Category Archives: Water

Dr Arya – Taking water to the mountains


Taking water to the mountains
Tribune News Service 

BOOKS on hydrogeology contend that the probability of being able to economically harness groundwater on mountain peaks is low. Geologists, scientists and drillers have over the years seconded this opinion.

Ritesh Arya
Ritesh Arya

It took indomitable will power and strength of conviction for a young scientist to prove otherwise. In fact, Dr Ritesh Arya (32) left his state government job as a hydrogeologist just because he wanted to prove that it was possible to exploit groundwater in higher reaches of the Himalayas. Arya hails from Kasauli and is an alumnus of Panjab University’s Geology Department.

It all started in 1996 when Arya put forth his views on groundwater movement and its occurrence in China. A UK-based non-government welfare organisation, Water and Charitable Trust, was looking for someone who could provide basic amenities to Tibetans settled in Ladakh and when Arya said that it was possible to harness groundwater on mountain peaks, a deal was struck on a no-water-no-money basis.




This young lad then set about the Herculean task of drilling mountains for groundwater. He painstakingly compiled data from 5,000 bore wells and developed a hydrogeological model. Then he purchased a drill-rig to sink wells at altitudes varying from 13,000 to 18,000 feet, at Sonam Ling settlement in Choglamsar, near Leh, and Thoise.

His venture was successful. Water flowed from the bore wells and the plight of the dwellers was mitigated. A Rs-40-lakh project to drill 20 bore wells was also successfully accomplished. Then, in 1999, Arya drilled quite a few bore wells for the Indian Air Force, including some for drinking water purposes.

Drilling of a bore well in progress at Spiti
Drilling of a bore well in progress at Spiti

“Earlier, this region was facing acute water shortage despite the fact that it is a headwater mountain region where glaciers melt and merge with the river flow. Surface water is dependent on weather conditions and is scarce during summers. People here had to be content with contaminated water that water-tankers used to supply. The supply was just five to seven litres of water per day per family. Their miseries aggravated during winters when the temperature fell to –22°C and everything liquid froze and surface water could not be tapped. Residents of Sonamling Tibetan settlement were looking for a sustainable solution to this problem,” he says.

This year he has been invited to present a paper on hydrogeology at an international conference in Switzerland from July 10 to 15. Ironically enough, his hypothesis had initially found very few takers in his own country. Even the Central Ground Water Board, a premier Indian government agency, had scoffed at the theory of exploiting ground water resources at high altitudes and advised installation of a lift water scheme using diesel generator sets.

Recounting his experience, Arya claims that he is the first person to have crossed Khardungla to drill a deep tubewell. Intriguingly, he does not use modern resistivity methods of exploring ground water and goes more by lithology, geomorphology, his intuition and experience.

He is currently working for the Indian Army at Leh and is busy finishing the task of installing deep wells at Partapur and Leh. “The topography is dicey here. While on the one hand we have ‘artesian’ conditions near General Hospital, Leh, on the other we do not encounter any water-bearing strata up to 300 feet in areas around it,” he says, but is quick to add that such situations are inspiring.

The hill men are indebted to Arya. He has provided water to their parched lips. In turn, this geologist is grateful to them. Because of them, he was able to prove to the world that his assumptions were right. And for that he had to take on the mighty mountains.




Harness groundwater to tide over water crisis’ Dr Ritesh Arya

Harness groundwater to tide over water crisis’
Tribune News Service

Shimla, June 15
The perennial problem of water shortage in the hill state can be permanently solved by harnessing the groundwater in a systematic manner, says Dr Ritesh Arya, a water resource development and management expert who has done pioneering work in the exploitation of groundwater in the cold desert of Ladakh.

“The snow-clad Himalayan mountain ranges, from where all important rivers originate, have unlimited groundwater reserves just waiting to be tapped. The exploration carried out by him in the Leh and Siachin areas over the past five years make this quite evident. Groundwater has been found at a height of 13,500 ft and can be successfully harnessed to make life easy not only for the local Buddhist population but also for the Army personnel serving in extremely harsh conditions there”, he told The Tribune.

