this year we didn’t have snowfall. If the snowfall is normal, it helps recharge the sources. In the past, we had enough rainfall during this time of the year. There is little rain and it brings temporary surface run-off, which comes to the treatment plant. But as soon as the rain stops, the water flow comes down.”

Water from the treatment plant at Motithang is distributed to the tanks at Changzamtog, Changedaphu, National Pension and Provident Fund colony, hospital, Yangchephu, part of Zilukha, Kawajangsa, and core city areas. “We have connectivity to supply to the tank next to BCCI office. However, we don’t supply because we have shortage today,” Naphel Drukpa said.

He added that catchment management and protection is important for the survival of the water sources. Motithang water shed area has settlements at Phajoding and Pumlakha.

The sources at Samtenling, Dechencholing, Chamgang, and Jungshina are stream water. Watershed areas at Samtenling and Dechencholing do not have settlements and deforestation is minimal.

Changjiji and Changzamtog have three boreholes each. However, only two of the boreholes in Changzamtog are functional and generate 0.4 MLD water. “We need to do maintenance work for other boreholes and make them functional,” Naphel Drukpa said.

Despite significant lapse of time, the master plan for national drinking water is not yet formulated to identify available options to guarantee sufficient water for future generations.


Areas with Thromde water supply

Today, Changzamtog area faces the maximum water shortage in Thimphu. Except Dechencholing, almost all other areas in Thimphu have issues of water shortage.  Changzamtog has over 900 house connections making it the area with maximum water demand.

According to Naphel Drukpa the area developed rapidly in the last 5 years and without a local area plan (LAP). “LAP for Changzamtog was developed two years ago. We still have problems.”

Community water sources are also drying at Changzamtog.

Pema Zangmo, a restaurant owner, said that she gets hardly two-hour water supply, which is also irregular. “Last month, we didn’t have water for about a week.”

The core city area such as Changzamtog, Norzin lam, Changangkha, and Kawajangsa are supplied from Motithang treatment plant. Although core city areas face water shortage often, the issue is not severe, Naphel Drukpa said. “The shortage is due to redevelopment activities and presence of high-end hotels.”

According to Naphel Drukpa, following a request from Hotels and Restaurants Association of Bhutan (HRAB), thromde allowed the HRAB to take water directly from the Jungshina treatment plant. “Thromde has asked HRAB to arrange their own vehicles for the transportation of the water from the treatment plant.”

Naphel Drukpa said that although Changjiji and Hejo have occasional water shortage problems, the main issue is pumping system in the communities. “Water will have to climb directly to the houses, but the houses do not have pumps installed. The property owner is responsible for activities such as providing the water pump, tanks and caretakers,” he said.

The thromde is helping communities of Hejo maintain and augment the community water supply. Hejo gets water supply from Dechencholing treatment plant. “Our main focus and priority is to improve the existing network through system input, measurements and metering,” said Naphel Drukpa. “I think the problem is with the usage habits. People continue to waste water. We need more advocacy and awareness.”

Chanjiji gets water supply from the three boreholes and from the treatment plant in Jungshina. Langjophakha’s water supply is from Jungsina water treatment plant, and Yangchenphu’s from Motithang. Zilukha gets from both Motithang and Jungshina.

Naphel Drunkpa said that although Langjophakha has no water issues, making the current system secure and sustainable is important. “Yangchenphu has issue sometimes because water flow from Motithang and developmental activities are increasing in the area.”

Motithang and some parts of Changidaphu get 24-hour water supply, which is rationed to divert the water to residents of Changzamtog. The areas of south Thimphu such as Babesa and Olakha get water supply from the treatment plant in Chamgang. Dechencholing is the only area in the thromde, which has 24 hours water supply.

Karma, a resident of Motithang, said even though shortage of water is better than other areas, supply is beginning to be erratic. “We sometimes do not get water for three days.”

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the water supply to Olakha and Babesa are sometimes disrupted when landslides damage pipelines.


Areas without thromde water supply

The thromde’s treated water supply is yet to reach areas such as the community near Rinchen High School, Taba, Changdelo, Samarzhingkha, Lubding, Lungtenphu, Jagoma, and Pamtsho. Thromde, however, provides support such as water schemes, technical and material assistance and improvement of the existing schemes.

Nakphel Drunkpa said that these areas sometimes face water issues due to pipe blockage or leakage.

The Water Regulation of Bhutan 2014 requires the thromde’s water supply system be the only source of potable water supply system within the municipality’s jurisdiction unless it is technically not feasible.

Nakphel Drukpa said that these community water sources have to be merged with the thromde’s water supply system in the future.


Initiatives to address water shortage

In the 12th Plan, 24-hour water supply is a priority.

The construction of the 10 MLD Water Treatment Plant at Taba, Thimphu is expected to meet the water demand of Thimphu thromde. The plant, which is being constructed, will cater to about 100,000 people in Taba, Jungshina, Pamtsho, Hejo, Samtenling, Langjophakha, Yangchenphu, and Changiji.

“About 50 percent of construction has been completed. When water from Dodeyna reaches these areas, water supply from Motithang could be diverted to the core area,” Naphel Drukpa said.

Thromde is also replacing the water distribution pipelines. The construction of the treatment plant is expected to complete at the end of this year.


Water supply scenario in the country

According to the chief engineer with Water and Sanitation Division, Dechen Yangden, Thimphu, Zhemgang, Mongar, and Chhukha were identified under the 12th Plan’s National Flagship Programme as the dzongkhags face water shortage.

According to Rural Water Supply Inventory, Samtse, Chhukha, Wangdue, Dagana, Samdrupjongkhar, Trongsa, Pemagatshel, and Trashigang have the maximum number of non-functional water supply schemes and the least rural water supply scheme coverage.

Chief engineer with Public Health and Engineering Division, Rinchen Wangdi, said that Gasa, Bumthang, Tsirang, and Sarpang have the maximum number of functional schemes and coverage but there could still be schemes having seasonal water shortages. “There are pockets of area in every dzongkhags with water shortages, mostly seasonal in nature.”

In case of water shortage in the rural communities, Rinchen Wangdi said that decline in community ownership could be one of the reasons.  “People tend to look up to the government for support to carry out even minor repair such as a replacement of a section of pipe, common tap and source protection, among others.”

He said that if people began taking community ownership and responsibilities seriously, water shortages could be solved to a certain extent.

Karma Cheki and Phurpa Lhamo