An Approach to Create a Sustainable Natural Water Resource Management System through Participatory Initiative in the Himalayan Region

Water is the most precious commodity in universe and perhaps only Earth is bestowed with this. Though we have plenty of it but it is only about 2 percent of earth’s fresh water, which sustains human life. Unfortunately, today’s world is advancing at a steady pace towards a “below water poverty line” situation, irrespective of its confines and advancement. This paper suggests an implementable participatory approach to manage fresh water resources for its long-term sustainable use. Such an approach is practically addressing major problems like water shortage, inefficient water use, sanitation, pollution and inadequate operation cum maintenance related to naturally available palatable water in the Himalayan area of the district of Nainital in India. This paper emphasizes and draws a systematic outline for people’s involvement in operating and maintaining a valuable natural resource in an area where its availability is gradually under threat.
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Water constitutes about two-third of the Earth’s area, out of which a little over 97 percent is saline and the remaining 2.5 percent is fresh water. Most of the fresh water is not readily available for use to us either because it is frozen at the poles or found very deep in the earth. It is hardly less than 1% of earth’s water, which is fresh and available for human use (Elmulthum et al., 2012). It’s obvious from the above fact that fresh water on the earth is fixed, limited and a scarce resource but most essential to sustain life of over Seven billion human beings and innumerous other faunal species living on the earth. Drinking water has become a major issue in many countries specially is developing nations (Agwu et al., 2013).
Rise in world’s population which is increasing more than 2% annually is competing with the scarcely available water on the earth, resulting into a gradual decrease in per capita availability of water for use (Shalabi, 2000).
Water security for the modern world is at the stakes which means that the sus-tainable use, development and protection of water system (Schultz,2007) is turning into a big challenge for the 21st century and if not handled properly, may even lead to the warlike situation in countries (Ahrony, 2011). Though modern technologies could be made available in the future to address the issues like water scarcity, inequality, heterogeneity or even water alternatives but traditional knowledge and community involvement in water conservation, augmentation, distribution and maintenance would still pay a pivotal and crucial role, in order to support a would be huge load of over 1000 billion human being on this earth. It’s a fact that stakeholder’s participation had been recognized as one of the useful methods to be embedded in any decision making process (Roslan et al., 2013). The strongest stakeholders in case of water resource management are the nearby communities living in and around the area.
The Himalayan states though a major seat for various fresh water lakes, springs, river and glaciers in the northern hemisphere of the earth, are no longer an exception of the above mentioned fact of water scarcity and water security (Kumar & Rawat, 1996). Nainital is situated in the Himalayan region of Uttarakand, which came into existence on 9.11.2001 as the 28th state of the Union of India. It’s situated at a height of about 2084 meters in the middle Himalayan region. This place is bestowed with several natural lakes, springs, water bodies and rivers. Nainital city is a place of tourist attraction. Its average annual rainfall is 253 centimeters and snow is a regular phenomenon during December to March with an annual average of 53.8 centimeters (Indian Meteorological Department, 2011).
Experiment Conducted
Nainital city has a population of over 85,000 with a floating tourist population of 25,000 to 35,000 during the summer season. There are over 300 big or small hotels (Nainital Municipality Record, 2011) and the minimum daily requirement of fresh water is about 25 to 30 million liters. The local water works department is able to cater only 15 to 17 million liters of water a day with a clear-cut deficit of over 30 to 35% (Nainital Water Works Department, 2011).
Nainitalis surrounded by dense oak trees which is the best floral species for water retention. There were over 20 to 25 places from where fresh water oozes out either from the earth, rock or hillock. Before the experiment, these fresh water places, had taken the shape of an unhygienic small earthen depression and the water from these places was frequently being used by the local residents for various domestic purposes. The worst part of the event was that almost 80-85% of the fresh, natural and palatable water was going waste as the water collection time for the local residents was either restricted to the morning hours or evening hours. During this time, long queues were seen near these places and a major portion of the productive time of the locals specially women were going to waste for the water collection activity. In February-March 2011, a survey was conducted at one such place near Sherka Muh water source on Nainital-Delhi national highway and it was found that on an average over 45,000 liters of fresh water was going unutilized everyday (Nainital Forest Range Data, 2011). In the year 2011-12, an intervention was introduced by the local forest department at 14 different points, where all such places were renovated in a traditional but technical manner. In this method, instead of materials like cement, concrete, iron, paint, and bricks only locally available material like lime, mud, stone sheets and organic binding materials along with small hand tools were used for the renovation works.
Figure 1: Outside view of the renovated water source