The most interesting feature is that the discharge increases during winters when the entire region is under a thick blanket of snow. The local people and Army jawans no longer need to melt snow for their daily needs of water as enough groundwater is available. In fact, groundwater is now being used for irrigation, which has increased the agriculture output by a whopping 50 times. The cold desert was now on a threshold of green revolution, he says. For his achievements in successful harnessing of groundwater in different terrains of Himalayas, Arya has been invited to present the date and research findings in an international conference of IUGG on hydrology at Sapporo, Japan, this year.

He said the undulating mountain ranges had aquifer, palaeo channels carrying water, which could become perennial source of water even for thickly populated hill towns like Shimla. The focus must shift from surface the availability of which was subject to seasonal fluctuations in the discharge of the source. A decentralised approach should be adopted and groundwater should be tapped through energised bores to meet the demand of the local area.

He said installing handpumps was no solution. Surveys and scientific studies should be conducted to identify the hydrostrategraphic zones to estimate the quantum of groundwater available. He maintained this groundwater was available in Shimla at depths varying from 70m to 150m, which could be tapped and supplied without carrying to the main distribution tank. Lifting water from rivers like Giri or Pabbar was not a great idea because of the high cost of transportation over such a long distance.

Groundwater a solution to water scarcity in hills: Dr Ritesh Arya

Groundwater a solution to water scarcity in hills: Dr Arya

Tribune News Service

Shimla, February 3
Water scarcity is emerging as a major problem in the hills due to fast depleting surface water sources. With snow becoming increasingly scarce and glaciers receding at an alarming rate, discharge in various natural sources is declining and many of them dry up completely during peak summers when the demand for water is high.

Every summer, about 25 to 30 per cent of the total 7,989 water supply schemes are affected due to a decline in the discharge.

Parts of the state invariably face drought-like situation during summers due to irregular monsoon. Moreover, the snowline has been retreating with each passing year and as a result some of the water sources dry up as soon as the summer sets in. The discharge in traditional water sources is dependent on snowfall and rains and there is no other way to recharge them.

The Irrigation and Public Health Department has to continuously look for new sources to augment the supply to meet the growing demand. As a result water is being brought from distant sources, mostly through lift-schemes, which require much power for pumping.

The latest examples are the Shimla and Solan towns for which water is being lifted all the way from the Giri River. The government has now come out with a Rs 715 crore project for the state capital to bring water from the Chanshal Lake located 180 km away, albeit through a gravity scheme, which will not involve any pumping of water.

However, groundwater expert Ritesh Arya disapproves of such projects and rejects the policy of supplying water to habitations through centralised schemes by tapping surface water. “A permanent solution to the problem could be found only by shifting the focus from surface water to groundwater.”

Arya who has found a place in the Guinness book of records for his achievements in striking groundwater at an altitude of 14,000 ft in the high reaches of Ladakh, is of the firm view that global warming is an irreversible process and glaciers would continue to melt and snowline would keep receding, affecting the availability of the surface water. But groundwater is available in abundance right up to the higher reaches of Himalayas. All that the government needs to do is to engage some expert geologists who have expertise in groundwater.

Unlike plains where water table has been declining or groundwater has been contaminated by industrial effluents, the groundwater is largely unexploited, clean and could be supplied without any treatment, whereas, surface water has been over-exploited, contaminated and its availability is uncertain. Further, groundwater could be supplied in a decentralised manner and requires no lengthy pipelines and pumping machinery, making it economically a much attractive proposition than surface water schemes, Arya explains.

At present, the water supply schemes follow a centralised pattern under which surface water is tapped from some source, collected and then distributed. Such schemes are costly and uneconomical as a large pipe network is required for distribution. Another disadvantage is that the tail-end users do not get adequate water and if the scheme develops a fault the entire population served by it suffers. There are no such problems with the decentralised schemes based on groundwater sources, as the surface water sources are depleting and engineers are struggling to find new sources that are mostly located far off.

As far as surface water is concerned, the focus should be on conservation and maintaining its quality that is fast deteriorating due to unscientific disposal of wastewater, industrial effluents and urban waste. Unscientific disposal of wastewater and poor sanitation contaminates surface water causing health hazards.