Plan to replenish water in Rani Pokhari draws criticismExperts say drawing water from borewells will deplete the reservoirs, affect water cycles in the long run.
The National Reconstruction Authority says it has almost completed the restoration of the 2015 quake-ravaged Rani Pokhari at the heart of Kathmandu by the coming week, and it will replenish its water using two deep boring wells.
Groundwater experts and heritage conservationists, however, say replenishing water in the historic pond using well water will disturb the area's groundwater cycle.
“If everything goes as planned, we will refill the pond with water from two big boring wells that are now ready,” said Raju Man Manandhar, assigned by the authority to oversee the restoration. He said that 93 percent of the work on Rani Pokhari is now complete.
The authority had announced in March that the pond will be refilled in early April. But after the nationwide lockdown started from March 24, the target couldn't be met as the project could not find enough labourers.
“Now also we have less than a dozen labourers to work on the pound. But we will complete the task by the coming week, and start filling water in the pond,” said Manandhar.
He said work on the pond resumed after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli instructed authorities to continue post-earthquake restoration and reconstruction work even as the country battles against the coronavirus outbreak.
The authority has dug two 240-feet deepwater boring pits on the north-east and south-east sides of the pond. “Each boring pit can supply 15 to 20 litre water per second. We are also planning to bring in water from Tundikhel, where we already have a bore well,” said Manandhar.
The pond, believed to have been commissioned by Pratap Malla, spreads over 63 ropanis of land, and according to estimates, it would require 32.1 million litres of water to fill it.
“Filling the pond with water from deep aquifers may look good on the outside, but this is not a good idea,” said groundwater expert Padma Sundar Joshi of UN Habitat Nepal.
He said that instead of drawing water from wells, authorities should revive the pond with traditional means. “The authority should have worked on reviving the model used during Pratap Malla,” he said. “The process they are going to use will deplete the fossil water reservoir built over hundreds of years,” said Joshi. He said such depletion of groundwater will leave a huge impact in the long run.
Similarly, heritage conservationist Alok Siddhi Tuladhar said the authority decided on the issue in a hurry without considering the impact on the groundwater cycle. “The authority is in a hurry to complete the work, but it’s not considering it’s impact,” said Tuladhar.
But if the pond is to be restored in the right way, it will have a positive impact on the whole area, said Tuladhar referring to the recent restoration of ponds in Patan. “After pounds were restored in Patan, the wells in the surrounding areas have started getting filled with. Such ponds have a direct impact on the daily life of people,” said Tuladhar. He said the focus should have been on collecting rain water rather than on drawing water from below the ground.
A report by Tribhuvan University Teachers Association in 2012 on the historical and environmental aspects of Rani Pokhari states that there were seven wells inside Rani Pokhari that recharged its water.
Although officials at the authority say they are planning to lay a dedicated pipeline to the pond under the Melamchi Water Supply Project, there is a slim possibility of that happening anytime soon.
Bishnu Raj Kari, former chief at the Department of Archeology, who also led the 11-member expert committee formed to study the restoration of Rani Pokhari in 2018 said, drawing water from borewells was not going to work.
The historic pond and the Balgopaleshwor temple in its middle was severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Although President Bidya Devi Bhandari had laid the foundation stone for the restoration work on January 16, 2016, the project could not gather pace due to various controversies.
The project was handed to the reconstruction authority in February last year, after the Kathmandu Metropolitan City failed to carry out its restoration.