Farmers short of water despite rain

Change in rainfall pattern has adversely affected paddy plantation

Monsoon: Unlike previous years, farmers, who depend on rainwater for paddy transplantation, are happy that this year’s rainfall has been good enough for them to transplant their paddy saplings.

However, receiving enough rainfall may not be of much help to farmers in the long run mainly because of the change in rainfall pattern, according to the principal research officer with RNRRC Bajo, Thinley Gyamtsho.

“Although we do receive the same quantity of rain, today’s rain is like a shower and not continuous,” he said. “Such rainfall remains at the surface and does not infiltrate into the soil.”

Citing an example, he said, the Toebrongchu swells when it rains but during plantation, it gets diverted and, by the time it reaches downstream, there is only a small flow of water, which is not sufficient for famers.

He said, although no study has been conducted on how many old water sources have dried up, there were several cases reported from districts like Punakha, Wangdue and Dagana, where old water sources had either shrunk or dried completely.

Irrespective of any reasons, he said, watersheds and water sources are drying and pushing farmers to become dependent on rainwater for irrigation.

“In terms of per capita water requirement, Bhutan has enough, but at a local level there is water scarcity,” he said.

According to him, Bhutan’s problem is that most water sources have small watersheds, except for areas like Paro, which sources its water from the Parochu.  The problem can be mitigated, he said, through rainwater harvesting and storing rainwater to be used during plantation.  However, this comes at a cost and water distribution would pose another challenge.

Thinley Gyamtsho said a preliminary study to resolve the irrigation water shortage for Bali and Yabisa villages in Chhubu, Punakha is underway at the RNRRC, Bajo.  This was taken up following acute water shortages that people of these two villages faced after the villages’ old water sources started drying.

Chhubu gup Sonam Tobgyal said the older sources were not sufficient to supply drinking water for more than 80 households of the two villages.

While people manage to transplant when there is sufficient rainfall, he said, there have been cases where farmers had to leave their land fallow for want of water.  Around three-four acres of paddy fields are today left fallow in these villages.

Gup Sonam Tobgyal said the communities did find two water sources, Dungkarrongchu and Shashirongchu, a survey found both sources in Kabjisa gewog. Although both sources have sufficient water and is not far from Chhubu, the people of Kabjisa gewog denied giving public clearances.

Another source identified within Chhubu gewog was more than 23km away from the villages and channeling it to the village would cost a huge amount, he said

The shortage was not just in Chhubu, but Guma gewog as well.

Guma gup Namgay Tshering said following acute shortage of irrigation and drinking water in two of its biggest chiwogs, Dochurisa and Changyul Trashijong, they identified Dungkar Rongchu as a source.

The 18 km long irrigation channel is estimated to cost Nu 200M, and if constructed would benefit more than 1,000 households of the two chiwogs along with residents around Punakha dzong.

“We proposed for its construction in both the 10th and 11th Plan and even before that, but due to budget constraints, the activity was delisted,” gup Namgay Tshering said. “We also requested the home minister, during his recent visit to the dzongkhag.”

However, the issue didn’t get resolved and villages like Risa and Changyul are currently sharing water with Khuru town. “The gewog has requested the town to share until we get new sources,” the gup said. Tewang and Limbukha gewogs also face similar problems.

Research officer Thinley Gyamtsho said there were cases where, people of Ometeykha and Matalongchu had to fight several court cases over water sources but the shortage of water is yet to be addressed.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Punakha

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