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Last year, a group of villagers from Toeb Renakha in Punakha destroyed newly built water tanks and pipes for three chiwogs of Talo gewog, disrupting water to about 80 households.

Villages grapple with water disputes and shortages

Last year, a group of villagers from Toeb Renakha in Punakha destroyed newly built water tanks and pipes for three chiwogs of Talo gewog, disrupting water to about 80 households.

Talo gewog administration accused the group for breaking around four tanks built near Tangolum stream and cutting high-density polythene pipes into pieces.

The case is with the Punakha dzongkhag court.

Talo gup Dorji Wangchuk said that unless the case is resolved, three chiwogs would continue to face acute drinking water shortage.

The water sources of Gungthramo, Labtsakha and Sewo Drangsa chiwogs have dried and residents drain rainwater for consumption.

In winter when there is not enough rain, some villagers borrow water from their neighbours who depend on brooks that run nearby their homes.

Springs, streams and ponds that once served as sources of drinking water for these chiwogs have dried. Locals claim that the sources disappeared because of global warming.

According to the Talo gewog administration, around Nu 1.7 million was spent on infrastructure development for water. There were eight water tanks that had been planned for the 80 households.

The villagers of Renakha had reservations sharing the Tangolum stream as it is used as irrigation water.  Some expressed concerns of poor harvest if they shared the water.

A source said that the infrastructure was built without obtaining environmental clearance from the dzongkhag administration. “I think the infrastructures were built on mutual understanding,” said a dzongkhag official. “If they obtained the clearance there would not have been any issue.”

The people of three chiwogs contributed labour for 21 days to build the infrastructure.

Disputes over water are reported across the country. In Phangyul gewog, Wangduephodrang, more than 1,000 acres of paddy fields remain fallow each year.

The villages here irrigate their fields with rainwater, as the neighbouring Kazhi gewog does not allow irrigation channel to pass through their fields.

Of the seven villages in the gewog, Goengkhar, Khomche and Phangyul villages are severely hit.

The government has planned to source water from Baychu stream, which is about 25km from Phangyul for irrigation. If the plan comes through, it would benefit more than 305 households.

Despite holding several consultations together with the Wangdue dzongkhag administration, the people of Kazhi gewog have for years refused to give clearance to route the water through their fields.

However, last December after Kazhi gewog consented, the villagers of Phangyul did a survey to build a channel where each household contributed labour for months.

Kazhi gewog accepted the proposal, with the condition that about 50 percent of the water from that irrigation channel should be allocated to them.

However, when the survey reached Komathang village, the people did not stick to the decision and the survey had to discontinue, Phangyul Mangmi Wangchuk Namgay, said. “The decision to bring water for our village is in the hands of the government,” he said.

During the 10th Plan, Nu 84M was also allocated for the irrigation project, but was withdrawn because of communal dispute.

The problem of implementing the Water Act

The Water Act gives priority to drinking water over irrigation. It also says that if one village has enough water, it has to share with other villages that do not have drinking water.

The water regulation also states that water being property of the state, any user right developed in the individual, household or community will not tantamount to ownership right over a water body at any point of time.

Agriculture minster Yeshey Dorji who is the vice-chairman of the National Environment Commission said that it’s not easy to implement the Act when people have strong beliefs of traditional right on water usage. “Despite having an Act, we need to do public consultations and make them aware of the provisions,” he said. “Only then will they understand the law.”

The water regulation also states that water users from an irrigation facility will share its water either through mutual understanding or on the basis of existing practices when such practices are equitable and fair.

It further states that if traditional practices are deemed to be unfair and inequitable to some of its users, the water will be shared based on the size of landholdings.

Alternatives

The agriculture minister said that the water shortage in three chiwogs in Talo would be addressed when the Phendey irrigation channel is renovated. Water from irrigation channel could be used for drinking.

The channel piped from Toebi rongchu (stream) will benefit 300 households of Renakha, Toebisa, Wolokha and Changyul.  The renovation work according to the minster will be completed in eight months. The 25-km long channel will be rebuilt with Nu 34M.

For communal water dispute of Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs, Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that he has instructed the Wangdue dzongkhag administration to conduct a survey once again.

“If the channel is built, the running cost would still be high,” he said. “We could look at alternatives of shifting to crops that require less water  so that farmers do not have to depend on paddy.”

Tenzin Namgyel

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