WWF has setup 16 rainwater harvesting units with a capacity of replenishing 1300 cubic meters water per year; the number of units will be raised to 34 in next 2 years
By Mian Aamir
Dotted with scenic lakes, and overlooked by mighty mountains, the eye-catching Soon valley attracts thousands of tourists from across the country every year.
The glistening waters of serene Uchali, Khabeji, and Jahalar, lakes, surrounded by lush green farmlands, prompt tourists in troves to visit this far-flung destination despite an ordinary tourism infrastructure.
But the purpose of a recent visit of a cohort of environmental journalists, organized by an Islamabad-based think tank Institute of Urbanism, was a bit different, though the serenity of the valley turned out to be a huge bonus.
The trip was aimed at witnessing the impact of several water management projects, particularly the rainwater harvesting technique, which have helped the local communities cope with their growing water demands.
A 50 km journey through a narrow and mostly uneven metal road took us to Soon valley from Khushab district last week.
The road in the afternoon was dappled with bright sunlight as even poplars stood tall on both sides failed to block its way.
Behind them, on the foothills, villages rise, ending wide lap of the land.
Unlike a noisy Khushab, life flashes by through calmness and tranquility. Tempting smell of food wafted from roadside Dhabas (makeshift restaurants).
Although temperature in the valley was lower by 3 to degrees Celsius compared to the capital Islamabad, and even the adjoining Khushab city, it was still hot, reflecting the mounting ravages of climate change.
Uchali, the largest and saltiest among the three lakes, has long been a favorite destination of Siberian birds that migrate from Siberia to avoid the stinging winter every year.
However, the numbers of migratory birds have fallen here drastically in recent years due to boating and other water sports activities in the lake.
Agriculture, mainly vegetable growing is the main source of livelihood for locals. Large and small fields of cauliflower, potatoes, green chili and other vegetables peppered the foothills along either side of the road.
Large vegetable productions, which amounts to two to three crops annually, have significantly increased the local farmers’ income.
However, there is a dark side of this income growth. Large-scale cultivation of vegetables, notably cauliflower and cabbage, which consume huge amounts of water, have reduced the underground water levels in recent years, causing water shortages across the region.
The three lakes, which have already been declared Ramsar sites, are part of the Soon Valley Salt Range Wetlands, sprawling over 300 sq.km.
Rainwater and mountain springs are the two major sources of potable water for the locals as the lakes’ water is salty and not fit for drinking or agriculture purposes.
Local farmers rely on tube wells and rainwater for cultivation, which has resulted in a sharp decline in underground water levels.
These units have been set up in the surroundings of the lakes to save as much as possible rainwater from dumping into the reservoirs and mixing into their salty waters
Sensing the decreasing groundwater levels, and increasing waste generation, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan last year launched a variety of projects, mainly the rainwater harvesting technique, to cope with the future water management challenges in the region.
Rainwater harvesting is a technique used to collect, convey, and store rainwater for future use from relatively clean surfaces such as a roof, land surface or rock catchment.
It consists of five major components – Catchment (used to collect and store captured rainwater), Conveyance system (It is used to transport the harvested water from the catchment to the recharge zone), Flush (to flush out the first spell of rain), Filter (used for filtering the collected rainwater and removing pollutants), and Tanks and the recharge structures (used to store filtered water which is ready to use).
So far, some 16 rainwater harvesting units with a capacity of replenishing 1300 cubic meters water per year, have been set up in the area, with the WWF planning to raise the number to 34 in next two years.
These units have been set up in the surroundings of the lakes to save as much as possible rainwater from dumping into the reservoirs and mixing into their salty waters.
Enumerating the advantages of the project, Umar bin Khalid, a senior environmental expert associated with the WWF- Pakistan said that the technique is low cost, and helps in reducing the water bill, aside from promotes both water and energy conservation.
However, he added, it requires some technical skills for installation, and limited and no rainfall can limit the supply of rainwater.
Ablution water reuse system
Ablution water reuse system is a facility designed to treat and recycle water used for ablution purposes, primarily in mosques.
