Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: III

For every conceivable human activity, we need water. Unfortunately, while the human population growth places increasingly higher demand for it, its availability is dwindling at a pace that is scary and imminently disastrous. Our traditional and most dependable sources of fresh water are under threat of drying up, as a result of climate change brought on by global warming.

This most vital of our resources is now on its final journey of exhaustion.

Today Bhutan is very rich in free flowing fresh water. A tributary of the Puna Pho Chhu seen between the villages of Threga and Lhedi (3,772 Mtrs.) en-route to Lunana

Due to global warming, glaciers are melting and mountain tops are becoming bare of snow and ice. The Puna Mo Chhu is partly fed by this glacier melt. To the base of it is one of the two Tari Tshos. The other Tso (lake) is located at the base of Tarigung (7,300 Mtrs.) which is the origin of Puna Mo Chhu

This is how Mt. Jumolhari (7,326 Mtrs.) looked in April of 2004

Five years later, in December of 2010, even in the thick of winter, Mt. Jumolhari has not much snow on it. In part, Pa Chhu is fed by the snow melt from this peak

When the Jichu Drake was fully clad in snow, this is how it looked years ago

By February of 2011, this is how Mt. Jichu Drake (6,794 Mtrs.) looked. Even in the thick of winter, three fourths of it is now without snow. Pa Chhu may be history when the snow on this peak disappears and the lake at the base of it dries up

Strangely, while we are acutely aware that water is becoming more and more scarce, we remain blasé about the disastrous consequences it will bring upon us. We are smart enough to have seen and documented the receding snow-lines and melting glaciers, but few seem to want to talk about what would be our fate, when our rivers finally exhaust themselves completely into the plains of India.

Consider the following:

1.   There is no known substitute for water. I repeat, THERE IS NO
      SUBSTITUTE FOR WATER. If our water reserves are gone - it will be
      gone forever! It is like death - once you die, your life ends for eternity.

2.  Most of our glaciers are receding and the mountain peaks that feed our rivers are
     becoming bare of snow and ice. Over time, there will be no glaciers and
     snow-capped peaks to feed our river systems - meaning our rivers will run dry
     of water.

What then?

The only way to halt the imminent demise of our water is to reverse the process of global warming. Unfortunately, this is a process that I believe cannot happen. Humankind would be fortunate if we are able to maintain the rate of environmental destruction at its present level. For a while I thought that with a concerted effort, we could reduce or even halt environmental destruction. However, I am now convinced that it is an impossibility. I have understood that no meaningful gains can be made unless we completely demolish the very way we manufacture, market and consume. That, unfortunately, is not an option that we are willing to consider - because we have invested trillions in the processes that ensure commercial and industrial success, rather than environmental stewardship.

We are doomed to failure - unless nature rebels and does unto us that which we do unto it: teach the human race a lesson so humbling that we will learn to be mindful of the consequences of our mindless acts of violation. Actually, there are signs that it may already be happening.

In the meantime, we still need to worry about our waters. It is foreseeable, beyond any doubt that our rivers will eventually dry up. So - is there something we can do to halt the process? Yes, there is! Thinking out-of-the-box can be a start.

We have so far been mesmerized by the promise and allure of untold riches that we will derive from harnessing our waters for hydro-power projects. In truth, after four decades of being into the business, we are nowhere close to being even remotely rich or economically independent. Thus, it is time that we look at water as something more than merely energy to drive turbines of the hydro-power projects. In the face of widespread global scarcity, water resource - particularly unpolluted fresh water resources, could offer much greater gains than being used merely to turn turbines of hydro-power projects whose immediate as well as long term benefits remain questionable. In my view, water is destined for great things in the future. But we need to have the vision to plan and act now before it is too late. There is a need for a paradigm shift - we need fresh thinking - a dramatic departure from the old thinking that hasn't worked, atleast in the economic arena.

As a source of energy to drive turbines and produce electricity, water has alternatives. By contrast, for the human beings as well as all the living creatures on this earth, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE TO WATER. If we do not manage and preserve what we have today, we will lose it forever. Once it is gone, it is nothing more than saline liquid.

.......... to be continued

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: II

The following are the main river systems of Bhutan.

Amo Chhu
Wang Chhu 
Punatsang Chhu 
Drangme Chhu
Nyera Ama Chhu

Map of Major River Systems of Bhutan

Amo Chhu
The Amo Chhu originates in Tibet, China. It is also known as Toorsa. It drains into the plains of West Bengal, India. This is one of the few rivers in Bhutan that has not yet been harnessed for hydro-power. Not to say that it has not been planned. The 540MW Amochhu Hydro Power Project has been in the pipeline for many years. However, I suspect that the plan may take a while to come through, if at all, since its location is dangerously close to India’s extremely strategic Chicken Neck area. If this hadn’t been the case, a hydro-power project on this river would perhaps be among the cheapest and most profitable to do.

Wang Chhu
The Wang Chhu is the collective name given to three other rivers that form the most prosperous river basin in Bhutan. Thim Chhu, Pa Chhu and Haa Chhu join together to form the great Wang Chhu. The Wang Chhu finally drains into India where it is known as Raidak. The Chukha and Tala Hydropower projects are constructed on this river system. More projects are planned in the future.

Punasang Chhu
The Punasang Chhu is formed by the combination of four other smaller rivers - Puna Pho Chhu, Puna Mo Chhu, Dang Chhu and Hara Chhu. All these rivers originate in Bhutan, some of which have their origins in the great peaks such as Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Tarigung, Gungchen Singye etc.

Currently Bhutan’s largest hydro-power projects - Punasangchhu Hydro Power projects I & II - are being constructed on this river system. Further downstream, there is a smaller hydropower project called the Dagachhu Hydro Power Project that is nearing completion. A tributary of the Punasangchhu called Dagachhu feeds this project.

The Punasangchhu finally drains into Brahmaputra in India.

Drangme Chhu
Five rivers go to make the great Drangme Chhu: Chamkhar Chhu, Gamri Chhu, Kholong Chhu, Kuri Chhu and the Mange Chhu. This is the country’s largest river system and runs through Western, Central and Eastern regions of the country. A number of hydro-power projects are planned on this river system. The Kurichhu Hydro-power Project is already operational. The Mangdechhu Hydropower Project is nearing completion and construction on the Kholongchhu Hydro-power Project is about to start. One of the rivers in this system originates outside Bhutan: Kuri Chhu in Tibet, China.
The Drangme Chhu finally drains into the mighty Manas in India.

Nyera Ama Chhu
This river is located in the extreme East of the country and is entirely Bhutanese in origin. No hydro-power project has yet been announced on this river.

.............. to be continued