Dhiren Kumar Chavda, Jyoti P Patil

Mountain springs are the primary source of water for rural households in the hilly states of the India. At national scale, about 200 million Indians are depending upon five million springs water across the Himalayas, Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, Aravalli’s and other such mountain ranges – implies that more than 15% of India’s population depends on spring water (Niti Ayog). There are five million springs across India, out of which nearly 3 million are in the Indian Himalayan Region, rest are in other hilly regions of the country. From the Nilgiris in the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats and Himalayas, springs are a safe source of drinking water for rural and urban communities. For many people, springs are the sole source of water1. For example, ninety percent of drinking water supply in Uttarakhand is spring based, while in Meghalaya all villages in the state uses springs for drinking, irrigation and live stocks. In addition, the rivers like Krishna, Godavari, and Cauvery in Central and South India are spring-derived.

Major Issues and Challenges

The springs are drying up as discharge is reported to be declining due to increased water demand, land use change, and ecological degradation and have not received their due attention. The water quality is also deteriorating under changing land use and improper sanitation The climate change impacts such as rising temperatures and changes in spatio-temporal rainfall variability, the problem of dying springs is being increasingly felt across the Indian Himalayan Region. The changes in demographics and infrastructure (roads, dams etc) have also influenced springs, but the extent of the change is difficult to understand due to the lack of studies. A survey in Sikkim found that the water production has declined in half of all springs in the State – which is a dangerous sign that aquifers are depleting in a State which is almost entirely dependent on springs for drinking water. Springs are a part of the groundwater system, but the science of hydrogeology that governs the occurrence and movement of water in mountain aquifers, and thus the occurrence of springs, is poorly understood.


The springshed is different from watersheds as the source of spring water is determined by aquifer characteristics and not surface topography. The study of the origin of springs leads to a ‘springshed’ approach which includes a combination of landscape, watershed, geology, geological structure and hydrogeology (aquifer). The point where the spring emerges is based on the relationship of the aquifer to the watershed surface. As defined above, a typical watershed drains water from a ridgeline into the valleys (drainage lines) that converge to a common point – possibly at the confluence of a river, whereas a springshed is a set of watersheds and aquifers that integrate into a system that supplies water to a group of springs. The concept of watershed, therefore, cannot account for water which travels outside of the watershed boundaries, for example through rock beds that inclines towards an adjoining watershed2.

Springshed Management and initiatives

Springshed management is the efforts to retain or improve the yield of springs by treating springshed area. The Rural Management and Development Department (RM&DD), Government of Sikkim took first initiative as Dhara Vikas Programme in which 8-step methodology was developed for Springshed management. The evolution of a protocol for springshed management through these experiences has contributed to building up a critical mass of pilots in different parts of India.

The efforts to save springs from drying up and to recharge them are gaining momentum. The State governments, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are actively contributing towards programmes to promote awareness of the importance of springs, and to build capacities to protect, develop and manage “springshed” across the country. In order to bring the issue of springshed management to centre stage, following efforts were made by the Central government and some organisations for revival of springs;

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  • NITI Aayog Working Group on “Inventory and Revival of Springs in Himalayas for Water Security” as part of initiatives on Sustainable Development of Mountains of Indian Himalayan Region (December 2017)
  • Report of Working Group I – “Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security” Contributing to Sustainable Development in Indian Himalayan Region (August 2018)
  • “Provision of Potable Drinking Water in Mountains through participatory Springshed Management” under Jal Jeevan Mission, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti (February 2020)
  • Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) (1000 springs initiative for the tribal belt following a pilot in Orissa)
  • ARGHYAM, Karnataka (supporting spring-based water security work since 2007 in the mountain ranges of India)
  • NABARD (developed a program on springshed management)
  • Committee constituted for Springshed mapping of Indian Himalaya regions including mountainous regions of the country and springshed based water management in those area by Ministry of Jal Shakti (September 2022)

The following table summarises the initiatives and their impacts in different states of India

