Bhutan is blessed with a wealth of freshwater resources, encompassing glaciers, lakes, wetlands, springs, streams, and rivers. Remarkably, the country boasts abundant freshwater availability, with each person having access to an impressive 94,508 cubic meters annually, one of the highest figures worldwide.
The major river systems in Bhutan are Amochhu, Wangchhu, Punatsangchhu, Mangdechhu, and Drangmechhu, while the smaller systems include Jaldakha, Aeichhu, Nyera Amari, Jomori, and Merak-Sakteng Chhu. The collective annual flow from these river systems amounts to approximately 70,576 million cubic meters. Notably, these rivers not only sustain Bhutan but also contribute to the water supply of neighboring countries, including India and Bangladesh, serving as a crucial lifeline for about one-fifth of the global population.
Despite its enviable per capita water availability, Bhutan faces water-related challenges and management shortcomings. The population is predominantly settled on mountain tops or slopes, while the rivers flow at the valley bottoms. This geographical setup creates economic inefficiencies in accessing water for domestic and irrigation purposes on slopes. Furthermore, the country’s growing population and urbanization raise concerns about deteriorating watersheds and the depletion of water sources.
There are also challenges in terms of water management and coordination among relevant agencies, which need to be improved and strengthened. All these have implications for water security for both people and freshwater biodiversity.
In Bhutan, major threats to aquatic biodiversity are pollution, destructive and illegal fishing, habitat loss, and alien invasive species. With limited flatlands for settlement, river valleys like Thimphu are under a lot of pressure from growing populations, urbanization, and economic development. This has resulted in the loss of riparian zones, particularly visible in and around Thimphu, located at the headwaters of the Wangchhu River. Runoff from the various industrial estates located within the municipal limits, along with non-point sources of pollution, also poses a grave threat to the natural water bodies. Cumulative impacts from hydropower projects on aquatic biodiversity are also imminent due to disruption of river connectivity if proper planning and mitigation measures are not put in place.
Nestled amidst the enchanting landscapes of Dechenling Pemagatsel, Bhutan, Peling Tsho is a picturesque jewel that weaves together cultural, social, and economic significance. Dominated by evergreen broad-leaved types and deciduous broad-leaved trees and shrubs are found in the wetland. This serene alpine lake holds a deep cultural connection, serving as a spiritual site for locals who seek solace and reflection. Embracing a thriving social dimension, Peling Tsho fosters a sense of community as a gathering spot for festivals and traditional celebrations. Beyond its cultural value, the lake also bolsters the region’s economy, attracting tourists seeking nature’s tranquility and is the source for Peling Chhu, which is the only perennial stream in that area. Although the stream is not used for human consumption, more than 200 households make use of it for washing and feeding domestic animals as it flows downstream to join Kurung-Manas river system.
The area heavily relies on agriculture for livelihoods, with traditional farming practices that often lead to water and soil erosion, especially on steeper slopes. At one point, Peling Tsho, a significant lake in the region, was a source of water for various living beings, but due to human intervention in the late 1990s, it suffered degradation and dried up. Now, there is a growing realization of the importance of environmental preservation, prompting efforts to restore the lake’s biodiversity and watershed.
Peling Tsho has a special place in the hearts of the locals, as it is believed to have been created by a revered Buddhist master, making it a sacred site for worship. However, despite its cultural significance and ecological importance, the lake has not received conservation attention from the government’s development plans.
To address the environmental issues in the area and mitigate water scarcity, a local community group plans to initiate a tree-planting project covering approximately 100 acres of land around Peling Tsho. The lake, once a tranquil and serene place, holds historical and religious significance, but the lack of conservation measures has led to its deterioration. The project aims to restore the watershed and biodiversity around the lake and potentially designate it as a Ramsar Site, similar to other protected areas in Bhutan.
Dechheling Gewog, where the project site is located, experiences a warm subtropical climate with various types of trees in the wetland. The project area covers three Chiwogs and includes Peling-Tso, which is the source of Peling-Chhu, the only perennial stream in the region. However, due to climate change and land degradation, the lake and springs are drying up, exacerbating water scarcity for drinking, washing, and farming purposes. The project also recognizes the need to shift from conventional subsistence agriculture to climate-smart innovations for sustainable farming practices and economic benefits for farmers.
In addition, the Dechenling region faces water shortages during dry periods, primarily due to traditional farming practices and environmental degradation. The once-thriving Peling Tsho has suffered due to human intervention and requires conservation efforts to restore its biodiversity and watershed. By planting trees and adopting climate-smart farming practices, the community aims to mitigate water scarcity and promote sustainable development in the area.
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