Choki Wangmo 

Beginning next year, Thimphu will have a fully automated sewerage system in Babesa with 12 million litres per day (MLD) capacity.

The mechanised plant with sequential batch reactor (SBR) equipment will have an artificial aeration, pumping station for low lying areas like Babesa, disinfection tank and screening system, among others.

It is expected to replace the current 1.75 MLD capacity wastewater stabilisation ponds in Babesa which have irked the residents of lower Thimphu and commuters along the highway.

While the ponds catered to about 16,000 people the SBR system is planned to cater to about 100,000 people, especially from the south Thimphu and core city area.

The project, started in 2012, has been extended until June next year.

The contract worth more than USD 14 million is based on 85:15 percent cost sharing between the Asian Development Bank and the government.

Due to delays caused by the Covid-19, project manager Kinley Penjore, said that since some equipment and experts couldn’t be imported, in the earlier stage, the operation would be manual.

The plant is built on a five-acre land with space for future expansion. The current ponds, built on 14 acres of land, would be converted into recreational parks.

Conservation concerns

Bird lovers and conservation agencies have, however, expressed their concerns over the future of migratory waterbirds should the current ponds be turned into a park.

The founder of Bhutan Birdlife Society, Tshering Tobgay, said that the ponds and areas nearby had become one of the popular birding habitats in Thimphu. “It is sad news for society but we feel that if the ecosystem is getting replaced by an ecological park, there won’t be a drastic change.”

The society suggested the government keep some provisions for artificial ponds that will continue to receive the waterbirds and shorebirds.

An ornithologist, Sherub, said that birds are attracted to man-made structures such as sewerage ponds and reservoirs across the world. He said that with the ponds gone, the waterbirds would be displaced. “Sadly, humankind’s priority always takes lead over other species’ need.”

The members of the Bhutan Birdlife Society on their Facebook group debated over the topic. Some members said that the thromde should incorporate nature-based solutions with a park with a pond for visitors to enjoy feeding and watching birds.

“We can develop a recreational park with ponds and a few metres of a buffer zone to allow birds to have some space?” one asked.

A member said that the area was a great place to watch waterbirds but with drastic loss of wetlands, the survival of the species is threatened.

A participant, however, said it would be better to create a park.

“I think human health is more important than birds. The smell is causing a lot of problems to the people who are residing around the sewage plant,” he said.

More than 20 bird species have been recorded in the area, including the arrival of Critically Endangered White-bellied Heron.