About Indian Himalayan region
- The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) is stretched across a length of 2,500 km and width of 250 to 300 km.
- The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) spans 10 hill States viz., Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and two partial hill States – Assam and West Bengal.
- The physical bearing of these mighty mountains the Himalayas are of great social, cultural and economic significance for the people of India.
- The IHR is home to over 50 million people who eke out their lives and livelihoods in these mountains.
- Most of northern India’s river systems originate in the Himalayan region, fed either by glacial melt or the many springs that dot the mountainous landscape.
- The Himalayas, aptly known as ‘the water tower of the earth’, are therefore a major source of fresh water for perennial rivers such as the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.
About the Himalayan Springs and its significance
- Mountain springs are the primary source of water for rural households in the Himalayan region.
- For many people, springs are the sole source of water.
- As per a rough estimate, there are five million springs across India, out of which nearly 3 million are in the IHR alone.
- Also, with almost 64% of the cultivable area in the Himalayas fed by natural springs, they are often the only source of irrigation in the region.
- Both rural and urban communities depend on springs for their livestock and for the drinking, domestic, and agricultural water needs.
Threats to the Himalayan springs
- Despite the key role that they play, springs have not received their due attention and many are drying up.
- It is reported that half of the more than three million perennial springs in IHR States have either already dried up or become seasonal, resulting in acute water shortages across thousands of Himalayan villages.
- Almost 60% of low-discharge springs that provided water to small habitations in the Himalayan region have reported clear decline during the last couple of decades.
- With climate change and rising temperatures, rise in rainfall intensity and reduction in its temporal spread, and a marked decline in winter rain, the problem of dying springs is being increasingly felt across the Indian Himalayan Region.
- Besides, water quality is also deteriorating under changing land use and improper sanitation.
- The extent of the crisis plaguing the mountainous region was recently evident when more than half a dozen districts of Himachal Pradesh and the State capital Shimla faced a severe drinking water crisis.
- While poor water management is said to be the key cause, reduced snowmelt and depressed flow from springs also contributed to the crisis.
- Growing urbanisation is increasing demographic pressure on the region’s water resources.
- The report noted that there were also multiple sources of pollution in springs and these were due to both geogenic, or ‘natural’ causes and anthropogenic, or man-made, ones.
- Microbial content, sulphates and nitrates were primarily because of anthropogenic reasons and contamination from fluoride, arsenic and iron was mainly derived from geogenic sources.
- Coliform bacteria in spring water could originate from septic tanks, household wastewater, livestock facilities, and manure lagoons in the source area or in the aquifers feeding springs.
- Similarly, nitrate sources were septic tanks, household wastewater, agricultural fertilisers, and livestock facilities.
- The most important recommendation of the group is to launch a National Programme on Regeneration of Springs in the Himalayan Region.
- The group mooted an 8-year programme to overhaul spring water management.
- The programme could be designed on the concept of an action-research programme as part of a hydrogeology-based, community-support system on spring water management.
- This includes: preparing a digital atlas of the country’s springsheds, training ‘para-hydrogeologists’ who could lead grassroots conservation and introduction of a ‘Spring Health Card.
- The programme will entail several short, medium and long-term actions.
- Short-term actions: Phase I – for first 4 years. This phase will involve the following broad set of activities:
- Systematic mapping of springs across the IHR States.
- Creation of a web-enabled database/web portal on which the springs can be mapped/tagged.
- Capacity building activities taken up through Skill India Initiative.
- Organising a national level workshop for policymakers and decision-makers in order to sensitize them on the issue of drying-up of springs.
- Awareness and education of communities regarding spring water management under a changing climate.
- Medium-term actions: Phase II – 5th – 8th years
- Mainstreaming and convergence of springshed management with other developmental programmes will be required to facilitate greater synergies with government schemes.
- A digital atlas of springsheds could be developed as a clear output in the second phase.
- This would also help in the periodic assessment of groundwater resources in the country.
- Long-term actions: Phase III – Beyond 8th year
- Linking the livelihoods of communities with interventions related to revival of springs in ensuring the sustainability of such interventions beyond the lifespan of the project.
- Building local institutions and institutional mechanisms for springshed management.
- Springshed revival contributes to meeting commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 6 (including safe water).
- The link to SDGs could facilitate multi-stakeholder collaborations required for effective implementation of springshed management.
- A spring is a point at which water flows from an aquiferto the Earth’s surface.
- It is a component of the hydrosphere.
- A spring may be the result of karst topography where surface water has infiltrated the Earth’s surface (recharge area), becoming part of the area groundwater.
- The groundwater then travels through a network of cracks and fissure—openings ranging from intergranular spaces to large caves.
- The water eventually emerges from below the surface, in the form of a karst spring.
- Types of springs
- Seepage or filtration spring: The term seep refers to springs with small flow rates in which the source water has filtered through permeable earth.
- Fracture springs, discharge from faults, joints, or fissures in the earth, in which springs have followed a natural course of voids or weaknesses in the bedrock.
- Tubular springs, in which the water flows from underground caverns.
Section : Environment & Ecology