Staff reporter  

The National Environment Commission Secretariat and partner agencies have begun efforts to assess the country’s groundwater reserves as part of a climate adaptation project funded by the Green Climate Fund and supported by UNDP.

A task force, led by the National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) in partnership with UNDP, for groundwater resources assessment, has been formed. It comprises members from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Engineering Services, Department of Forests and Park Services, Department of Geology and Mines, National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, and College of Natural Resources.

The project, ‘Comprehensive assessment of water resources targeting both the quality and quantity aspects of water’, will be implemented in Samdrup Jongkhar and Sarpang. The fieldwork will begin in May and end in December 2022. The two dzongkhags were identified based on the priorities of the Water Flagship Program.

The goal is to understand the availability of groundwater and its accessibility. The study will result in an inventory of groundwater in the selected sites of the two dzongkhags, which will serve as a baseline for assessing its potential for abstraction. The fieldwork will help establish procedures and build capacity for undertaking such assessments in the rest of the country.

“Groundwater is an important water resource, but much remains to be explored. The assessments will enhance our existing limited knowledge and database on groundwater reserves in the country,” said an official from Water Resources Coordination Division (WRCD), NECS.

“In other words, it’s about making groundwater, an important hidden water source ‘visible’, which is critical for enabling its effective and sustainable management,” he said.

Exploring, protecting, and sustainably using groundwater has never been more important than now. Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. Despite the abundant water resources, water scarcity has become a growing concern due to climate change.

“Groundwater has always been critically important but not fully recognized in the sustainable development policymaking. Hence, this year’s World Water Day theme, “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible” draws attention to the vital role groundwater plays in water and sanitation systems, agriculture, industry, ecosystems and climate change adaptation,” said UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota.

“The ongoing groundwater assessment will pave the way for exploration of groundwater as an alternative water source. This study will enable Bhutan to make informed decisions backed by science for effective planning and sustainable management of this precious water resource.”

Springwater sources, one of the primary sources of drinking water in Bhutan, are intricately linked to underground aquifers. Therefore, the groundwater assessment will also help Bhutan understand why its spring water sources are said to be drying up.

“An in-depth understanding of our water resources based on scientific data and analysis will help us work towards ensuring a healthy water cycle and avoid aquifer depletion, leading to enhanced water as well as environmental security and increased resilience to disasters,” said an official from NECS.

The groundwater assessment is being carried out as part of the project, “Preparation of a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for Bhutan, with a focus on the water sector”. The project, being implemented by NECS in collaboration with several other government agencies and technical support from UNDP, benefits from a US$ 2.7 million grant from the Green Climate Fund, a fund created under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenges of climate change.