Panel urges plan to save Himalayan springs

A NITI Aayog constituted a group of experts has urged the government to set up a dedicated mission to salvage and revive spring water systems in the country’s Himalayan States given their vital importance as a source of water for both drinking and irrigation for the region’s inhabitants.

Himalayan spring water systems are important as a source of water for both drinking and irrigation for the region’s inhabitants. Spanning States across the country’s north and northeast and home to about 50 million people, the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) has been heavily reliant on these natural groundwater sources.

Also, with almost 64% of the cultivable area in the Himalayas fed by natural springs, they are often the only source of irrigation in the region.

Almost half of the perennial springs have already dried up or have become seasonal and tens of thousands of villages are currently facing acute water shortage for drinking and other domestic purposes.

Almost 60% of low-discharge springs that provided water to small habitations in the Himalayan region have reported a clear decline during the last couple of decades.

The extent of the crisis plaguing the mountainous region was recently evident when more than half a dozen districts of Himachal Pradesh and the State capital Shimla faced a severe drinking water crisis this May after major water sources either went fully or partially dry.

These water sources today are under increasing threat from the urbanization caused by a constant push for development and climate change.

There are also multiple sources of pollution in springs and these were due to both geogenic, or ‘natural’ causes and anthropogenic, or man-made, ones.

Microbial content, sulphates, and nitrates were primarily because of anthropogenic reasons and contamination from fluoride, arsenic and iron was mainly derived from geogenic sources.

Meghalaya with 3,810 villages with springs has the highest number of these water sources in the Eastern Himalayan States.

Sikkim has the greatest density with 94% of its villages having a spring.

In the Western Himalayas, Jammu & Kashmir had both the highest number of villages with springs at 3,313 and the greatest density of 50.6%.

A multidisciplinary, collaborative approach of managing springs that will involve building upon the existing body of work on spring water management is needed. The programme could be designed on the concept of an action-research programme as part of a hydrogeology-based, community-support system on spring water management.

The task force moots an 8-year programme to overhaul spring water management. This includes: preparing a digital atlas of the country’s springsheds, training ‘para-hydrogeologists’ who could lead grassroots conservation and the introduction of a ‘Spring Health Card.’

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