Meeting water challenges of 21st Century

Er. Vinod Kumar
Water Scenario
Clean water is a basic need of human beings. But unfortunately it is not available to all. About one billion of our fellow human beings have no access to safe drinking water. This accounts for a large number of water related diseases and even deaths. Taps running dry, long queues for water, fights, marches and protests for demand of water have become a common sight. There is increasing scarcity of water due to population growth, pollution, industrial development, deforestation, mismanagement and other factors. There are some disputes on water among states and even among countries. It has been rightly said that,
” if current wars are fought for land, the future wars may be fought for water.”
World Water Day
World Water Day is celebrated on 22nd March every year since 1993. The day focuses attention on the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. A theme is selected for each year. This year’s theme is ‘Nature For Water’ .
Nature for Water
‘ Nature for Water ‘ explores how the nature can be used to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century. The nature-based solutions to the water challenges include :-
Reforestration and Planting Trees to Replenish Forests
Reforestation is the restoring of the forests and woodlands that have been depleted in the name of development. By planting more trees to replenish forests we can contribute immensely in conserving water. Healthy forests help in  keeping streams clean and provide vegetative cover that minimizes soil erosion and sediment runoff. This ensures natural filtration and improvement in the quality of water. Forests capture and store water and make a huge contribution in regulating water cycles.
Forests constitute nearly 47 percent of combined geographic area of Jammu and Kashmir. Protection of this vast and valuable resource requires commensurate infrastructure. Afforestation should be carried out on all degraded and denuded lands in the State, inside or outside forests, in order to bring maximum geographical area of the State under forest and tree cover. This will involve planting of trees along roads, railway lines, rivers, streams and canals, and other un-utilized lands under state, institutional or private ownership.
Reconnecting Streams and Rivers to Floodplains
A floodplain is an area of land adjacent to a stream or river which stretches from the banks of the channel to the outer edges of the enclosing valley.  It experiences flooding during periods of high discharge. Unfortunately floodplains have been disconnected from streams and rivers.  In the name of development they have been disturbed and modified on a massive scale resulting in loss of benefits which we can take from them.
Our state of Jammu & Kashmir is having three major rivers i.e. Chenab, Tawi and Jehlum. But we are blessed with dozens of streams and small rivers in almost all the districts. If we reconnect streams and rivers to floodplains and regulate the water, their benefits to people and nature can be restored. They can provide clean water supplies, recreation opportunities and habitat for fish and wildlife.
Restoring Water Bodies
A water body is any significant accumulation of water on the surface of earth. The water bodies include oceans, seas, lakes, pools, ponds, wetlands and even puddles. These are the most significant natural resources of water. Healthy water bodies serve the objectives like ground water recharge, increased availability of drinking water, improvement in agriculture / horticulture productivity etc.
In our own state of J&K the encroachments are deteriorating and depleting the water bodies. Once Jammu town was also known for ponds (talabs). It is heartening to see that most of these ponds have been filled with soil and converted into colonies and parks. Tillo Talab, Rani Talab, Paloura Talab, Duga Nagar Talab, etc. are the glaring examples. The other water bodies have lost the carrying capacity over the years. It has been found that gross human interference, deforestation, encroachments, chocking of water ways and reduction in capacity of wet lands due to heavy siltation is posing an imminent threat of floods even by an average downpour. The water bodies should be preserved and maintained in a scientifically and planned manner. Government authorities should seek help from the local population for the restoration and preservation of water bodies. No new construction should be allowed on the banks of water bodies.
Building Reservoirs and Dams to Store Water
A reservoir is a storage space for water. It usually means an enlarged natural or artificial lake, storage pond or impoundment created using a dam or lock to store water.
A dam is a barrier that stops or restricts the flow of water. It is built to control water through placement of a blockage of earth, rock and/ or concrete across a stream or river. Reservoirs created by dams not only suppress floods but also provide water for activities such as irrigation, human consumption, industrial use, hydropower, evenly distribution among locations, recreation, aquaculture,  navigation, and wildlife habitat.
In J&K so far the dams which have been constructed include Baglihar, Dulhasti, Chenani, Parnai, Thein, Kishenganga, Nimoo Bazgo,  Niu Karewa Storage Yusmarg, Pakal Dul, Salal, Uri, etc. To exploit water of the rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab for irrigation as permitted by the Indus water treaty, the Jammu and Kashmir Government is mulling constructing “mini dams” on their tributaries to increase crop production. Water storage facilities should be constructed on the tributaries to increase agriculture productivity in the kandi areas and on plateaus.
Artificial Glaciers and Ice Stupas
Artificial glaciers and ice stupas are the latest nature based innovative solutions for meeting the challenges of water scarcity. A great example of water harvesting innovation comes from Ladakh. Chewang Norphel, retired engineer of the Department of Rural Development, has found a unique way to make ‘artificial glaciers’. Norphel’s innovation involves channelizing water to the shadow area of a mountain close to a village.  The water freezes there creating an artificial glacier close to the village.
Ice Stupa is a form of glacier grafting technique that is used for storing winter snow in the form of conical shaped ice heap. During summer, when water is scarce, the Ice Stupa melts to increase water supply for crops. Ice Stupa was innovated by Sonam Wangchuk in Ladakh, and the project is undertaken by the NGO Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh. Sonam Wangchuk has been awarded Rolex Awards for Enterprise for his work on Ice Stupas.  Wangchuk once thought of freezing and storing water in the shape of a cone that offers minimum surface area to the sun whilst holding high volume of water. In summer when the ice of the stupa melts, the water so produced is supplied from the stupa site to the fields using gravity.
Restoration of Stepwells / Bawlis
Stepwells are wells or ponds in which the water is reached by descending a set of steps. They are found in the more arid regions of the Indian subcontinent. A basic difference between stepwells on the one hand, and tanks and wells on the other, is to make it easier for people to reach the ground water and to maintain and manage the well. The stepwell ensures the availability of water during periods of drought.
In our own state of J&K, one can see a huge stepwell at Mantalai. Apart from this bawlis were used in our state for water storage and water recharge. With the passage of time bawlis fell into disuse and garbage started piling in these reservoirs. However because of the acute shortage of water now people have started restoration of bawlis in our rural areas.
(The author is Assistant Engineer (Mechanical) Stores Procurement Deptt. Jammu)