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Impact of Himachal's hydropower projects: Half of local sources of water have "dried up"

Damaged orchards in Urni village, Himachal Pradesh
By Our Representative
A just-released report, “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” by a Himachal Pradesh-based civil rights group, Himadhara, has warned that the market for hydropower has been “dwindling over the last few years”, as evident from "falling revenues from the hydropower sector" in the state, where “the installed capacity has risen from around 6000 MW to 10,547 MW in the last ten years”, but “the annual revenue from the sector which was around Rs 1300 crores a decade ago is at around Rs 908 crores in the last financial year.”
Pointing out that the phenomenon is not just confined to Himachal Pradesh and encompasses the entire country, the report says, the hydropower sector’s contribution to India’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade, and “in 2016-17 close to 40 hydropower projects were decided to be bailed out of bad loans worth Rs 16,000 crore.” 
The report, prepared by the NGO’s Environment Research and Action Collective, warns, “Uncertainties, hazards and risks associated with hydropower projects in the Himalayan states of the North Eastern India as well as the western Himalayas – namely Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir – have had both environmental and financial implications.”
Focusing on Himachal Pradesh, the report says, “primary evidences” of the impacts of disturbances triggered by construction of tunnels and other underground components for hydropower projects between 2011 and 2018, mainly from Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba districts, falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basins, show how the North-Western Himalayan state has become vulnerable, a factor reinforced by "geological instability and tectonic movements.”
“Earthquakes, landslides and flash-floods have been recorded as the top three hazards that Himalayan states, like Himachal Pradesh, are most prone to”, it says, insisting, “As per the vulnerability mapping carried out by the State Disaster Management Authority, 9 of the 12 districts of the State have moderate to very high vulnerability to earthquakes. Nearly 97.42%of the total geographical area of the state is prone to landslide hazards, according to the Geological Survey of India.”

Disappearance of springs

Pointing out one of the biggest adverse impacts of because of “hydro-geological shifts” triggered by “construction of tunnels and other underground components for hydropower projects between 2011 and 2018” have been “disappearance of springs – ground water discharges in mountains, locally called ‘chashma’ or ‘dhara’.” 
Decline in local sources of water
A subject of discussion over the last few years given the emerging water scarcities in the Himalayan region, the report says, “The Niti Ayog commissioned a study to understand the causes of drying up of Himalayan springs and how these could be revived. The study highlights that ‘nearly half of the perennial springs have already dried up or have become seasonal’ in the Himalayan belt.”
The report states, “While it recognises larger changes like global warming as a factor affecting ground water discharge, it also observes that anthropogenic factors and construction activities like hydropower projects have played a role in exacerbating the problem. Springs, in areas where villages are located higher up the mountains, the key source of water for domestic uses as well as irrigation are these springs.”
Pointing out that in Kinnaur, or the upper reaches of Chamba, the farmers would not have been able to practice a profitable occupation like horiculture (growing apples) had these springs not existed, the report says, “The disturbance of underground springs and water aquifers reported mostly by communities in hydro project affected area is considered to be a hydrogeological phenomenon across the mountain regions.”
Referring to the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment(CEIA) Study for Satluj river, the report states, 58% of respondents (project affected people) have cited reduced water availability as a major concern of hydro power projects” adding, 68% show “concern regarding drying of natural springs and water resources.”
Noting that out of 22 gram panchyat pradhans and up-pradhans 80% respondents expressed their concerns about drying up of natural water resources, the report asserts, “Adverse impacts of HEPs and their allied activities on natural water springs was also reported by the staff of the district Irrigation and public health department that was interviewed for the purpose of the study.”
The report continues, “Information extracted for three hydropower projects, in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basins, respectively, through the RTI Act, from the irrigation and public health department (which monitors discharge of springs) indicates that the water discharge in villages located along the alignment of project tunnels had dropped significantly.”
“There are total 167 number of water sources in the project affected area in seven panchayats. Out of these 167 water sources 146 are traditional springs and 21 had irrigation and public health (IPH) water schemes on them. The data showed that close to 50% of the water sources had 90% depletion in discharge”, it adds.

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