Lakes were once the main source of water for the villagers in Goshi, Gesarling, Tsendagang and Tashiding gewogs in Dagana. The dzongkhag forest and park services found that there are a total of fifteen lakes, of which six are used as water source, while the other nine lakes are either underutilized or far away from the village settlements.
Of the six lakes used as water source, Ari phokhari and Char pokhari located in Goshi gewog, and Saertsho and Alley pokhari located in Gesarling have dried up. The drying up of four of the six lakes that supplied drinking water is causing severe water shortage for the people. The villagers do not use the rest of the nine existing lakes.
Climate change is believed to be the most likely cause for the disappearing lakes. The dzongkhag chief forest officer said the other contributing factor is deforestation due to developmental activities and overuse of the forest. As a measure to prevent the lakes from further extinction and to revive the dried lakes, the forestry division along with the villagers and students planted trees around the lakes. “We banned tree cutting from certain distance of the lakes and replaced exotic species with native species of plants,” the forest office said.
The Gup of Karna, Lhawang Dorji, said that the lakes were used for various purposes apart from drinking and for livestock. He believes that the drying water source is definitely to do with the impact of climate change.
As the dzongkhag’s main cash crop is cardamom that requires plenty of water for growth, he said that the water crisis has largely affected the income and livelihood of the farmers.
The water and wetland expert under the watershed management division, Sonam Choden, said the lakes in Dagana are mostly mid-altitudinal depression lakes. She said while the cause of the phenomenon are varied and usually have more than one reason, it was studied that there is a general trend of many of the mid-altitude lakes drying in the eastern Himalayas. She said, “Usually, unintended causes through human interventions to conserve the lake are the very reasons for it to dry up,” adding that the lakes close to human settlement are at higher risk of disappearing.
Tsendagang gewog Gup, Bal Bdr. Rana, said with the dried water source, the gewog has now resorted to an alternate water source which comes from Norbuizingkha chiwog. He said many villages share the same water source, and therefore, a very low volume of water flows for only a few hours in a day or sometimes in a week.
To revive their water source, he said the villagers and forest division planted trees along the lakes, which remains as the only hope for the people. “People also believe that the lakes must have disappeared due to ill effect of littering around the lakes.” To please the local deities, he said the people take turns to clean the lake’s surrounding areas, and conduct an annual ritual known as ‘Devi-Sansar Puja’ at the lake.
Gup Tandin of Goshi gewog said the water sources have now started growing grass instead of containing water. “In Goshi alone, there were around five lakes now there is only one which is also at the verge of disappearance,” said the Gup.
Tree plantation, banning of deforestation around the lakes and cleaning up the lakes are being carried out in the gewog as well. There are also purification rituals being performed at the lake.
However, the reason for water crisis is not always due to drying up of lakes or water sources as pointed out by the watershed management division. Sonam Choden said, “Most of the time we see that it is a management problem, “ adding, “We never try to ask the question why the problem is there in the first place. So we end up making uninformed decisions with no empirical evidences and end up seeing unintended consequences.”
She said there is no proper water budgeting done, no ecological flows left in the streams or springs from where water is sourced, including the unintended consequences of human interventions that complicate the problem.
She said, “Lakes drying up will add to the problem of water shortage because you are losing natural water storage tanks but that is not necessarily the only cause of the water crisis.”
The best way to prevent the lake disappearance, she said, is to stay away from the lakes. “Human beings think we are doing good and conserving the area but retaining the natural condition for the lake is the best solution for its survival.”
She said water is usually seen as an unlimited resource but it is a limited resource. While climate change does impact the water sector, however, this claim has to be backed with reliable and accurate data. “The best we can do is to build resilience and try not to make a lot of man-made changes to our water sources,” Sonam Choden said.
The department is currently working on a nationwide scoping study of water sources drying in Bhutan, under the Strategic Program for Climate Resilience, where many stakeholders are involved.
The department will also monitor the selected sites through detailed hydro-geological survey and biophysical analysis of the areas. “After a year or so, we will be releasing a report on the empirical evidences on why we think this is happening and what interventions could be carried out,” she said.