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A new generation of water experts: Watershed management professionals in Nepal to focus on reviving drying springs

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Springs across Nepal are drying. We are training watershed management professionals on the six-step spring revival protocol to help address this.

Over the past four decades, since the Soil Conservation and Management Act came into force in 1982, government bodies in Nepal have implemented several watershed management plans to increase access to water and reduce soil erosion. Springshed management, however, has only gained traction in the last decade.

The drying of springs in several mid-hill regions has prompted action by local communities as well as watershed management professionals to rejuvenate drying springs. There is a need now to distinguish between springshed and watershed management so that interventions can be more targeted and hence implemented to greater effect.

For springshed revival to be successful, it must consider groundwater flow systems to correctly identify spring recharge areas and aquifers. While local traditions do promote the protection of springs – i.e., of the source or outlet – they do little to protect the recharge areas and do not factor in the complex hydrogeology. Our ongoing collaboration with the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation (DoFSC) is helping address these and other issues by training watershed management professionals on spring revival.


Training and reflection on springshed management

In 2020, over two weeks, 29 professionals from nodal national agencies like the DoFSC, the Basin Management Office, the Forests Research and Training Centre, and the Soil Conservation and Watershed Management Office went through a rigorous interactive training.

We organized the training over Microsoft Teams in collaboration with the Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), conducting nearly 30 hours of interactive online sessions given the COVID-19 pandemic. The event recognized the wealth of experience the participants brought to the table as watershed management professionals. It was designed to enable them to share their experiences as well as reflect on ways forward.


Why manage springsheds?

Springsheds are crucial for sustainable water access. A deteriorating springshed generally leads to reduced water availability in springs – lifelines for communities across towns, cities, and rural communities. This can lead to water insecurity and impact equitable water access. It may also cause a dip in water quality; affect factors like taste, smell, and microbiological contamination; and lead to changes in pH and total dissolved solids (TDS) levels.

Ensuring the longevity of springs requires a coordinated approach and an understanding of external factors that impact their well-being. Studies focused on declining water availability from springs across the HKH have noted that anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, changes in land use and land cover, infrastructure development, overexploitation of groundwater, and climate change are prime causes.

For our training, we adapted the six-step spring revival protocol to the needs of the participants. The protocol, which we co-developed with ACWADAM, is based on past spring rejuvenation and community engagement experiences in the HKH. As a step-based tool, it calls for the utilization of a combination of skillsets and subject matter expertise taken from the natural and social sciences. This ranges from developing an understanding of geological factors that influence groundwater movement to interacting with community members in carrying forward on-the-ground springshed restoration activities.


Inclusivity and interdisciplinary

Inclusive water resources management requires the application of an interdisciplinary approach from the very start of a project, and the six-step protocol incorporates gender equality and social inclusion into springshed management.

Participants at the training reflected on how meaningful participation and decision making by women have been integral to water conservation. Drawing from her experience incorporating social inclusion into water conservation processes, Indira Mulepati, Assistant Soil Conservation Officer at the DoFSC, said that encouraging communities to recognize their own contributions has helped women, who are direct users of springs.

There were commitments from watershed management officials to strengthen springshed management in their respective organizations. Bishnu Dhakal, Forest Training and Research Centre, Ministry of Forests and Environment, said, “Our organization is related to research and training orientation. While training forest officers, we will make sure to include basic springshed management in our curriculum.”  Sudip Khadka, DoFSC, Ministry of Forests and Environment, said, “As a trainer, I will strengthen and disseminate knowledge on both watershed and springshed management.”


The road ahead

We will continue our coordination with ACWADAM into the future. Together, ICIMOD and ACWADAM will provide technical support, to the extent possible, for the implementation of the action plans drafted during the training. We will also be working closely with the DoFSC to help participants see these plans through to fruition.

Our focus will be on helping institutions and line agencies integrate the springshed approach into their annual activities and projects – ranging from springs inventory to the application of the spring revival protocol in various districts across Nepal. There are also plans to start spring mapping to determine the status of springs and possibilities for revival and water quality and quantity enhancement.

Speaking at the training event, Badri Raj Dhungana, Deputy Director General, DoFSC, stressed the need to apply consolidated learnings from the training to ongoing projects and revive drying springs in partnership with communities. Similarly, Eklabya Sharma, the then Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, reflected on the importance of integrating a springshed approach into plans and policies at various scales. He emphasized that such forward-focused thinking was needed to ensure that the necessary knowledge and skills for reviving springs are imparted to the next generation of Nepal’s water conservation experts.

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