Comparing conservation ponds in Nepal and Peru


December 24th, 2014

We were at a height of 4,200m with no trees in the horizon, only patches of grass. At this height in Nepal, you will see lots of pine trees in the surrounding as the treeline in Khumbu, Himalayas in Nepal is at 4,200m but it is at 3,900m in Andes, Peru.

Alpacas, Peru

Alpacas grazing on chillihua grass

The view of the Andes above the treeline is enchanting and the sight of alpacas grazing on chillihua grass on the mountain slopes is soul-stirring. However, apart from the amazing alpacas, the most interesting thing for me in the trip to the Alpacas Melgar project in Peru was a reservoir constructed by the project to harvest rainwater and collect water from natural sources.

Water reservoir, Melgar

A water reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site

Comparing the 6m long and 4m wide reservoir having holding capacity of 36,000 litres of water with the conservation ponds in Nepal, I found small but significant improvements that can be applied to our ponds in Nepal.

In Nepal, conservation ponds are not new. Most of the villages in the plains have ponds, mostly rain-fed. The ponds, big in size, are used for fish farming, irrigation, water for cattle, washing and bathing. In the mid-hills too, people had used the ponds, though small in size, to store water for dry period. However, due to introduction of piped water supply, the practice of digging conservation ponds was discontinued.

With the help of government bodies and non-governmental organisations, the practice of having conservation ponds has been revived.
The ponds, about 3m long, 2m wide and 1.5m deep, are dug out and the walls are lined with high density polyethylene sheet or silpaulin (multi-layered, cross laminated, UV stabilised) heavy duty plastic sheeting. They generally have holding capacity of 8,000-10,000 litres of water. The ponds are constructed in shady area to minimise losses from evaporation and the plastic lining prevents water seepage.

Coming back to the reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site, it is located at a place higher than the pastureland. As the area is above the treeline, there is no chance of finding a place with shade to dig a pond. However, to save the plastic lining from being damaged by the sun’s rays, a layer of dry chillihua grass is stacked on the borders throughout the perimeter of the reservoir. A simple application but an innovative one!

Water canal

A canal bringing water to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

Likewise, the canal bringing in water to the reservoir is connected to a filter – a square block with simple arrangement of inlet and outlets for water and effluent at different heights. The effluent outlet is at the lowest end and plugged in by a pipe that can be taken out to discharge the mud, dirt and other wastes gathered in the filter from the inlet. Modesto, one of the kamayoqs (locally trained farmers in the Peruvian Andes) trained by Practical Action, displayed the technique, lifting the pipe. There’s not much technical improvement but the intervention is impressive.

Water filter

A water filter connected to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

The outlet of the reservoir is connected to a distribution point. It is a block of inlet and outlet pipes. The use of check valve and detachable pipes makes the whole arrangement worth replicating. The point, located at a lower height, has an inlet coming from the reservoir with a check valve which controls the flow of water downstream. As and when the detachable pipe is inserted in the point, the valve opens up and water starts flowing through the pipe connected to two sprinklers. The pipes and sprinklers are detachable. They are removed and stored in a safe place during the rainy season to avoid the wear and tear.

Water distribution point

Modesto displays the water distribution technique. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

The rainy season starts from November and lasts till March every year. However, it hadn’t rained this year although it was already mid-December. So the pipes were still in place and the water level in the reservoir was depleting rapidly.

In spite of no rains this year, we could clearly see the changes in the landscape brought by the reservoir and the irrigation scheme. The irrigated land is green. With the project’s support new varieties of grass like alfalfa and clover have been introduced. The baby alpacas like these soft varieties of grass. Because of the irrigation scheme, Modesto is planning to grow potatoes and quinoa in his land along with raising healthier alpacas.

Irrigated land

Modesto points to the green irrigated piece of land with new varieties of grass. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

According to Project Manager Duverly, the project has supported to dig 61 reservoirs in the area. Each reservoir is owned by a family and they are responsible for managing the reservoir and changing the plastic lining every five years. Seeing the benefits of the reservoir, the mayor of the district is planning to support more families in other parts of the district to build and manage such improved ponds.

The small but innovative improvements in the reservoir management at the Alpacas Melgar project are worth replicating. A large population in the mid-hills of Nepal will benefit if some of the improvements are adapted in the conservation ponds.

The Alpacas Melgar project is being implemented by Practical Action in Nuñoa, Macari, Santa Rosa and Ayaviri districts in Melgar Province of Puno, Peru. Eighty kamayoqs and 800 highland families in the province are benefitting from the project on the efficient management of integrated activities related to raising alpacas. 

For more information, read the brochure or visit the project website.

Leave a reply