Dayarani lake is the lifeline of the Uparara village in Gangolihat block of Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. For over five decades, the spring-fed lake, situated at an elevation of 1,811m in Uparara block, used to be a perennial waterbody, supporting the domestic and agricultural water needs of the local population, while also sustaining local biodiversity.
However, with changing climatic conditions, the underground springs began to dry up and the waters in the lake began to recede. By 2015, the lake began drying up during the summers. Historically, springs have played a vital role in Uttarakhand’s rural economy and ecosystem, with more than 90 per-cent of the rural water supply in the state being fed through springs. A Niti Aayog report in 2018 shed light on the fact that mountain springs – the lifeline of the residents of the Himalayan region are drying up rapidly, a finding that has been corroborated by other research organisations.
Reviving, restoring, replenishing
Himmotthan Society (an associate organisation of the Tata Trusts) took up a water security programme in Uttarakhand, which includes a cluster in Gangolihat block of Pithoragarh district, where Dayarani is situated. “This initiative, under the Tata Water Mission, aims at augmenting the water discharge in identified springs during the lean season (April-June),” says Vinod Kothari of Tata Trusts.
In 2017, Himmotthan, working in tandem with the Uttarakhand Forest Department, Uparara Gram Panchayat and its User Water and Sanitation Committee (UWSC), decided to revive the now-moribund lake. After approval from the District Magistrate, Pithoragarh, for the lake revival and springshed conservation and treatment programme, Himmotthan Society initiated the Dayarani revival project under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The project also involved the villagers, who were the most important stakeholders.
A scientific, hydrogeological approach was adopted for the treatment of the catchment area. The land was surveyed in detail. Staggered contoured trenches were dug to reduce runoff and increase ground absorption of rainwater.
The Himmotthan team worked closely with the Forest Department to undertake catchment treatment in around three hectares of land. “After a year-long collective effort, water flowed into Dayarani lake, which had dried up. That’s too during summer! And, just like that, a seasonal water body transformed into a perennial one,” says Mr Kothari, with pride.
The newly restored lake and catchment area was inaugurated and opened for the public on December 16, 2018, by local MLA Meena Gangola and Varun Choudhary (IAS), Block Development Officer, Gangolihat, who were appreciative of the Himmotthan Society’s efforts in reviving the lake.
The fruits of revival
Dayarani – the ‘benevolent queen’ – has sprung back to life, providing the nectar of life to revitalise its surroundings. The lake has had a ripple effect on the local population as well as the local ecology. A significant increase in discharge was noticed in the springs located in downstream villages. This benefitted about 870 people living in the villages of Basai Malli and Basai Talli. The team observed that during the lean season (April-June) discharge increased to 6 litres per minute (lpm) on average against 1.5 lpm earlier. The intervention also helped increase soil moisture as well as wild and aquatic life in the region.
Other unexpected benefits followed. The absence of water stress and related water conflicts improved social harmony among the rural communities. The availability of water and the time saved (that was previously spent in water collection) allowed communities to relax and pay attention to other activities. Women began to learn new skills and spend more time with their children. The villagers now enthusiastically adopted better sanitation and hygiene practices, thus improving community hygiene as well as their overall quality of life.
Mapping for the future
Himmotthan worked in close coordination with the UWSC to carry out springshed recharge interventions. Several meetings and training sessions were organised to build up the capacity of UWSC members and the community. A village-level para-worker pool has been formed to manage the recharge work in the long run. These trained resources now manage the maintenance, protection and conservation of the lake and its recharge area.
“This project will act as a spring knowledge centre, develop awareness about conservation and adopting a participatory approach, and provide training material for geologists,“ says Mr Kothari.
The Dayarani lake revival project was successfully implemented due to the combined efforts of the government and the community. The success of this project is a good example of a participatory and demand-driven approach, proving that if efforts of various stakeholders converge, and physical and financial support from government departments are leveraged for smooth implementation, big change is both possible and sustainable.
About Himmotthan’s Springshed Management Initiative
Tata Trusts’ Himmotthan Society has taken up the issues of springshed management with the Uttarakhand Forest Department. Acknowledging the importance of springs, the Forest Department constituted a Spring Management Consortium in November 2018, which spearheads the initiative in the state, and is headed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, along with 18 members (including members of water-related departments, experts and research institutes). The initiative will further strengthen the water security mission of the state.
For more details on Himmotthan’s Spring Initiative, visit.
Himmotthan Society has also contributed to the Niti Aayog Report on the ‘Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security.’