Groundwater must be replenished if the shallow and deep aquifers are not to be depleted in the next few decades

It's been ages since the Kathmandu Valley has been reeling under perennial water shortages, and the much-delayed Melamchi Water Supply Project was seen as a panacea for the problem. But the project, after delivering water for about three months on a trial basis, suffered huge damage in the floods triggered by the torrential rains in the middle of June. Thus, the uncertainty of the Melamchi waters and probable disruptions in water supply in the future for various reasons have made it necessary to find alternatives to supply sufficient drinking water to the valley's residents.

But even when the Melamchi finally starts delivering 170 million litres of water per day in the mains after the repairs, there will still be a shortfall of around 280 million litres. So to bridge the gap between supply and demand, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has mooted rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge to meet the capital's water needs in both the short and long term.

Kathmandu's water problem would not have been so acute during the dry season if the traditional stone water spouts, ponds and wells had not been destroyed.

Water was freely available in them round the year, but both the public and the authorities chose to bulldoze many of them to make way for roads and buildings. The stone water spouts at Sundhara, as elsewhere in the valley, were once gushing with water until the foundation of a multi-storeyed building adjacent to it snapped the conduit supplying water.

With water rations limited to a few hours a week or no water at all in many residential areas of Kathmandu – forcing residents to buy water in tankers – the KMC has been renovating ponds at different places while completing the groundwater recharge project in the Gongabu-Ranibari area. But it will require carrying out groundwater recharge projects and renovating ponds, wells and stone water spouts on a much wider scale to really ease the water problem.

Currently, half of all water supplied by the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited is groundwater, which is extracted through deep boring. This has led to severe depletion of the ground water level in the city, which needs to be replenished if both the shallow and deep aquifers are not to be depleted in the next few decades. The increasing population density, runaway urbanisation and increasing number of hotels due to a tourism boom in the past two decades have led to more than twice the extraction of groundwater in comparison to recharge. This has caused the groundwater environment to deteriorate, including a decline in water availability in the wells and its quality. The fast disappearing open fields to make way for concrete jungles are also making groundwater recharge slow. But if the KMC or the government has a well thought-out plan, there is no reason why rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge cannot be a success. Since all parts of the country receive adequate rainfall during the monsoon, harvesting water during the rainy season can contribute greatly to overcoming the water shortage during the dry season. Let the campaign to harvest rainwater not be limited to rhetoric during the water crisis in the wake of the Melamchi setback.

Road block

Most of the roads built in the hilly areas of the country continue to remain blocked during the rainy season that normally lasts for months. All these roads are built without carrying out detailed engineering design and environmental assessment. They are built under political pressure, without giving a hoot to the economic prospects that they could bring to the local communities.

A case in point is the Sanphe-Martadi section of the road leading to Bajura, which always remains blocked due to heavy landslides at several places.

The road has been blocked this year too since the beginning of the monsoon that has affected most parts of the country. The Budhiganga River has also swept away some section of the road. Engineers at the Department of Roads blamed the frequent landslides for the blockade of the road, which was built a decade ago. If this problem continues unabated, the federal government must find an alternative route to the road that has not benefited the local communities. Not only has the landslides blocked the road, but they have also swept away arable land due to faulty alignment of the road. It is, therefore, necessary to carry out detailed engineering design before a road is constructed.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 26 2021, of The Himalayan Times.