The catchment area in Yakpugang CF is the main water source

Tashi Phuntsho

At a time when the issue of water shortage is growing in Bhutanese villages and towns, payment for environment services (PES) scheme has proved the right answer.

As yet, however, not all the dzongkhag have adopted the scheme.

In Yakpugang, Mongar the scheme is a major success story. Members of Yakpugang Community Forest (YCF) and the dzongkhag’s water user group have renewed PES agreement. The parties agreed to extend the contract term to 10 from five years and also revise the payment from Nu 30 to 50 per unit on the water meter a month for the town. The rate remains the same for the Mongar Regional Referral Hospital. Mongar forest Division under the DoFPs facilitated the establishment of the PES scheme.

The beauty of the scheme, which was first initiated in 2010, is that it incentivises the community forest members to protect the forest from excessive grazing and over-harvesting. Seen from the broader perspective, maintaining the watersheds upstream will result in good water yield and quality which will be beneficial to the hydropower stations downstream, irrigation and drinking water supply.

The idea is based on sharing the cost of conservation between the communities and the service users.

Service users/beneficiaries/buyers pay Nu 228,200 annually. During first two terms, they were provided an incentive of Nu 52, 000 and Nu 1, 48,200 respectively.

The protected area with a buffer zone in the watershed was identified as a recharge zone with the area of 638 acres surrounding the water source which covers more than half of the total CF area.

PES agreement was first signed between the Yakpugang CF and water user groups in 2011 for a period of three years. This was renewed in 2015 with a new term of five years that expired in December 2019.

The catchment area in Yakpugang CF is the main water source that caters for the residents in Mongar town and the hospital staff. The CFM has 103 members from Yakpugang and upper Kidheykhar village. The CF covers an area of 650 acres.

Apart from protecting the recharge zone, the CFM members have to carry out certain regular activities like cleaning the stream, afforestation, guarding CF against illegal extraction of forest resources, limiting the number of cattle members, and maintaining sanitation and hygiene, among others.

Mongar Gup Tenzin Wangchuk said that with the scheme communities also benefited financially. It helped preserve their natural resources and educated the local people on how to protect the continuous flow of water from the sources.

The chairman of the community forest, Sangay Dorji, said that after establishing PES in the communities, officials from Watershed Management Division helped the locals with the system.

Mongar’s thromde engineer, Ram Bahadur Darjee, said that Mongar town had nine water sources, including the one at Yakpugang, seven km from town. There are 200 building owners in the town with 200 water meters in place. However, about 60 percent of the people living in the town do not have water tank or other storage facility which led to water shortage.

Mongar hospital’s deputy chief administrative officer, Karma Yeshi, said that the scheme ensured that there is enough water.

YCF has 103 members from Kedheykhar and Yakpugang. It has Nu 714,400 in its savings account. Sonam Zangpo, accountant, said: “The money will enrich the community’s fund and will benefit in whatever ways the communities decide to use it. It could also lend and help the disadvantaged members of the community.”

Chief forestry officer, Sigyel Delma, said that the scheme was very effective. It has helped protect the water sources and, at the same time, service users can generate income.

The scheme functions according to an agreement signed between the service providers. The service providers carry out set of activities and service users pay for the activities after verifying the performance of the activities.

For example, the service providers of Yakpugang will maintain recharge zone of 638 acres. For that, the users will pay Nu 80,000 from Mongar Thromdey and Nu 20,000 from Mongar hospital. Service providers will also carry out plantation in the degraded area within the watershed, stop illegal extractions of forest resources, clear stream channels, limit grazing in the watershed area (communities shall be allowed to keep more than 5 cattle heads in the area). In total, service users in town will pay Nu 178, 200 and hospital Nu 50,000 annually.

“There is no specific study on the impact of climate change on water resources in the area, but we are experiencing more extreme weather events, triggering landslides and other disasters if the watershed is not managed properly” Signal Delma said.

PES demarcates watershed areas for different purposes to safeguard three spring sources in Yakpugang.

However, all this is not without challenges.

For one, continuity or the lack of it. Frequent changing of dzongkhag and local government leader create gaps in the implementation of the scheme. Lack of capacities of the local partners is another.

About 638 acres of the 924-acre community forest is under watershed management. That means there is natural shortage of timber for construction purposes.

It seems that when the watershed management division proposed the PES scheme, the communities did not envision that such problems could visit them in the future.

According to YCF’s PES secretary, community members were very keen and even contributed labour for a month to convert their community forests to PES standards.

There are three PES schemes in the country today.

Recently, to protect the water sources in the country 42nd and 43rd batch of De-Suung were given special training on water management.

The story is financially supported by Bhutan Media Foundation