01 Nov Rashmi Shresth
I am a researcher dedicated in the research of integrated river basin management. My work is mostly related to how water infrastructures development benefit local communities in the basin and how the river health is impacted.
Many cultural practices throughout the world are deeply connected to water. In the Himalayas, cultural practices often occur along river banks and utilize river water. The timing of flows, the amount of water available, and the quality of the water are all important factors that can influence cultural practices and rituals. For example, holy baths during the festivals and cremation ceremonies depend on river flows. Despite the cultural significance of water resources in these river basins, impacts on cultural water needs or flows are often neglected in both practice and policy. Using run-of-the-river hydropower in Uttarakhand, India as an example, this paper highlights the importance of cultural flows and the lack of attention to the same in river basin planning and development. Failure to acknowledge and mitigate cultural flows in run-of-the-river hydropower is further exacerbating water resources conflicts in these river basins. Run-of-the-river hydropower projects divert rivers – sometimes in their entirety – to generate electricity. For communities living in these impacted stretch, the change in water timing, availability and quality can negatively impact their cultural practices and rituals, particularly in the dry months. Conflicts between local communities and hydropower developers are escalating throughout much of Uttarakhand, India due to water unavailability during the dry season and impacts on cultural flows are an important component of these conflicts. In this paper, we present three main findings from a case study of three run-of-the-river projects in the Bhilangana Basin of Uttarakhand, India. First, cultural water needs for holy bath and cremation can be significantly impacted, particularly in the dry season. Second, institutional mechanisms to mitigate conflict in these river basins do not consider cultural values of river flows or offer a viable option to address grievances. Finally, with cultural values and practices often overlooked in development projects, cultural impacts can energize water conflicts.