The problem of plenty

Water: Bhutan is faced with the problem of abundant waters. While the country has one of the highest per capita water availability in the world, accessibility for various purposes is fast becoming a growing challenge. Experts formulating the National Integrated Water Resources Management Plan for the past 16 months say so.

The draft plan discussed at the first national stakeholder consultation meeting yesterday involves agencies of the water sector to develop governance mechanism for the agencies to help achieve water security.

Experts said there is no blanket solution to the problem of plenty. Managing the water at micro scale can best be done at the local level.

“This is particularly the case in Bhutan because of its large local variations in elevation and terrain,” said an expert.

Seasonal availability of water compounds the problem of accessibility. The monsoon rains last only from April to October, which drains out within a short period of time. Underground water is the only source during winter.

Besides watershed conservation, water outflow can also be slowed-down artificially with retention structures such as check dams for domestic use, irrigation and perhaps even for micro-hydropower generation.

To prepare the plan, preliminary studies carried out in four locations with potential for a multi-purpose reservoir at Haa, Burichhu in Tsirang, Yunari in Mongar, and Nikachhu in Trongsa.

Draft reports from hydrological models that were made to study the water availability in the future show that rainfall is likely to increase in summer.

“The present cases of drying of water sources in parts of the country could be a downward cycle in an overall upward (water availability) trend,” an expert said.

For sustainable water use and water security, the draft plan recommends formation of river basin committee for the five identified river basins, water users associations, the web-based Bhutan Water Security Index (BWSI), and strengthening of the agencies for better implementation the plan.

The BWSI platform can help planners and decision makers ensure judicious use of the resource. Using the software, which has water availability details across the nation, agencies could check the water balance in a place for a proposed water -based business or enterprise.

“If the balance comes negative then the business cannot be approved for the locality,” an expert said.

According to 2010 World Bank report the country’s water security is less than 50 percent.

The Water Act of Bhutan 2011 identifies integrated water resources management (IWRM) as the approach to protect, conserve and manage water resources in an economically efficient, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable manner.

The Act requires the National Environment Commission (NEC) to prepare and periodically update National Integrated Water Resources Management Plan for conservation, development and management of water resources in the country. It also requires NEC and competent authorities to take account of the approved plan in all water-related decisions and ensure that plans are mainstreamed into national policies and programmes.

NIWRMP was prepared with financial and technical support from Asian Development Bank and Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. A French consulting firm, Aegis, along with Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) and Bhutan Water Partnership prepared the plan for NEC.

The NEC will hold consultations meetings with decision makers. The NIWRM Plan will be launched next month.

Tshering Palden

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