Why Thimphu still has water shortage even after completion of the Nu 400 mn Dodena project and promises of 24/7 drinking water

As a part of Central Water Supply Scheme (CWSS), Thimphu Thromde, with financial assistance from World Bank, started Nu 400 million project of 10 MLD water treatment plant at Taba, to improve urban infrastructure service in Northern Thimphu where no formal services are available, and also to augment the existing water supply system.

After missing several deadlines, Thromde started supplying water from Dodena from May 2019 and the residents of Thimphu Throm were supposed to receive 24 hours water supply, but it is only Changjiji, Yangchenphu and Langjophakha that receive adequate water.

Thromde planned to improve the water system in Norzin Lam and Changzamtog areas but even after the completion of the project, the areas still face severe water shortage.

World Bank

The project started on September 2017 and was expected to complete by February 2018 but due to the delay in getting clearance on land, the contractors could complete the project only on February 2019. After the completion of the project, there was a delay in testing and commissioning of the plant because water didn’t reach to the plant on time due to several breakages of pipelines. The testing was done in March 2019.

Again, they couldn’t supply the water immediately to the reservoirs tanks because there were similar breakages of pipeline while supplying water to four reservoir tanks located in Taba, Pamtsho, Langjophakha and Samteling. People received water only from May.

Project Manager of World Bank, Pekar Rabgay, said that the project has been completed and is successful as water was supplied to places it was supposed to reach.

He said, “It was initially decided that World Bank will bring water from Dodena to 10 MLD water treatment plant at Taba, and from there we will distribute water to four reservoirs tanks. From Langjophakha, we have supplied water to Yangchenphu and Changjiji which was not there in the plan. Initially, it was decided that we will supply water to four reservoirs tanks which we have done. Core area was never meant to be covered by Dodena.”

Pekar said that since there is a severe water problem in core as well as in Changzamtog areas, Thromde was trying to mobilize and bring the Dodena water to three tanks near the Swimming Pool. Once they are able to bring the water to swimming pool, the whole water problem in Thimphu will be resolved, he said.  He also said it needs to be done immediately because during APA signing with the Prime Minister, the Thimphu Thrompon has agreed to supply 24-hour water in Thimphu City.

He said, “When we tested the pipelines initially, the joints gave away because of the pressure in the pipe. There are different types of joints, and the joints we used were push in joints where we have to connect two joints which perfectly fit together. These joints are easy to fix because there is a rubber gasket which is quite flexible. So when there is too much pressure and if these joints are not buried underneath or exposed, it came out but we have resolved the issue by providing concrete. “

He pointed out that such problems are expected to occur in a big project. “Although we have rectified the problem, the problem might occur in the future because we are talking about 33 kms of pipelines in total, but if anything happens, the contractor is responsible because even if they have handed over to Thromde, they still have one year as defect liability where they have to monitor the system. So if anything happens till June 2020, they will have to look after this,” Project Manager of World Bank, Pekar Rabgay, said.

East West Construction

Proprietor of East West Construction said that it is responsible for the construction of the water treatment plant in Taba which involves a few tanks. The project was started on 1 September 2018 and was expected to complete by 1 December 2018, which was the initial project period.

He said, “As we couldn’t start the work at the time when we are supposed to start because of delay in the construction of road at the treatment plant and delay in getting the clearance, on 27 August 2018, we wrote a letter to the Thromde stating that as there was delay in works from the beginning, we would not be able to complete the work on time. Thromde extended the time to February 2019. “

He also said, “Though the project was completed in February, we could run the test only on March as we didn’t receive water at the plant. As there was no water from Dodena, we had to test the plant by bringing water from nearby source which took a long time as the pipelines were small.”

He said that even after receiving the water, there was the problem of water leakage and bursting of pipelines. He said, “This happens when there is excess pressure in the pipelines. People had to constantly monitor it and once the leak at one point was rectified, there were leakage from other joints and this problem went on. We handed the project officially on May and people started receiving water from May.”

Nima Construction

Nima Construction is responsible for construction of intake, transmission main line from Dodena to Taba with further trunk line.

Engineer Yogesh said that the main work of the company was to lay down the pipelines, construct sedimentation tank and four reservoir tanks. The work was delayed due to the delay in securing clearance.

He said, “We even started providing water by February but there was some issue, where certain pipes gave away but I think we were able to provide water by April.”

The engineer said the pipes required to be tested under 12 to 13 kg pressure for 24 hours. “If the water has to run for more than a day, the pressure has been already checked. And when it gives away after a month, it is because of external factors like rain. When it rains, it washes away the soil which leads to movement of joints and joints go off. It’s not because of any workmanship because if it was because of the workmanship or the material, it would go away in the very first day because we have to keep 24 hours for test.”

Now it has been more than two months there hasn’t been any breakage, he said.

