- Meghalaya’s water policy seeks to address its water conservation paradox: despite having an abundance of rainfall, Meghalaya faces challenges in water management.
- Unsustainable water use is compounded by the degradation of catchment areas, unsustainable mining practices and lack of sufficient water storage capacity, with climate change multiplying the effects.
- A cadre of professionals is being created by mobilising local communities to help them fix problems through advanced technology and innovations.
- The water policy stresses on rainwater harvesting and development of multipurpose run-of-the-river reservoirs.
World’s wettest place, Meghalaya aims to create a cadre of professionals by mobilising communities across its 6400 villages to conserve water to implement its newly launched water policy as climate change brings on uncertainty in rainfall.
The policy, drafted by the state’s Water Resources Department, stresses on rainwater harvesting and run-of-the-river projects, recognising water as a common pool resource and underlining protection and conservation of water sources such as catchment areas, surface and groundwater.
Implementation of the policy would lead to the framing of legislation on water resources in the form of a State Water Act, said officials.
Acknowledging the widespread degradation of land and pollution of water bodies brought on by rampant mining activities, the policy also calls for reclaiming closed mine areas and addressing water pollution linked to mining.
Read Mongabay-India coverage on Meghalaya’s rat-hole mines.
The policy talks of promoting small water storage structures for rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge, spring-shed development and spring rejuvenation to improve water security for the beleaguered 29.6 lakh residents of the state.
Discussing the thrust behind rainwater harvesting, Sampath Kumar, the Commissioner and Secretary to the Community and Rural Development and Water Resources Departments in the state, explained the paradox: despite having an abundance of rainfall, Meghalaya faces challenges in water management, with climate change multiplying the effects.
The state receives 2818 millimetres of average annual rainfall. Moisture-bearing summer air currents (the Bay of Bengal branch of monsoons) that move north from Bangladesh’s hot and humid floodplains hit the funnel-shaped relief of the Meghalaya hills, are squeezed in and forced to ascend and shed most of their rainfall in the region.
“The steep parallel mountains (Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills) in Meghalaya block the movement of the clouds to the north causing the moisture-laden clouds to rise to lead to heavy rainfall. However, most of the water goes to Bangladesh and the neighbouring state of Assam,” Kumar told Mongabay-India.
“The state receives the highest amount of rainfall in the world but it doesn’t get to store the rainwater,” Kumar said.
A study by IIT-Gandhinagar showed an average annual increase in rainfall of 11.56 mm per year from 1981 to 2012, suggesting an overall increase in rainfall and number of extreme rainfall events coupled with an uptick in temperature in the next 30 years.
Sampath Kumar said the policy seeks to address the climate variability and related water security issues through adaptive measures.
Regional cooperation and transboundary water governance researcher Prithviraj Nath lauded the move as a step in the right direction but pressed for relevant regulations to follow up the policy.
“It will be important to follow this up with relevant regulations that use research and wide consultations to formulate law that delivers. Meghalaya is definitely a frontrunner of sorts in this aspect given that most other states still do not have one that seems as comprehensive. Most other states have yet to pass their policies leaving out Himachal Pradesh,” Nath a senior fellow with the Asian Confluence, Shillong, told Mongabay-India.
Nath also commended the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA) which aims to look at the issue of water and rivers at a basin level and has been the chief force in framing up the water policy.
Water resources have been managed with a rather myopic approach and in silos of state-specific needs (and politics) which fails to capture the inherent connectedness of all water resources including river, surface and groundwater resources across states, geographies and boundaries, opined Nath.
“Integrated Water Resource Management (IRWM), though a much-used phrase/word in the water circles, is not so much practised in the true sense. MBDA is doing some really good work in terms of community-level participatory mapping of water resources, spring-sheds, etc. along with local capacity building, which I feel, will go a long way in ensuring better water resources and availability in the state and beyond,” he said.
The community at the helm of troubleshooting
Focal points of the policy centre on mandatory rainwater harvesting for the industrial sector, rooftop rainwater harvesting for every new building constructed, the introduction of water budgeting for smart allocation of water resources and water tariff for ensuring efficient use of water, creation of a water regulatory authority and advancing technologies and adopting new innovations in water sector.
Kumar explained that public engagement began before the policy came into effect, which helped in framing the community participation aspect of the state’s water conservation strategy.
“In our surveys, we realised that water security has become more important than joblessness as a concern. The springs are drying up and there is deforestation. Traditional knowledge is fading away due to modernisation. The communities are desperate to have their water security concerns fixed,” Sampath Kumar said.
“So we are creating a cadre of community professionals or resource persons through training and capacity building to help them fix their own problems,” said Kumar.
One of the key components of community participation would involve payment for environmental services (PES) based on the “beneficiary pays principle”. The PES model would be adopted and implemented by upstream and downstream communities for conserving water resources and revitalising the catchment upstream and stopping further degradation, the policy said.
Formation of village water resources councils under the policy has kept officials busy since the Meghalaya cabinet approved the strategy in July. Councils are being created with adequate women representation to aid villages in managing their water resources and related infrastructure under the purview of the upcoming state water regulatory authority.
The water resource councils will take a leaf out of the book of existing Village Employment Councils (VEC), which are development delivery institutions headed by a member of every household to plan and execute all work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Solutions to water conservation developed by these VECs underpin the innovations that have the potential to be replicated and scaled up to fix water-related issues by communities.
For instance, the Mawryngkneng VEC in East Khasi hill district literally transformed a bog into beauty by reviving a lifeless creek into a clean reservoir through check dam construction. The VEC is now exploring the potential for developing the check dam into a fish sanctuary.
About 2000 fingerlings (young fish) have been released by the state fisheries department and an additional 3000 fingerlings were released into the 3528 cubic metre reservoir through the VEC’s own expenditure.
“We are extremely happy that we managed to convert a dumping ground into a huge water body. We also plan to stock fish for additional income,” said Shemphang Kharsati, secretary Mawryngkneng VEC.
Mapping and monitoring exercise
In terms of scientific documentation and data mining, the state will embark on mapping exercise of rivers, streams, springs and other water bodies on a watershed basis. Water assessment of both surface and groundwater for both availability and quality has been laid down in the policy as also inventorying developmental projects of both surface and groundwater projects, under the water sector, taking into account the demand-supply pattern.
“We want to store the water in the aquifers. If we can manage to capture the rainwater for say 12 hours then we can increase groundwater recharge,” Kumar said, adding the state is tying up with private players for satellite mapping exercises.
The policy also touches upon the subject of transboundary rivers. It says that for transboundary rivers flowing through Meghalaya, monitoring systems are set to be installed at the entry and exit points of all major rivers to aid in the proper assessment of water resources in the state.
“This is a very important aspect, not enough highlighted or considered for obvious political and strategic limitations. From first-hand knowledge, while there is an interest to explore collaborations, concrete actions to that end will take a lot more time and effort. The authorities in Meghalaya are however cognisant of the fact that the water systems of the Meghalaya hills and the Bangladesh plains are intrinsically linked. The capacity, mandate and space to work on that are however still grey areas,” Nath added.
Banner image: Clouds cover Meghalaya, which is Sanskrit for “Abode of the clouds”. Photo by Trekpedition.com / Flickr.