The Paokhola water source in Tsirang will be legally protected to benefit the environment, consumers and the community close to the source.

The community of Thakorling and Khuchi-Darachhu and the users living in Damphu signed the Payment for Environmental Services (PES) affirming the collaborative effort to protect Paokhola water source last week.

The community agreed on five PES activities which needs to be carried out annually, at the end of which, a verification team would monitor and accordingly provide a fee.

The five activities include maintaining, a buffer area of about 100 metres radius on both sides of the three streams in Khuchi-Darachhu. Every four months, the stream channels need to be cleared. Besides guarding the watershed area from illegal extractions of forest resources, and limiting livestock grazing in the area, plantation activities would to be carried out.

For all these activities, the users will pay about Nu 224,000 in a year to the community or the service providers. In the last meeting on July 18, every user paid Nu 3.11 as PES fee in addition to the water bill for each metre holder.

Chief forestry officer at Watershed Management Division, Sigyel Delma, said that the payment for environmental services is one of the mechanisms that will help conserve water sources. She said that it is a unique scheme as the water users are willing to pay the community living near the watershed for conservation activities.   

 “When we say PES, we are not paying for water as a commodity, but for activities such as plantation to protect the water source and natural forest as it is. Such activities involve a cost.”

She said that as Bhutan graduate from the status of a least developed country, there is the need to look for revenues and resources for conservation activities. “It will depend on whether there is potential and need for a PES to be established. There needs to be beneficiaries and users.”

However, the watershed management division would, wherever feasible, conduct  consultations and assessment. “It’s really up to the stakeholders, but we need to sensitise and advocate the conservation of watershed as the natural forest are the best reserve for recharging water resources.”

It is the fourth PES scheme established in the country since its first establishment in Mongar in 2011.

Sigyel Delma said that the scheme would help create ownership as community and users become part of conservation. “Forest has intangible and tangible benefits, but right now water is an indispensable resource and a priority, as the country faces growing water shortage issues.”

The agreement is valid for 10 years.

Chairperson of the Khuchi community forest, Ganesh Sunwar, said that there were plans to carry out plantation activities. “We have agreed to not extract stones or timber from  near the streams and catchment area. Although we are being paid, it is something that will be good in the long run.”

A verification team of six members from the stakeholders would be formed to verify and monitor the agreed activities. If the verification team finds that the activities are not carried out, the amount won’t be provided to the community.

Rinchen Zangmo  | Tsirang