He further said, “We construct thrust block at a point where there is weak joints and wherever it is necessary, and we don’t construct thrust block ourselves, but we are told by the consultants to construct the thrust block. In December also, we were told by the consultant to construct additional 40 thrust blocks. We had already constructed trust block but we were told that there was need for additional thrust block and we constructed around 40 blocks after the first charging of water. “

He said, “Sometimes what happens is that if there is a turn and there is a joint that joints gives away faster and we found out that in many joints, it was because of the short pipes. In smaller joints that gives away. “

From the total of 30 kms of pipeline, only 10 joints gave away which is quite reasonable. 5,500 pipelines of 5.5 meters were laid. There are 5,500 joints in between, he said.

He said that the pressure was more at the Pangrizampa area because of the gradient and most joints gave away in those areas. This is because the terrain is very difficult in the area as there are more turns.  If the joints are buried underground then the joints wouldn’t give away but there is no way that we could bury the joints underground in these areas and there was the risk. Most of the pipes are buried underground till Pangrizampa, he added.


Thimphu Thromde announced that with the completion of the project, Thimphu City would get 24 hours of water supply, but on the contrary, even after the completion of the project, the residents in Thimphu are still struggling with water shortage. Thimphu Thromde was not able to provide water as it planned in Norzin Lam and Changzamtog areas.

The situation in Changjiji, Yangchenphu and Langjophakha has improved after Thromde started supplying water from Dodena.

Initially when the project was started, Thromde planned to provide water in places where it was required and also to improve the existing system in the Thromde.

In the past, Changjiji was supplied its water from Motithang. Yangchenphu and Langjophakha was supplied water from Jungzhina. Now, as Dodena covers all the three areas, Thimphu Thromde then decided to supply water from Jungzhina to three tanks in Changangkha that will address the water shortage in Norzin Lam and Changzamtog.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the Thromde also planned to take one pipeline to the three tanks in Changangkha by February or March this year. It was expected that the water reaching the three tanks in Changangkha, will reach Changzamtog areas and core town areas too.

Thrompon said, “All these works should have been completed by now, but the engineers have not done their work which is laying of pipeline, which has resulted in the delay.”

Yangchenphu receives water from Swimming Pool Tank, and Thromde planned to supply water from Yangchenphu to Swimming Pool as well, but the water was not able to reach the tank as the pipelines were too small. This has also affected supply of water to Norzin Lam, the Thrompon said.

However, he assured that after they complete laying the pipelines, they will be able to provide water to Norzin Lam and Changzamtog.

Thrompon also said that Thromde has to also look into distribution network in Norzin Lam as the network was done in late 1970s and 80s which was never upgraded. The network in Norzin Lam is so pathetic, he said.

Senior engineer, Nakphel Drukpa from Water Supply Division said that if Thromde supplies 135 liters of water per person per day, it would mean that Thromde has supplied water for 24 hours in a day.  In 2018 to 2019 APA, Thromde worked out the total number of consumers and the total amount of water supplied by Thimphu Thromde, and after studying the details it was learnt that Thromde was supplying water beyond the benchmark.  It is also learnt that by Indian standard, if it is for high altitude countries, 135 liters per person should be enough but it also depends on the size of the population.

Nakphel said, “We monitor the complaint statistics, and I feel that the situation in Norzin Lam is improving every day. If we get more complaints from a particular area, it would mean we will have to focus on that area and see why it’s happening. Is it because the network is poor or is it because people are not careful in using the water or is it because there was disruption like breaking of pipes due to construction or if the thromde has failed to regulate the water supply in a way it is supposed to do?”

He said, “We look at the past to draw lessons, and we have to move forward and our focus is now shifted to the distribution network, and we have to work more on distribution network. We are going all out to resolve this issue.”

He further said, “We have a pilot project in South Thimphu assisted by Asian Development Bank Korea Water, which is globally accepted as a specialist in water technology. Korea Water experts are studying it. In the core and extended areas, we have to put in new treatment plants, we have to do new distribution, rehabilitation and augmentation, extension and replacement of pipelines.”

He said that Thromde is putting in smart devices, like water meters that can be read automatically. It is often noticed that due to high water pressure there have been constant breakage of pipe, therefore, Thromde plans to install pressure-reducing valves that will work through automatic sensors.

When Thromde was looking to extend the network in Norzin Lam, problems came up. “The reason why there is problem in core area is because during those day around 1980s, there was only one reliable source in Motithang and it was quite convenient during that time because there were only few houses. But with time the number of houses increased which eventually led to increase in the number of connection in the area. That’s why we have wrong house connections which will be eventually lifted in the coming years,” he said.

Pema Thekchog, Thromde engineer said that in the past Motithang Treatment Plant supplied water to Yangchenphug and Changjiji received water from Jungzhina treatment plant via swimming pool tank in addition to three boreholes that supplies water to Changjiji.  Water from Jungzhina is pumped and supplied to Langjophakha.

