Smart Water Management in Ladakh - Results and Outcomes of a Project
TerraGreen|July 2021
In this article, Neha Upadhyay and Enoch Spalbar discuss smart water management in high-elevation villages in Ladakh to transform them into a vibrant land-based economy with diversity of crops grown. They have compiled this article based on the work done by them under the project, ‘Solar technology for post-harvest processes and sustainable agriculture for income enhancement of tribal communities living in Cold Desert Region of Ladakh, Kargil’, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India.
Neha Upadhyay and Enoch Spalbar

Ladakh is the roof of the world and a cold desert region, which faces acute scarcity and untimely supply of water. With rapid development, as a result of Ladakh becoming a Union Territory in 2019, there has been an incessant destruction of mountains and habitat loss, which is increasing the degradation of land and causing water shortage. The use of chemicals in agriculture and livestock rearing is also a common cause of water loss. Ladakh has been a victim of water scarcity partly also because of the International Water Treaty of River Indus which flows between China and Pakistan but there is little access to the local population of Ladakh. Therefore, the Indus River does not contribute to agriculture but hydroelectric projects except for Shey and Thiksey, where they draw water from this river. According to one of the authors, Dr Enoch Spalbar, 80 per cent of drinking water for Leh town is lifted in stages from Choglamsar, which is extracted through multiple borewells.

Chhorpun is the traditional water conservation and preservation system dependent on water that has melted from glaciers, which is also not getting recharged due to climate change and incessant destruction of mountains. The usage of water was very well defined in terms of ‘who’ and ‘how’ people will get water that led to reducing wastage. Chhorpun also reduces the problem of difference in height of carrying water in high-elevation villages. There are vast restrictions on organizations trying to work on this subject; hence, water crisis is a huge impediment to livestock, livelihoods, and agricultural production. Takmachik is a village on the plateau opposite the road, leading to Kargil via Dah-Hanu belt along the Indus River. Unfortunately, despite its location on the bank of a river, Takmachik faces shortage of water for irrigation. The glacier is small and unable to feed the village with enough water, particularly if there is low precipitation. As such, the limited water available through springs is an important source, managed carefully.

An artificial glacier, constructed in 2016, is expected to provide some help, however, it is more like a band-aid solution and has attracted great publicity and international attention. The authors do not think it is a consistent and reliable solution. The village was provided with floating water pumps twice in three years, which burnt out within a period of 1–2 years. Due to the damage to the pumps during the present pandemic situation, the water level is also constantly fluctuating with no responsible person to monitor it and the pump was not submerged in water completely. A water-level indicator is actually required to see the flow and timely sensor alarm for switching it on and off. In Domkhar, which has approximately 60 households, the population is dependent on glacier water.

Recently in Takmachik, avid social workers climbed an ice stupa of height around 85 feet without having all the necessary tools to hoist the tricolour when temperature came down to -15 degrees Celsius during the day. This stupa stores million litres of water in freezing state during the winter season when it is of no use. Hence, it can be used in spring season for irrigation purposes. The principle used here is gravitational force, therefore, all the mechanisms are ecofriendly according to PaldanKapto and JigmetKapto.

Authors’ Work in the Region

Takmachik

Takmachik is a village situated at an altitude of 2980 m at a distance of around 130 km from Leh town. The village consists of around 60 families, which are mostly dependent on agriculture economically.

Agriculture in Takmachik

In the past 10 years, organic agriculture has been preached by various NGOs and government organizations, which have been adopted by the villagers at large. It is, in fact, the only village in Leh district that can be called an organic village and their produce is becoming famous with each passing year. Apricot is a major source of income in the region and every household has an average of 25–30 apricot trees. Apart from apricots, recently different fruits, such as apple, cherry, and plum have become very popular—watermelon being the most predominant one. Usually, in the Ladakh region, single-cropping system is practised but, in the areas, with lower altitudes, two products are grown.

Current water scenario in Takmachik

The main source of water for both agricultural practices and drinking is spring water. Traditionally, the village was reported to have three springs, but in recent times two of them have dried off, majorly due to floods which have been happening in the past few years. With recent development in agricultural practices in the region, and the water sources in the area depleting, major water stress is being observed in the region. Some major interventions are being introduced in the region—one of which being the lifting of water from the Indus River by floating pumps. Traditionally, there are three ponds in the village but at the moment only one is functioning. One of the ponds was damaged in the 2014 floods and has not been repaired. The functional pond supplies water to the entire village. Water is lifted from Indus River and stored in the pond, which is further used for irrigation. On average, two families get the chance to irrigate their fields every 10 days. The major water stress is observed during the second cropping.

Water conservation interventions required

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