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Water Resource Recovery and Sustainability for Kathmandu

Garry de la PomeraiGarry de la Pomerai

In order to consider any water resource recovery and maintenance strategy, it is necessary to understand the complexities of the water system within your region.

Plus you need a methodical strategy clearly planned and capable of being understood by all, allowing all stakeholders and individuals to know exactly how they fit in and contribute.

Simultaneously it is necessary for everyone to accept that there is a problem. Nepal has 2.7 % of the available fresh water on Earth, making it the second country, after Brazil, with most water reserves in the world and yet in Kathmandu there is currently a demand of around 320 million litres of water every day but only 120 are supplied.

So regardless of the plentiful reserves of water its about access and management, which includes respect. The biggest challenge is to learn respect for your water. Not so many years ago the rivers through the valley were pristine, in fact bathed in from the various Temples steps. So where did the respect disappear? Now the rivers, streams and canals and even the feature community Ponds are strewn with discarded garbage.

I have even witnessed plastic bags of rubbish being thrown into the river from inside of a temple boundary! And how can we recover the water resources across Kathmandu to a level to be proud of and in fact to be a credit for tourism? Any strategy must have a clear road map of water resource management, identifying the various roles and responsibilities that need be designated and delegated. The basic strategy overview applies to all Nations.

The Components of a National Water Resource Strategy
The Components of a National Water Resource Strategy

Nepal Water Resources:

Let us first review the bigger Nepal picture and I quote from the ‘International Institute of Water Management’ in Kathmandu,

“Nepal has 2.7 % of the available fresh water on Earth, making it the second country, after Brazil, with more water reserves in the world. The 8.6 million cubic meters of water that flow from the Himalaya peaks through the Nepali valleys every year provide each of its inhabitants an annual availability of 9000 cubic meters (9 million liters).

This is one of the highest rates in the world. The thaw of nearly 3000 glaciers and lakes in the highest mountains of the Earth feeds over 6000 rivers and streams that flow through the Nepal valleys. This enormous flow supplies water to over one thousand million inhabitants downstream, in India and Pakistan.

However, nearly 5 million inhabitants of Nepal, 18% of the population, do not have access to safe sources of drinking water, and 30.9% lives below the poverty threshold, according to data of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). the high level of pollution due to agricultural pesticides, fertilizers and waste water are the main causes of the problems of lack of water”.

And the ‘Water Project’ Agency supports this by quote: “It is without a doubt that the domestic sewage system is deemed one of the top sources of water pollution that seeps into rivers and lakes, which are the primary sources of drinking water. The capital city of Kathmandu is estimated to produce150 tons of waste daily and almost half of this is dumped into rivers and 80 percent of the wastewater is generated by households.

In addition, due to the increasing population and establishments, surface water sources alone has become inadequate to service everyone. As only 27 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation, those without access rely on local surface water sources like rivers for bathing and washing clothes.

At the same time, the establishments of water treatment facilities throughout the urban and rural regions are limited”.

Consequently this identifies that the Valley is in dire need for a comprehensive water resource strategy that embraces every level of society, before it becomes too late, similar to many cities in India and elsewhere globally. For the purpose of this introductory article we concentrate on the Kathmandu valley.

The Kathmandu Valley Water Dynamics

Let us understand the natural water system of the valley, once a lake in a historical times, remnants of glacier retreat and seismic plate shifts. The following pictorials identify several features that help explain the dynamics of the valleys water system; additionally during the Rana dynasty the Ran constructed Royal Kulas in the valley, the Triyuga, Manusmara and the Chandra Canals were used for irrigation.

Overview of the Kathmandu Valley Natural water system. Including water course, recharge zones, shallow aquifer , groundwater basin all within the watershed perimeter

Cross section shows the geology and primary sources of aquifer bore well extraction in Kathmandu valley. The lower bedrock of limestone is likely fractured and will there for be potentially a good ‘portal’ system for water movement between valleys, raising the question of cross contamination by Landfill from outside the watershed.

Overview of the Kathmandu Valley Natural water system. Including water course, recharge zones, shallow aquifer , groundwater basin all within the watershed perimeter or Cross section shows the geology and primary sources of aquifer bore well extraction in Kathmandu valley. The lower bedrock of limestone is likely fractured and will there for be potentially a good ‘portal’ system for water movement between valleys, raising the question of cross contamination by Landfill from outside the watershed.

Necessary Tools

With this basic insight we could now start to prioritise a recovery and management strategy. But there is little point in dreaming of priorities if we don’t have the tools in the bag to address the needs. Government support along with interdepartmental collaboration is essential, everyone working as one team with a common goal, even if we have different contributions to make.

Secondly, the winning the hearts and mind of society and individuals within communities is fundamental building block and foundation to the necessary respect of water. However simply saying to communities “respect water” is not enough. We must demonstrate and also provide them with the tools to offer that respect. An example is disposal of garbage, presently lobbed over the walls into the rivers streams or where ever it lands in our streets, impregnating run off.

