Experts and media narratives often cited the drying of water sources as one of the root causes of the shortage of drinking water in Bhutan and claimed it to be an impact of climate change. In recent months, digging trenches upstream seems to be a ‘trend’ in addressing water shortages. As a group of water experts, we suggest that research-based and data-driven catchment management strategies are needed to identify long-term solutions. 

Further, there is also a need to address challenges associated with our poorly-designed water distribution networks, especially in the cities. A typical modern water supply system comprises the water source, transmission mains, treatment plants, and a distribution network, which includes pipes and distribution tanks. The treated water is then stored temporarily and supplied to the consumers through a network of pipelines called a distribution system. A water distribution network includes pipes, reservoirs, pumps, valves, and other hydraulic components. Problems associated with the water distribution system include inadequate infrastructure, leakage, improper management, and insufficient storage reservoirs. It is evident from the random distribution of pipe networks along the upper Taba area, that our water distribution network requires proper planning. Besides, the distribution networks could be losing a significant amount of water through leakage. Ignoring all those infrastructural and management issues, blaming on drying of water sources as the main cause of water shortage could lead us nowhere. 

In many parts of the world, water managers and environmental agencies monitor and manage water resources similar to managing our personal bank accounts. The water managers have robust data collection points to ensure they know the exact amount of water in their catchments – both above and below ground. Accordingly, water allocation within a catchment would be happening through abstraction licenses just like the banks vigilantly maintaining their balance sheet. The water utility managers know how much and when to extract and when to reduce the abstraction. Currently, the water resources managers in Bhutan have limited data and thus cannot make pre-informed decisions on water resource allocation. Simply approving all kinds of water abstraction without proper water budget studies could result in over-abstraction. Further, if the groundwater or the sub-surface flow is decreasing, spending millions of funds for digging trenches upstream would be redundant. So, how confident are our managers if they were to predict the amount of water stored in our catchments?  

Of course, we acknowledge that inefficient use of water resources is rampant too. When there is no adequate water supply, the quality of water can be easily overlooked which could have long-term public health consequences.  Thus, advocating for behavioral changes, promoting efficient water-saving technologies including smart metering, using modern technologies to detect leakage, and reviewing water fees would all contribute to ensuring 24×7 supply of potable water.

The key message as a team of water experts, we propose relevant agencies start gathering data (both surface and groundwater) which could enable them to develop a simple water balance for areas facing critical water shortage. Hydrological data can be collected by installing monitoring bores and gauging stations, which in the long-term would be useful in making informed decisions based on ‘real-time’ environmental behaviour. Such hydrological data are also useful in infrastructure development as they feed into hydrological models for predicting future levels of stormwater and flood events. The data on both groundwater and surface water are critical because they are interlinked. Based on those long-term data, maybe Bhutan should explore options to build reservoirs or abstract groundwater. A word of caution, groundwater is not a viable source if there is no surface water. Often, Bhutan’s water management strategies state groundwater as an alternative source of water, which is technically incorrect! 

The article is published based on personal experiences and observations by a group of water researchers from Bhutan. The group can be contacted at