‘Spring rejuvenation initiatives and their impacts’
State and Contributor Initiative/ Programme Major Impacts
Himachal Pradesh People Science Institute, Dehradun Springs and Participatory Groundwater Management, Sirmour District
  • Groundwater management to manage spring water in the Thanakasoga – Luhali Panchayat area
  • Improved spring discharge, especially during the lean season,
  • Systematic recharge measures based on hydrogeological mapping,
  • Improved water quality, and
  • People participation in developing demand management protocols

Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) ACWADAM, Pune

Springs Revival through Para-hydrogeology
  • Piloted recharge and demand management measures in over 100 springs in three districts of the Kumaon region.
  • Springshed management
  • Restored the lean-season spring discharge and positively impact the summer water security of many habitations.
Uttarakhand HIMMOTHAN, Dehradun Tata Trusts, Nagaland Mission Spring Revival – Scaling up the Hydrogeology-based Model
  • Augmentation of more than 145 springs
  • Hydrogeological surveys and mapping in 25 villages
  • Completed the implementation of recharge work in 25 villages
  • Organised cluster-level training for community- based water quality issues and management
  • Capacity building of 25 villages

Himalaya Seva Sangh (HSS)

Campaign for Springs
  • Spring water conservation and restoration through a campaign-for-communities mode in Uttarakhand
  • Combined traditional wisdom with modern knowledge
  • Socio-cultural tools to create awareness and sensitize communities
Uttarakhand CEDAR, Dehradun Protection of a Critical Water Recharge Zone (Springshed)
  • Rejuvenate Sukhatal, an ephemeral lake perched above Nainital

RM&DD, Government of Sikkim

Dhara Vikas and MGNREGS -Convergence with Mainstream
  • Rejuvenated 700 springs
  • Visibility and outreach of impacts of work at national and international level
  • Eight-step methodology for springshed management
West Bengal, Rural Development Department, Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) PRASARI, Kolkata, ACWADAM, Pune Springshed Management in the Hill Districts of West Bengal
  • Rejuvenated 50 springs in the 4 hill districts
  • Improved capacity and knowledge about springs at the grassroots and integration of springshed management plans with the DPRs for MGNREGS

Eleuthrian Christian Society (ECS), Nagaland

Demonstration, Piloting, and Potential in Scaling Out springshed management
  • Improved water security in more than 10 locations in the two most challenged districts of Nagaland
  •  Mokokchung and Tuensang
  • Improved discharge of springs, especially during the lean season
Initiatives under National Hydrology Project, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Govt. of India
State and Contributor Initiative/ Programme Major Impacts
Meghalaya Spring inventory, monitoring and rejuvenation
  • Inventory of 8000 springs and mapping
  • Developed dashboard to disseminate the data
Mizoram Spring Rejuvenation Study
  • Setup monitoring of four springs in two watersheds
Uttarakhand Mapping, Assessment and Action Plan for Sustainable Development and Management of Springshed in Dehradun, Uttarakhand
  • Inventory of springs in Dehradun district and mapping
Kerala Inventory of GW abstraction structures-Well census in the state
  • Inventory of 2079 springs under census of groundwater structures
National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Ministry of Jal Shakti Web-GIS based spring Inventory for vulnerability assessment and hydro-geological investigation of selected springs for sustaining local water demand in Ravi Catchment
  • Inventory of springs in Ravi basin in Himachal Pradesh and
  • Developed Web-GIS based portal “Information System of Himalayan Springs for vulnerability assessment and rejuvenation
National Institute of Hydrology(NIH), Ministry of Jal Shakti Occurrence, Distribution and Sustainability of Natural Springs for Rural Water Supply in parts of Western Ghats, India
  • Inventory of 778 springs
  • Monitoring of 15 springs

The Springshed management holds the potential to focus on groundwater management for the mountain regions that form such an integral component of India’s diverse landscape. There is an urgent need to take up a national-level initiative with a focus on the rejuvenation, restoration, and management of springs. While taking up an initiative, traditional practices as well as culture around springs must be considered along with the surface hydrology and underlying geology to achieve socioeconomic and governance dimensions.

Views expressed by Dhiren Kumar Chavda – Groundwater Consultant, National Hydrology Project, DoWR, RD&GR, Ministry of Jal Shakti, GOI, Jyoti P Patil – Scientist D, NPMU, National Hydrology Project, DoWR, RD&GR, Ministry of Jal Shakti, GOI


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