24 January, 2024

Reviving springs, nourishing lives

Enhulumi village’s journey to sustainable water security

Enhulumi village, nestled atop a hill in the Phek District of Nagaland, stands as a testament to resilience and community spirit. With 230 households, it is home to the Chakhesang tribal Christians, classified under the Scheduled Tribe category. (Figure1) The undulating topography, marked by gentle slopes, high hills, deep gorges, and sharp crest ridges, receives an annual rainfall ranging from 1500 to 2000mm. At the heart of Enhulumi's community structure is the Village Council, collaborating seamlessly with various community-based organisations.

Figure 1: Location map of the selected village

The village relies heavily on climate sensitive resources for their livelihood, food and water security. Springs are the lifeline of the community for drinking water security and domestic needs. Despite having 7 springs, the village has faced a water crisis in the last 10-15 years, particularly during the lean seasons from December to April.

Recognising the urgency, the Northeast Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), (an associate organisation of Tata Trusts), selected Enhulumi as a pilot village for a water security programme. This initiative involves adopting springshed management principles integrated with a community-centric approach and scientific assessment.

The spring Mewi Dzukhou was selected through a participatory process that was undertaken in close collaboration with the Village Council, for rejuvenation based on i ts importance of providing safe drinking water to local communities. The spring is located at latitude N 253˚ 4'59.9” and longitude E 094˚22'03.2” with an elevation of about 1500m above mean sea level and is about 100-150m away from the main village. The spring recharge area is characterised by unconsolidated debris and weathered shale. Within this region, the unconsolidated weathered rocks and sediments serve as significant contributors to recharging the spring aquifer, playing a crucial role in supplying water to 100 households, benefitting approximately 500 people. In times of low water availability during lean seasons, the community previously relied on distant springs due to the scarcity of water in their immediate vicinity.

Community Leading the Way in Reviving Traditional Springsheds

Right from the very beginning, the involvement and empowerment of existing community institutions, coupled with community participation at each stage from planning to execution and monitoring, have ensured local ownership and management, sustaining the intervention under this project.

Figure 2: Conceptual Hydrogeological Diagram of Mewi Spring

Traditional practices among indigenous mountain communities involve safeguarding the catchment area of the Spring shed and ecosystem to promote natural regeneration, ensuring water availability. NEIDA, through active capacity building of community members, revived traditional approaches, allowing springs to be collectively managed and accessed by the Enhulumi village community for generations, despite individual and clan land ownership in Nagaland. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Traditional community actions being undertaken for the rejuvenation of the springshed

Implementing activities in the recharge area was challenging due to its small, fragmented land ownership structure. Water scarcity is a signifi- cant concern in the village, and the Village Council served as a catalyst for activity execution. The project involved demystifying science and integrating local and scientific knowledge. Following village meetings and agreements with stakeholders and the Village Council, Para- hydrogeologists trained community representatives on the importance and technical aspects of delineating the spring recharge area. Activities such as measuring slope, contour line mapping using the pipe level method and A-Frame and constructing Staggered Contour Trenches (SCTs) were undertaken. Hydrological data collection, crucial for understanding spring behavior and conducting impact assessments, involved training a community representative/ data collector to measure spring discharge and collect rainfall data.

Figure 4: Assessment of water demand and supply, based on spring discharge from the period of March 2019 to September 2020

The identified potential spring recharge area spans 2 hectares, characterised by mixed vegetation and an average slope ranging from 20% to 40%, as determined through geological mapping and engineering surveys. A total of 102 staggered contour trenches and two feeder channel ponds have been strategically constructed, employing technical measures. The purpose of these structures is to reduce the velocity of surface runoff, extend the path of rainwater flow, and capture surface runoff for infiltration into the ground. This process aims to recharge the aquifer supplying the spring, consequently augmenting the discharge of spring water.

