Himachal Pradesh is likely to face an acute water scarcity this summer, State Water Minister Mahender Singh Thakur repeatedly warned the Legislative Assembly this week. “Many water schemes may reach the brink of closure. We may have to go through the toughest times because of drinking water shortage,” he said.
Why is the state with perennial sources of water such as Sutlej and Beas rivers staring at a water crisis?
Himachal Pradesh received less snow and rain this winter. After winter, melt-water from glaciers and the snow cover regularly feeds the groundwater as well as other downhill water sources such as springs, wells, bawries, lakes, rivulets, streams and rivers. But water sources have already started drying up this year due to deficient snowfall. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the state received only 59 millimetres of precipitation this winter (January 1 to February 28), which was 69 per cent less than normal.
Generally, over the decades, demand for water has been growing due to increasing population in the state, with people now relying more on piped water supply schemes rather than traditional sources such as springs and bawries.
Rainfall patterns, too, have become erratic. During dry periods, water sources dry up quickly in some areas, especially in the Shiwalik hills where the water-holding capacity of the soil is low.
In the Assembly this week, Rohru MLA Mohan Lal Brakta said that there are villages in his constituency which often remain without water supply for weeks. MLA Asha Kumari said that areas like Dalhousie and Banikhet suffer water shortage even during normal times but this year, drought-like conditions have already begun and it is bound to get worse during the coming months.
Himachal had received deficient snowfall in 2018, too, when drinking water shortage in the capital town of Shimla in summer had invited global media attention. The situation has been better in Shimla since then because its water supply source from Gumma stream has been augmented to provide 10 million litres daily (mld) more water to the city.
The extent of the problem this year will become clearer in the coming summer months, but the water minister claimed that it has never been so dry before in Himachal so early during the year. “There are parts of Beas River which can now simply be crossed by wading through on foot,” the minister remarked.
What are the proposed solutions?
The minister said that the installation of hand-pumps and borewells was stopped last year in view of depleting water table. But it will be resumed now wherever necessary.
Water harvesting tanks will be built throughout the state, he said, and also asked all MLAs to start building rainwater harvesting structures in their constituencies.
A large number of habitations in Himachal Pradesh are not connected by road, but the connected villages will be provided water tankers during periods of shortage, the minister said. He said that in future, the Jal Shakti department will try to explore the option of “snow harvesting” in the higher reaches.