“Incredible Waterman” Dr Ritesh Arya — India Today

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India Today

Dr Arya ”The incredible waterman”-  India Today

9 Oct 2007 – But, Ritesh Arya’s fascination with craggy and barren mountains runs deeper, literally. This intrepid hydrogeologist is about to succeed in his 

Guinness World record holder for drilling highest artesian well

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 18,380 ft in the Himalayas, Khardung La, a wind-swept pass with scanty oxygen on the world’s highest motorable road in Ladakh, is the ultimate milestone for record-crazy adventure seekers.

But, Ritesh Arya’s fascination with craggy and barren mountains runs deeper, literally. This intrepid hydrogeologist is about to succeed in his quest for ground water on Khardung La—a feat that could surpass his own world record of digging borewells at high altitudes.

Already, sparkling clear ground water is streaming out of two borewells he had dug recently at South Pullu and North Pullu, army posts and snow shelters on either side of the pass at 15,300 ft and 15,400 ft, respectively.

Until a month ago, the only source of drinking water here were water tankers from distant Leh and Partapur at the base of the Siachen glacier.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle to get ground water at this height,” gushes a Junior Commissioned Officer of the military police post at South Pullu, an area where granite rocks abound which, according to conventional geology, are too impervious to hold any ground water.

But Arya perceived a narrow valley of rock debris at the base of the receding Khardung glacier, now 6 km from the road, as the most definite indicator of ground water charged by the melting glacier. And, two days after a rig drilled a 300-ft deep hole, it struck a ground water reservoir.

Arya plans his drilling operations after studying the exposed rock faces in the landscape. Such exploits come naturally to him, a diminutive 39-year-old who holds a PhD degree in geology.

By combining his hands-on expertise in Himalayan geology with an unconventional approach, this hydrogeologistturned-professional driller has broken new ground on scientific exploitation of ground water in the high-altitude, cold desert of Ladakh.

In the past 12 years, Arya has dug more than a hundred borewells in inhospitable and treacherous terrains where no geologist or government agency has ventured before. From Siachen glacier to the China border, the Indus plains of Leh and the Kargil heights, his explorations have ensured all-weather ground water supplies to the army and civilians alike.

More significantly, Arya’s pioneering research is likely to redefine Himalayan hydrology and change the traditional schemes for drinking water and irrigation in rain-deficit Ladakh, which has so far been harnessing mostly surface water from the river Indus or glacier-fed streams.Apart from perennial shortage, there is also the problem of silt in glacier melt in summer and freezing of surface water sources in winter. In Leh town, for example, only 10 per cent of the population— which rises from 15,000 to 50,000 every summer due to tourist inflow— has access to ground water through public taps, the rest depends on water tankers.

Ground water exploitation in Ladakh, undertaken by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), has been confined to areas along the Indus river. Exploration beyond that has always been discouraged on the premise that a rocky mountain desert cannot hold ground water.

 

But, Arya punched holes in this belief by digging a borewell for the army at 14,000 ft in Chushul on China border in 2006—a feat that earned him an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records. “It’s like rediscovering the simple principles of geology and physics operating in high-altitudes,” says Arya.

“His borewells are not only a costeffective solution to the army’s rising water needs in Ladakh but have also boosted the morale of the troops,” says Sanjay Kaul, assistant commander works engineer at the newly-set up 14 Corps in Leh.

“A systematic development of untapped potential of ground water can lead to green revolution in this cold desert,” says Arya. He has since drilled borewells to augment water supply schemes for, among others, the Airports Authority of India, the Indian Oil Corporation, the Indian Air Force and field research laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Ashok Sahni, Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Advanced Geology of Panjab University, calls Arya “an unconventional hydrogeologist”.

“He took a risk by drilling in the mountains and has struck abundant ground water where it was earlier seen as impossible,” says Sahni.

Arya’s discovery is based on practical experience gleaned from five years of digging hand pumps in Himachal Pradesh where he worked as a daily-wager hydrogeologist with the state government. What, however, added depth to his knowledge was his study of wells in 17th century forts on hill tops in Hamirpur and Solan districts.

“The traditional mountain water supply techniques were based on intuitive science,” says Arya.

To explain the prevalence of ground water in mountains, including the ones that have no rain-fed seepage or snowfall, Arya divided the Himalayas into seven hydrostratigraphic zones in 1996 in a study he presented the same year at the International Conference of Geology in China.

At the heart of his ground-breaking thesis is the finding that ground water resources in the Himalayan region depend on the type of rocks and structural parameters like folds, fissures and fault-lines in the rock strata.

The mountains have ground acquifers just like plains but the water movement in high-altitudes is controlled by the principles of gravity and iso-stacy (wherein the water level is itself up). In his reckoning, even a barren mountain top below the height of Mount Everest will have ground water resources, provided it has favourable lithological conditions like the presence of water-absorbing sedimentary rocks or impervious rocks with water-trapping fault-lines.

“Arya’s high success rate in high-altitude borewells has flowed from his intimate technical knowledge of hydrogeology,” says former CGWB chairman R.K. Chadda.

Arya has a near 100 per cent success rate in his borewells commissioned on a no-water-no-payment basis. Experts view his explorations as significant in the backdrop of receding glaciers and rising demand for water in the Ladakh region.

Also, troop deployment, which has increased manifold since a new Corp was set up in Ladakh after the Kargil war in 1999, adds to the shortage.

“The water level of the river Indus has fallen alarmingly this year, affecting irrigation schemes,” says Chering Dorjay, Chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. Clearly, with Arya around, at least water is something that this cold desert will never thirst for.

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