As a result, Kathmandu faces a high number of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera, especially from the end of dry season March to the end of the rainy season in September, communities are extremely vulnerable to waterborne illnesses. Coupled with the unhygienic environmental situation, of discarded rubbish, the risk of food and water contamination is increased.

In fact Children under the age of five are the most affected, caught playing in all environments, with an estimated 40,000 children dying every year in Nepal from waterborne diseases. A terrifying rate of mortality from a resource that Nepal leads the world on! Causing Nepal to in fact import 355,634 litres of drinking water in a year.

And these diseases do not include ‘dengue fever’ from mosquitoes taking advantage of mismanaged open water bodies, water tanks and discarded receptacles; a reported 3,400 cases in 2018 increased to 9000 cases in 2019. Consequently the strategy for Rain harvesting must be very carefully monitored and requires strict set up advice from specialists such as ‘Smart Paani’ based in Kathmandu.

Water Resource Overview

This next fig 4. Lists clearly the source of water; its primary uses; sources of direct contamination; existing treatment that water might expect in the different sectors; and finally a wish list of enhancements and reformations that would contribute to recovery of the Valleys water resources. Not exhaustive lists!

Ignorance in a contributory factor

So as to highlight the challenges, we quote from ‘Researchgate’ who identified the …”Significant differences existed in contamination levels between types of sources; dug wells and dhunge dharas, being the shallowest, were the most contaminated by bacteria and nitrate; deep-aquifer tube wells were the most contaminated by arsenic. Whereas E. coli concentrations decreased with depth, iron and ammonia concentrations increased with depth. These relationships account for people choosing to drink water with higher levels of bacterial contamination based on its superior (non-metallic) taste and appearance”.

Consequently ignorance is playing a great part in increasing Risk to the population which equally generates the causation of individuals to throw the waste over a wall. Waste management is therefore high on the remedial list. We must provide alternatives to society if we want them to change bad habits. So what is possible? There are many aspirations, which should be fully supported. However the reality is a great challenge but incrementally achievable. The first steps need be, remove the existing garbage, stop further dumping and stem the continue incoming discharge pollution from industry and domestic pipes.

Pragmatic Aspirations

So what are the aspirations of those wishing to clean up our water courses and is it realistic to clean the rivers and streams canals and will it benefit the Communities? The answer is Yes each time. But we need be pragmatic; too high an expectation of creating a Paris Water Front from a garbage filled stream with close quarter housing is unrealistic. Of course in due course as improvements start to flourish, investors and embankment property owners will start to see opportunities.

So,The secret of water body recovery is to start upstream of a river or upon the embankments of a pond, preventing any good works that you do from degenerating again. Avoid undertaking multiple projects, thinly spreading resources; start with one water course and do it well, learning from the challenges and mistakes. Use it to embrace media support and demonstrate the processes. You need win the support of the properties adjoining the water body; preventing further waste disposal into the water and enable collaboration to modify domestic waste discharge. It’s a team effort.

Very important is not only to transform the water course itself, clearing the water bed, but also the surrounding environment of a Pond and Stream. As an analogy, if your shower and then put of dirty clothes its pointless, equally donning clean clothes onto a dirty body wastes effort. Below are examples of aspirations and actual results of water body recoveries. Globally there are many more success stories.

Summary ‘Helping the Water’

Finally it is important to strategise how to assist the water itself, bringing technologies and techniques for water bodies that enhance the oxygenation, the circulation and flow and importantly reduce the high turbidity and viscosity; all of which enhances the water whilst eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, eliminates odour and improves the visual amenity, so important for the communities and tourism.

Simultaneously to the recovery of the water bodies, we need start addressing enhancement of positive processes including aquifer recharges and a strategy for creating a formal Sponge City process, which is a relatively new concept of flood management making managed floods beneficial to a cities water resource strategy. Various locations being designated as sacrificial temporary storage, some diverted from the water course to designed recharge facilities.

Care must be taken that we don’t simply recharge the upper unconfined water table aquifers for them to flood further locations by raising their water table. Careful filtrations processes must be installed for recharge of deeper aquifers, which normally can take years, possibly decades to naturally recharge through the geology. By short circuiting the recharge process much care is needed not to contaminate, destroying the very resource that we try protect. Thus the Water Resource Management Team needs be dynamic, will be complex and requiring differing sector expertise.

Numerous success stories exist globally from which we can emulate, but there is no silver bullet and therefore a combined collaborative strategy is needed, employing best practice, required expertise, political will and the support of the communities. But the rewards are great, generating the much sought after water resource quality and sustainability.

Garry de la Pomerai.Soluzion Systems [VVSC Inc.Ca] Based in Kathmandu. DRR Strategist.

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