Demystifying hydrogeology at the 43rd IAH Congress, in Montpellier, France
02 Oct 2016

Water is a primary life-giving resource, and its availability is an essential component in socioeconomic development and poverty reduction .The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) are the source of countless perennial rivers, but paradoxically a substantial number of mountain populations largely depend on spring water for their sustenance. Springs play an important role in the daily lives of thousands of communities in the hills and mountains of the HKK. Water scarcity is expected to be a major challenge for most of the region due to increased water demand and lack of good management


Picture Credit: Nawraj Pradhan
On the 60th anniversary of the IAH (International Association of Hydrogeologists), the French and German chapters of this organization, hosted a congress from the 25th to the 29th of September, 2016. The theme for this year’s congress was “groundwater and society”. In this context, HI-AWARE’s current research interests lie in the co-development of an eight-step methodological process to better manage springs. Why is this important?

Illustration by Peter S. Lepcha
In many parts of the Himalayas, springs fed during the monsoon by groundwater or underground aquifers are reported to be drying up, threatening a whole way of life for local communities. Springs are a safe source of drinking water for rural and urban communities. With limited rainfall and increasing population, there is an ever increasing demand for spring water in the Himalayas. Changing land use, ecological degradation, exploitation, and climate change are adversely affecting spring flow. Efforts to protect these vital resources can help ensure water security and improve the management of land and water resources. Despite being such a vital resource, springs have not received adequate attention in the past and present. This has led to, a significant data gap in the understanding of spring water flow dynamics, watershed related linkages, characteristics of local springs, and the factors leading to their decline in the Himalayan region.

Nawraj Pradhan presenting the poster on demystifying hydrogeology

The genesis of the eight-step spring methodology lies in the collaborative efforts between ICIMOD, ACWADAM and this was endorsed by all partners working on Springshed management in the HKH . The aim was to develop common methodology and approaches for Springshed management for the entire region and also demystify hydrogeology and train “barefoot hydrogeologists”, i.e. community members in the conservation and management of springs.
Nawraj Pradhan, with support from HI-AWARE and other partners presented at IAH, 2016, highlighting the outcomes of this eight-step development. HI-AWARE has specifically contributed to the first four steps, as shown in the image below:

HI-AWARE’s contribution is in the first four of the eight step methodology
These steps are largely focused on filling the data gap on springs and mapping them. However, the understanding of important social and governmental aspects is crucial in understanding user rights, and user group associations (if any) that exist in accordance to natural water bodies. In many instances, user rights are determined by older traditions and agreements set between community members. The changes in these agreements largely stems from a shift in the socio-economic and demographic factors of these mountain communities. An example would be the effects of migration on the management of local resources and institutions governing these resources. An absence of community members would hinder participatory decision-making processes, thereby affecting user rights and a general understanding of local governance systems . 

HIAWARE’s presentation were features in two sessions; a plenary and parallel presentation with Pradhan presenting in both sessions. During the interaction a few interesting questions were reflected pertaining to the methodology. Incorporating these comments would better allow HI-AWARE to influence in data collection methods, and also contribute to the improvement of the first four steps. The question and answers for this session are given below: 

1) Does the 8 step methodology, take water quality into account?
Answer: Yes, it does take into account water quality in the start of Step 1, but there is a need to include water quality parameters before and after the monsoon as well.

2) How are Himalayan states involved and what is ICIMOD’s strategy in engaging them?
Answer: ICIMOD has a been engaging with various HKH countries by hosting Policy Dialogues, the initial research findings will enable us to show results and lobby for an overall understanding of Springshed management and its importance for future water security in the HKH context.

3) What period of monitoring would be required for the spring research to continue?
Answer: Initiatives have only started monitoring springs since recent years (1-2 years), there needs to be atleast 5 year monitoring cycles to understand the dynamics of springs drying across the region.