Motithang treatment plant supplied water to Motithang, Changzamtog, Saabji Baazar, Yangchenphug, and Kalabazar, Norzin Lam, Changangkha and Kawajangsa

Jungzhina supplied water to BCCI from where the water is supplied to Norzin Lam areas. It also supplies to the swimming pool plant, which in turn supplies to the hospital and Changjiji and the water that reaches dzong tank supplies to Kawajangsa.

Chamgang supplies water to Babesa, Olakha, Lungtenphu and Changbangdu and Dechencholing plant supplies to Dechencholing.

After the completion of the project, Changjiji is fully covered by Dodena. In the past the water from Jungzhina treatment plant was supplied to swimming pool tank which then supplies to Changjiji. With Dodena, Thromde does not have to supply water to Changjiji and has disconnected all the line, and water from BCCI tank is supplied to Norzin Lam.

Dodena supplies water to Yangchenphug which was earlier supplied from Motithang. Langjophakha received water from Jungzhina treatment plant and in line with this Jungzhina also received water from Dodena.

Through BCCI the water also reached few places in Norzin Lam. In lower Taba, Thromde is in the process of installing water meters. There are few areas in Taba that receive water from Dodena.

Pema said that the water pipelines are old in the Norzin Lam, and since the line or the distribution is old, the water that is supplied from BCCI doesn’t reach as it goes to different households because of old distribution.

He said, “If the same amount of water that is supplied reaches the tank, we can store the water in the tank and can supply it when it is needed on time but because of this some houses in Norzin have excess water while other face severe water shortages.”

“From Jungshina treatment plant there is a line to Samtenling, and from there we will supply water to three tanks at Changangkha which will solve the water problem in Norzin Lam, Hongkong market, hospital areas and Changzamtog. The tank is 320,000 liters and there are 3 tanks of same capacity. The water from Dodena is supplied to Dzong tank which will then supply to Hejo area and Kawajangsa by pumping it from Dzong tank. It will also come partially to Norzin Lam and Saabji Baazar areas.”

According to Hotel Jomolhari, many hotels have been facing water problems for 5 to 10 years. Without adequate water, the hotels can’t run maximum number of rooms, bathrooms and toilets. Hotel areas require more water than the residential areas.

Thromde water is also drying up as there are so many constructions, pointed out the hotel owner.

The owner of the hotel said that many complaints were put up to the Thromde but only to be told that the problems will be resolved with the completion of the Dodena project by 2018.  It is now nearing 2020, and the hoteliers are still facing water shortage problems.

He said, “I also feel that even with the completion of the project, the water crisis in Norzin Lam will not be settled because I heard that the Dodena project will cover only certain areas like Changjiji, Langjophakha and Yangchenphu.”

Another hotel, Namgay Heritage, said it faces water problems frequently, especially during its busy season when most of the rooms are occupied. “We have to buy water, paying around Nu 5,000 to 6,000 in a day. The water that Thromde supplies is not sufficient but we are not saying that there are water problem all the time but it occurs most of the time. And this happens, especially during summer and monsoon,” the general manager said.

The hotel says it does not face water shortage in the winters. However, the water problem is severe in June to August.

“We have requested the Thromde to install more water meters and we are paying extra money for meters but there is still water shortage most of the time. After paying extra money, we have three lines, one line that is for normal households which is from time to time, and we have two commercial lines meant for 24 hours supply, but there is still water shortage because when the water goes off, it goes at same time even though we have three lines. Last time, we did not have water from more than one week so we had to buy water from private,” he said.

Private house owners in Changzamtog said that Thromde provides water from time to time, which is for only 2 hours in the morning and evening.  “We have a group of private house owners and we have a private connection. Even if we have private connection we have water problem,” said a house owner.

House owners say that even with the combination of Thromde and private connection, it is hard to provide 24 hours of water supply, as water from the same source is not enough. This has also resulted into fights among house owners.

A house owners said, “We have complained several times to Thromde, but Thromde said they will provide water but they haven’t. Thromde said that Dodena project will solve the water issue and after the commissioning of Dodena project, Thromde will provide water from Motithang.”

We have to keep a plumber on constant duty as there are people who cut the pipes and steal the water. It maybe between plumber as they protect their water and steal other’s water, owners stated. “Thromde considers private water connection as illegal, and even we don’t want private connection as it is not tested or treated water, but we don’t have any other option as Thromde water is not sufficient,” the desperate house owners added.

This story was made possible with support from Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF).

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One comment

  1. Damber Nirola

    The water woe at the government quarters at JDWNR hospital are the worst affected. Private houses are somehow better off because the house owners connect private lines and at times bribe the water caretakers to supply to their buildings.
    We just hope something will happen if the current explanation works well.
    The water we get at the doctors’ quarters is muddy, which fails to explain how treated water would be so bad.

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