In Pakistan, on an average upto 2.5 cubic meters per day of water is estimated to be reused in a mosque with approximately 500 worshippers per day.
The water is passed through a sand and gravels filter to remove smaller particles, and disinfection.
The treated water can be used for irrigation, horticulture, lawn washing, and for meeting non-potable water demand
The ablution water is allowed to sit in a Settler Filter Tank Storage Tank where heavy solids settle to the bottom of settling tank.
The treated water can be used for irrigation, horticulture, lawn washing, and for meeting non-potable water demand and hence reduces the pressure on the groundwater resources.
Ablution water is relatively clean and contains low levels of Physio-chemical and biological contaminants.
So far, two ablution water reuse systems have been installed in the area with a capacity of replenishing 4,500 cubic meters water annually.
Another two systems will be installed in coming months.
“The benefits of ablution water treatment plants are numerous. It conserves water resources by reducing wastage, reduces environmental pollution by preventing the untreated water discharge, and promotes hygiene and sanitation,” Khalid maintained.
Floating water treatment system
In a small Mardwal village, one of the 36 villages of Soon valley, and located a few kilometers from Uchali Lake Complex, the WWF has introduced yet another project, the Floating Treatment Wetland (FTW), commonly known as floating water treatment system.
Frequently used in Europe and other regions across the world, floating treatment wetland is a type of water treatment system that utilizes a floating platform of vegetation to remove pollutants from water bodies.
The design criteria for a floating treatment wetland varies keeping the size of the water body, the types of pollutants present, and the desired treatment goals, in view.
On an average 19,000 cubic meters per year of wastewater is estimated to be treated through a Floating Treatment Wetland
The FTW involves placing a mat or raft of buoyant materials, such as foam, on the water surface and planting it with wetland plants. As the plants grow and roots extend into the water, they take on nutrients, pollutants, and other contaminants.
On an average 19,000 cubic meters per year of wastewater is estimated to be treated through a floating treatment wetland installed in a wastewater pond with the size of an acre and depth of one meter with an average daily wastewater flows of approximately 50 to 70 gallons per person per day.
“It is (a) relatively low-cost approach to treating water, however it has limited effectiveness in ability to remove certain pollutants, such as heavy metals and soluble salts,” Khalid said.
The FTW provides habitat for wildlife, including fish, birds, and insects, in addition to Improving water quality and prevent runoff and erosion.
The system, nonetheless, has some disadvantages as well. It is vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and can be damaged during storms or high winds.
There is limited research and data on their long- term effectiveness and environmental impact, according to the WWF official.
The two FTWs, so far installed, have a capacity of replenishing nearly 49,000 cubic meters water per year.
Water recharge project
Standing in the middle of a vast farmland, under midday broiling sun, Malik Waseem was briefing the visiting Journalists about the agency’s groundwater recharge project, which aims to contain urban flooding and drought by recharging the groundwater.
The groundwater recharge well is a cost-effective nature-based solution to revive aquifers and mitigate the risk of urban flooding through the most modern indigenous technology available.
There are several methods used to artificially recharge groundwater aquifers, including redirecting water across a land surface through streams, infiltration ponds, or simply injecting water directly into the ground through injection wells.
Nestled in the northern outskirt of Nushehra, the administrative headquarters of Soon Valley, and the region’s food basket, recently constructed four artificial groundwater recharge wells have a capacity of replenishing nearly 31,000 cubic meters water per year.
The WWF, according to Waseem, the project coordinator, plans to construct another four groundwater recharge wells in the next two years.
“These numbers may sound small but their effectiveness in terms of bringing a change in the lives of local communities is huge,” said Dr. Ejaz Ahmad, a veteran environmentalist and -senior program fellow at Institute of Urbanism, which deals with environment and water management.
Big projects involving water management, including dams and canals have their own importance, but these small initiatives also have a value, considering the fact they are cost-effective, easy-to-implement, and politics-free, he maintained.
All photos provided by the writer