Recharging Springs in the Himalayas

Recharging springs in the Himalayas holds a lot of promise for people who previously depended on glacier runoff and mountain springs.

Glaciers all over the world are receding. While this may not cause immediate problems for many people, the people who live in the mountains and their foothills rely on glacier meltwater for all their needs: drinking, bathing, washing, and irrigating crops. During the dry season, the people drew water from mountain springs.

The glacier meltwater used to recharge the mountain springs. Less water flowing down the mountains means less water to recharge the underground aquifers. Deforestation has reduced the vegetation cover to the point that remaining meltwater runs off too fast and doesn’t soak into the ground. The Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO) ideas for fixing the problem and recharging springs.

HESCO has a seemingly simple plan: map the recharge zones, replant them, and build water-harvesting structures. Local villagers agree not to graze animals in the recharge zone or harvest the vegetation for use in building. The plantings act in a similar manner to rain gardens, slowing the rain and meltwater enough to allow the water to sink into the ground.

The water-harvesting are simple ditches dug along mountain slopes to direct the runoff into retaining ponds. The ponds also allow the water to soak into the ground.

The plan is already working. Springs that had dried up are flowing again and springs that had not yet dried up have increased their flow.

So far, this has only been tried in one area in the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand in the northern part of India. Sixteen springs are showing improvement, supplying water to five villages. HESCO plans to build further recharge areas, to get 68 springs flowing again in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. 50,000 people could see their lives improve measurably very soon.

Ladakh in Indian Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh, India photo via Shutterstock

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