This intervention resulted into a successful event as it reduced the water wastage considerably, shortened water collection time of local residents, augmented water recharge and reestablished the traditional knowledge of water conservation (Amar Ujala News, 2013).
Figure 2: Local newspaper appreciating the work

This ensured over 50,000 liters of fresh water availability in various storage tanks of these renovated water sources everyday, in the early mornings hours of the city of Nainital (Sharma et al, 2014).
Figure 3: Community-based initiative: Maintenance Model

Note: Model for renovation made in local language
This model is based upon the fact that creation of a public utility asset through government support needs strong backing from nearby communities for its long-term sustenance and operation. In an Indian government working system, departmental liabilities so created for operating and maintaining a public welfare scheme has not been a very successful experience in the past (A. Rawat, Citizen nominee for RTI Awards 2009, Personal Communication, Dec 22, 2011). Prime reasons for the above fact have been largely because of:

  • Time gap between the budget availability and probable unforeseen event with the scheme.
  • Complete chain of procedures cum formalities to be followed before getting a work executed.
  • Lethargic and non-responsive attitude of the maintenance staff because of the maintenance work being a low cost but trouble bearing activity.

Any government internally emphasizes largely over the assets creation and fundamentally tries to conceive a situation for owning the public amenities by the local communities for its regular operation and maintenance purpose. By doing so, the government tries to reduce its burden on the one hand and on the other hand plans to make the local bodies more responsible and affiliated towards the scheme. Consultation with the community or stakeholders has been a strong recommendation in agenda 21 of UNCED, which envisages broadest public participation and active Involvement of the NGOs and other groups in the decision-making cycle. It is also evident that the participatory approaches in environmental knowledge production have potential to enhance the quality of decision-making processes (Hage et al., 2010).
The proposed operation and maintenance model for fresh- natural-water re-sources management, through community involvement is drawn as follows:
Creation of a General Body
A General Body will constitute one member from each house of the nearby locality, which is using water from the natural resource. The meeting of the general body will be called by the Forest Range Officer, who was responsible for the creation of the assets in the form of traditionally renovated three-tier storage system of water resource. General body is supposed to perform following functions:

  1. Electing a “Water Resource Management Committee” for three years. This committee will involve one chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer and seven members.
  2. Ensuring at least one-hird women members in the committee.
  3. General body will meet once in a year and shall review the functioning of the executive committee for the whole year.
  4. It will be mandatory to call the “initial advisory committee” at every annual general body meeting and regularly seek their opinion for future course of action. This committee will consist of few selected environmentalists, officials, staff members and NGOs who were associated with idea of renovation, maintenance, procedural framework and implementation since the beginning.

Figure 4: Publicity material for awareness

Water Resource Management Committee (WRMC)
WRMC will perform the following functions together with its duties and responsibilities.
Executive work

  • To ensure cleanliness nearby water source
  • To ensure protection of water source stretcher
  • To ensure catchment development works near water source including earthen tanks for domestic and wild animals.
  • To appoint a part time caretaker for the water source. The caretaker may be paid or honorary but it should be from among the members of the general body either on fixed or on rotational basis.
  • To ensure no personal connection is to be distributed from the water source.
  • To ensure a register of water discharge for comparative studies in future.