Figure 5: The hydrograph of Mewi Spring from 6th March 2020 to 30th September 2020

The assessment of water demand and supply, based on spring discharge, reveals a substantial gap leading to water shortages, as depicted in Figure 4, considering a water requirement of 55 litres per capita per day (LPCD) for a population of 500 (equivalent to 27,500 litres required). For example, in March 2019, the measured spring discharge was 0.083 litres per minute (LPM), providing a daily water availability of only 120 litres per day (LPD). This increased to 1.5 LPM, resulting in 1,800 LPD (Figure 4). Following the spring rejuvenation intervention, the highest recorded spring discharge occurred on 15th September 2020, at 17.14 LPM, providing 24,682 LPD, leaving a gap of only 2,818 LPD. With current rate of discharge which ranges between 19 to 21 LPM community is able to meet its drinking water needs.

The Implementation of Springshed activities has had a notable impact on the trend of spring discharge, with a slight increase, particularly during lean seasons, as depicted in Figure 4. It is evident that the community's daily water requirement has risen by 42%, marking an 11% increase since the initiation of spring rejuvenation activities. A spring box with a storage capacity of approximately 12,000 litres has been constructed near the spring. The seepage and overflowed water are utilised for agricultural purposes in the terrace fields below the spring Figure 3. Spring recharge interventions Figure 4.

The hydrograph presented in Figure 5 demonstrates an increase in spring discharge following the intervention. It is noteworthy that this rise in spring discharge correlates with heightened rainfall, contributing to a reduction in the gap between water demand and supply, as illustrated in Figure 4. Consequently, the peak in spring discharge can be attributed to the elevated precipitation rate in the preceding month.

Before: Construction of Mewi Spring Box

The water from precipitation accumulates in the recharge struct ures , gradually infiltrating downward under the influence of gravity. Over time, it flows slowly in accordance with the hydraulic gradient, eventually emerging at the surface. The hydrograph pattern indicates that Mewi spring is a depression cum contact spring with unconfined aquifers. Understanding the aquifer's behaviour, it is noteworthy that the lithology predominantly comprises clayey soil, a weathered product of shale, which impedes the easy flow of infiltrated water.

It is essential to mention that only 1.7 years of spring discharge data are available. Consequently, a comprehensive impact assessment will be more evident in the coming years as additional data is collected and analysed. The water quality parameters, including pH, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Total Hardness, Alkalinity, Fluoride, Nitrate, Chloride, Iron, and Fecal Coliform, have been tested and found to be below the permissible limits established by the Bureau of Indian Standards (IS 10500:2012). Consequently, the water meets the safety standards for drinking water, ensuring that it is safe for consumption.

During the initial village meeting where the concept of Springshed development was introduced to the residents, there was uncertainty among the villagers about its potential benefits for both the spring and the community, as it was a novel idea. However, during the process of mobilizing and transferring knowledge, the community members expressed their concern about water scarcity as a top priority in the village. They assured their support and cooperation in carrying out the activities, hoping to witness positive results in the form of increased spring discharge. Mr Wekhrolo Lohe, the data collector, enthusiastically reported a manifold increase in spring water discharge (refer to Figure 5).

After: Construction of Mewi Spring Box

The implementation of social fencing emerged as a crucial step, with the Village Council Chairman highlighting that the community has established protocols to preserve the spring recharge area. The Council has agreed to refrain from constructing houses in the area, and the Village Council, along with existing local institutions, is actively managing the spring and is taking responsibility for desilting trenches. The project, costing approximately 1.5 lakhs (which included the cost of covers earthen works and the construction of the spring box), received 100% funding from MGNREGA, with additional contributions from the community.

Enhulumi village's journey is a testament to the power of community-led initiatives in achieving sustainable water security. It echoes a universal truth: collective vision and action can turn adversity into triumph, offering hope and inspiration for communities worldwide.

This article is written by Ms Sentimongla Kechuchar, Executive Director, NEIDA and Mr Divyang Waghela, Head – WaSH, Tata Trusts.

This was first published on Jal Jeevan Samvad in November 2023.