Water Assessment in Tsirang, Bhutan

Human back is a means of transportation

The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with the Local Government, Tsirang District, Bhutan conducted a rapid scenario assessment of water in five chiwogs of Barshong Gewog, 5-11 October 2015. The assessment was part of the Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation Programme in the Himalaya (Himalica) initiatives financed by the European Union, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan.

The assessment comprised a checklist for focus group discussion designed by ICIMOD experts and centred on water availability, consumption patterns and demand, and water management practices. Seventy-two participants from six communities participated in the focus group. Field observations were also included in the assessment.

All communities enjoy having to piped water for drinking purposes but water availability in the communities is seasonal in nature. Two communities located in the higher elevations were found facing critical water scarcity despite seasonality. Adding to the plight of drinking water scarcity, the assessment revealed that most people in these communities use water sourced from springs for drinking purpose to also grow vegetables, kitchen gardens and water their animals. Focus group participants said the demand for water rises during the winter vegetable growing season when water is more scarce.

Participatory water resource mapping

Apart from simple water source protection techniques and watershed management, most focus group members were unaware of efficient small-scale water management practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, plastic-lined conservation ponds, and water recharge ponds. Participants showed interest in adopting more efficient techniques and were keen to see  demonstration sites in the communities. 

One interesting finding from the focus group was the existence of a traditional water sharing system for irrigation known as ‘Kulos’ (canals). More than 40 irrigation canals in four communities exist benefiting up to 18 households. The Kulos are governed by a traditional water sharing system — use, maintain, repair, and appropriate. There are also drinking water groups in some communities also bound by informal agreements among the users. 

The study also found that no single household has left the locality due to water scarcity. Participants said with the decline of water availability every year, they switched from cultivating water intensive crops, like rice, to less water intensive crops, like maize and millet. 

The study found that the overriding challenge in Barshong Gewog is the lack of efficient management practices than the availability of water itself. 

Group discussion in the Gewog office, Barshong