Administrative works

  • To ensure ban on unauthorized use of water for any purpose other than domestic use.
  • To impose penalties for activities like vehicle cleaning, cleaning clothes, collection of water for commercial use, polluting water source and damaging the three-tier storage structure.
  • To ensure registration and annual renewal of WRMC under societies registration act of India.

Financial work

  • Committee will ensure to open a bank a/c in any nationalized bank.
  • To ensure that committee members will deposit a one-time Rs. 100 in the a/c as seed money and every beneficiary household (Members of the General Body) will deposit Rs. 10 per month in the same account as running maintenance expenses.
  • To ensure maintenance of a register for receipt and expenditure.
  • To approve proposal of work and seek approval of the range officer be-fore its execution (This is proposed for utilizing any sort of dovetailing mechanism, available in any other Government scheme thereby saving the money of water source account)

Barriers and Enablers
To ensure proper transparency and work efficiency in any community involved maintenance initiative, it is desirable to have proper checks and balances over the proposed working. Any community scheme, largely because of the involvement of innumerous human factors, invariably have some strengths on the one hand and weaknesses on the other. Strengths are to be propagated as enablers and weaknesses are to be removed as they are barriers to the program (K.C. Suyal, Range Officer, Personal Communication, Dec. 2011).
Though, currently science and technology era is applicable to almost every aspect of decision making and therefore seems to replace traditions which were in place and previously used by the decision making bodies (Fadhiliet al., 2013) but through advanced conceptualization of some strong facilitators and inhibitors of the process the above system of decision-making could again be reverted back to a community run, indigenously based natural resource management initiative.
In this model, some enablers as well as some barriers are also identified in order to develop, long-term sustainability to the working. These, if addressed time to time, will take the process of sustaining the community involvement for natural resource management in the right and proper direction in the future.

  • Local forest officers, who were responsible for the creation of the assets, will remain associated with the program.
  • Water resource management committee will consist of influential, prominent and dedicated social persons of the community.
  • Accounting procedure will be transparent and every transaction has to be cleared in the annual general body meeting.
  • Scope for dovetailing through government aid or levy.
  • Making WRMC capable of imposing penalties for any violation, in accordance with existing local laws and society’s mandate.
  • Scope of entrepreneurship by selling surplus water in various mixes like pure natural spring water or herbal treated water.
  • Initial advisory committee shall perform an elderly role to overcome any weakness or barrier in the maintenance program.


  • Lack of interest from the forest department officials may work as a deterrent for long-term maintenance in the future.
  • To ensure tri-monthly meeting of WRMC and annual meeting of general body needs self-discipline and dedication.
  • Refusal to pay per month maintenance cost of Rs. 10 by some users.
  • Pressures under the local factor (social, political, official) to issue water connections from the three-tier collection tanks.
  • Violations by the unknown tourists and their vehicle drivers.
  • Disposal of religious waste around the water source.
  • Society’s registration charges and bank’s constraints to handle a community account.

Traditionally renovated water resources of Nainital city with three-tier water storage systems shall be maintained and supervised through community-based three-stage participatory committees named as initial advisory committee, general body committee and water resource management committee. This three-stage committee system is a unique feature, as it consist of the elderly, influential, social and worker groups along with officials and staff at various stages, which will automatically have sincere and positive checks and balances not to each other but to the participatory approach of maintenance. Though this teamwork will ensure water security to the nearby areas but it will also inculcate the importance of fresh water in the minds of localities in particular and tourists in general. Fresh water, being the most precious commodity of the 21st century could be preserved, conserved and augmented only when the government system could associate and integrate the nearby communities for its management by developing a feeling of belongingness and ownership among them for their resources.
There are many stakeholders to this approach, right from the regular users to casuals but in order to integrate them for a common cause, consistent efforts from the government side is mandatory as the community also needs some kind of sincere patronage to roll on a process successfully.