REACHING GREAT HEIGHTS!
How solar lifting of water eased out the lives of the inhabitants of Churredhar, a highly elevated village of Garhwal, Uttarakhand How much water people have depends very much on where they live. People’s access to water is determined by their social, economic and geographical position, and many a time it’s the interplay of a combination of these factors. The 2018 report prepared by five working groups set up by Niti Aayog brought due attention to springs in the mainstream discourse. This has been a remarkable attempt by the government in bringing the issue of springshed management to centre stage in the context of sustainable development in the Indian Himalayan Region. Springshed management has been an integral part of the agenda of some notable organisations in the country. However, despite making attempts at reviving these springs, what largely remains a challenge is to bring water to villages at a higher elevation having no other source of water. Churredhar, a habitation of 356 people, in Tehri district of Uttarakhand is one such village which typifies the aforesaid problem. It is located at an altitude of 2040 metres above Mean Sea Level (MSL) with an average annual rainfall of 1,800 mm of which about 1,200 mm occurs between June to October. The source of water in the village was a hand pump. By summer of 2002, the hand pump in Churredhar had dried up. The village had no natural spring which could be tapped for provision of gravity flow water supply to village. A natural spring, over 1.5 kilometres away, was the only other available source of water. Globally, in eight out of 10 households lacking water provision, it is women and girls who bear the brunt of collecting water. This gendered burden underscores the narratives of the women of Churredhar who recalled their days of trudging back to their houses with steel canisters and plastic jerry canes filled with water from the natural spring. “We had to make sure we reach the dhaara and queue up by 4 am in the morning, if somebody had four canisters, they would fill all of them and not care about other people expecting their turn to come. This whole ordeal of carrying water up the mountain would take up at least three hours of our day”, said one of the women while talking to our team. To avert this water problem, The Himmotthan Society, an associate organization of the Tata Trusts working in the state, chalked out a plan with the community and constructed 59 rain water harvesting tanks of 7,000 litres each in the village. However, changing precipitation patterns and adverse climatic conditions, such as limited days and erratic rains threw up new challenges and pushed the community towards exploring alternatives to meet the demands of the community. The only last resort was to get water from the natural spring by lifting it over an elevation of 186 meters, something that was not experimented in Uttarakhand, which also made the community slightly apprehensive. It took a round of multiple discussions with the local village community, rigorous research and constant dialogue with First Solar Inc. (manufacturer of thin film photovoltaic modules, or solar panels) and Tata Power Solar, to curate a cost-effective solution for Churredhar. Finally, in 2013, the project was implemented by Himmothan Society with an integrated approach of water supply development, sanitation and catchment area protection to improve water resource sustainability. The spring water is collected in the source collection chamber and after a three-step filtration process, a 710-metre pipeline carries the pumped water to a height of 186 metres at the rate of 38 litres per minute, through a single stage pumping. Two solar off-line grids comprising 50 solar panels have been installed in the village. Together, the panels produce solar energy which enables the pump to push the water towards a clear water reservoir where it gets chlorinated. Since there is limited availability of water, it is not possible to provide individual connections for every household; instead, four public taps have been installed at a convenient location within the village from where the water is collected by the villagers. The overall project implementation cost was INR 9,00,000, with the community contribution being 10%. Post-implementation maintenance is being taken care of by the villagers with the support of Himmotthan Society. The Village Management Committee collects monthly user charges of INR 50 from each household to meet basic expenditure such as chlorination, insurance and other operational charges. The scheme is fully insured. INR 1,00,000 has been put into a reserve fund. This intervention is one of its own kind and has been made possible by Himmothan and the unwavering will of the Churredhar community who took the leap of faith. Not only has it ensured water security to the community but has also reduced the women’s drudgery of fetching water considerably by tapping renewable energy. Today, Churredhar stands as a model of an anti-gravity water plan especially in regions where availability of electrical power is a major problem.