Pokhara’s shrinking lakes


The name Pokhara is derived from the Nepali word for ‘pond’, and points to the numerous lakes and wetlands in the valley below the Annapurnas.

However, with tourism-driven urbanisation, Pokhara is losing its water bodies. The smaller lakes have been overtaken by farmlands or settlements. Sedimentation is shrinking Phewa and the other bigger lakes, and pollution has affected aquatic and bird life.

In addition, haphazard building and road construction on the slopes above the lake have increased sedimentation, and affected the groundwater table causing many springs and streams to go dry. While there has been a visible decline in the number of bird species, numerous other insects, including butterflies and dragonflies, which depend on clean water sources, have also started disappearing.

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Now, fearing that Pokhara’s tourism business may be affected by its depleting lakes and wetlands, the Gandaki provincial government is setting up a Lakes Commission, the first such initiative for nature conservation since Nepal went federal. It is logical that Gandaki should take the lead since the province has 43% of all of Nepal’s lakes. There are 63 lakes below 3,000m in the province, and new glacial lakes are forming at higher altitudes because of global warming. Gandaki also has wetlands that are the favourite stopovers for migratory birds.

One of the Lake Commission’s first order of business will be to save Phewa, which has become a dumping ground for urban garbage and sewage (above). The lake is being encroached upon by real estate speculators, while sedimentation has shrunk the original lake area. In addition, the lake’s water level has gone down considerably. The Gandaki government is studying the construction of higher dam to replace the current one built 40 years ago, in order to increase the size of the lake.

Attracted by soaring land prices, however, local communities at Begnas Lake and elsewhere are lobbying to have the national restriction on building within 100m of a lake shoreline replaced by a 10m limit. In 1957, Phewa Lake was 1,000 hectares, today it has shrunk to half that area (pictured, top). This has affected populations of migratory bird species, insects and aquatic life.

Says Gandaki Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung: “We will start with Phewa, and then we will be very strict about conservation of other lakes in Pokhara Valley.”

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