Environmentalists suspect drop in Rara water levelFarmers have been facing shortages of water to irrigate their fields because of the drying up of a stream that originates in Rara Lake.
The drying up of a stream that originates in the country’s largest lake, Rara, has raised concerns among environmentalists about the suspected decrease in water level at the lake. Although the stream experiences a drop in the water level during the dry season every year, the sharp fall in water level this year is alarming, say officials from Rara National Park where the famous lake is situated.
“The stream that flows out of the lake has gone completely dry since Sunday,” said Badri Binod Dahal, the conservation officer at the Rara National Park. “We estimate that the water level [in Rara] has decreased by 10 cm this year. But we cannot ascertain the exact measurement since we do not have scientific data for a lack of proper measuring instruments at our disposal.”
It’s natural for water level in lakes and rivers to drop in the dry season but the water level in Rara this year, according to Dahal, could be the lowest in years.
Rara Lake, a major tourist destination, lies at an altitude of 2,929 metres above sea level. Around 60 streams and rivulets empty into the 167 metres-deep lake.
“Most of the streams and rivulets that feed Rara are also dry now, as the area has not received sufficient rainfall and snowfall since September,” said Juddha Rokaya, a 65-year-old resident of Murma. “The area had received scanty rainfall and snow in December second week and January first week.”
Birkha Bahadur Rokaya, former chairman of Rara Buffer Zone Area Development Committee, links the decrease in water level to climate change. “But studies and researches must be conducted to ascertain the exact cause of the drop in Rara’s water level,” he said.
According to local residents, high-altitude watershed areas like Chuchumar, Murmatap, Milichaur and Thakurjyula in Mugu would be covered in snow till April in the past but the entire area received less than usual snowfall this year.
“The melting snow usually feeds the lake during this time of the year which keeps the water level normal but this year, the area did not receive sufficient snowfall which led to the decrease in Rara lake’s water level,” said Juddha Rokaya.
Bharat Budhthapa, division forest officer in Mugu, said, “The water level in the lake is low this year compared to previous years. Further study and investigations should be conducted to verify the exact drop in the water level. These studies can’t be conducted at the district level. Authorities from the central government should take initiatives to conduct such a study.”
In the Panchayat era, a device was installed in the Okharbot area to measure the water level of Rara but it now lies defunct, said Dahal.
Meanwhile, local farmers have been facing a shortage of water to irrigate their fields because of the drying up of streams that originates in Rara Lake. Local people from the non-farming families too stand affected by the shortage of water in the area. “We used to utilise water from Khatyad stream to run our mills. Khatyad stream is one of the streams that’s fed by water from Rara but the low water level in the lake has affected water flow in Khatyad too,” said Devi Singh Rokaya, a local resident of Murma. “It’s become difficult to meet our water needs.”
The Khatyad stream flows from Majhghatta and meets Karnali river in Sukadhik of Khatyad Rural Municipality. Tek Bahadur Baniya, a local resident of Murma, said, his wheat and barley crops have started to dry up.
Rara National Park covers 160 square kilometres including Khatyad Rural Municipality, Chhayanath Rara Municipality and Kanaka Sundari Rural Municipality in Jumla.
It is home to 272 bird species and 51 mammal species, including the endangered red panda, which will be directly affected if the water level in Rara fails to reach its normal level.
Fire incidents have also been reported in the buffer zone area of the park this dry season, residents of the area say. “A bushfire inside the park, which started a week ago, was doused only after three days of continuous efforts,” said Baniya. “This dry season has become particularly difficult for us.”