The mid and high-altitude areas of the Himalayas face a critical water scarcity issue, making them one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. Springs are essential lifelines for millions of mountain communities, serving as the primary source of domestic water and local food security. Unfortunately, the flow regimes of springs in the Himalayan regions have drastically declined and become unpredictable, with over 30% of the springs estimated to have dried up in the last fifteen years. To address this pressing issue, FutureWater (FW), MetaMeta Research (MMR), and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have joined forces. This collaborative project combines innovative analytical tools, tailored technology packages, and outreach efforts specifically designed for the Himalayan context. The “Roadside Spring Protection in the Himalayas-RoSPro” project aims to enhance water safety and water security in densely populated mountain areas suffering from climate-induced water stress and misguided infrastructure development. The project will focus on the Nibuwa-Tankhuwa (NT) watershed of Dhankuta Municipality, Dhankuta, Nepal.

The alarming decline of springs has been attributed to the rapid expansion of road networks, alongside changes in land cover and climate. Road development in these areas exposes springs to disturbances or alters their natural outflow, while rock cutting disrupts the location of spring orifices. This problem has largely gone unnoticed, posing a significant threat to the local communities and their water resources.

The overarching goal of the project is to reimagine roads as instruments for landscape improvement rather than adversaries, harnessing road development to contribute positively to local water resources. By integrating techniques and tools (Digital twins and DSS toolkit), the project aims to ensure safe and reliable water supplies for people in mountain areas while safeguarding the quality of road infrastructure and maintaining connectivity. The Dhankuta municipality and the Department of Local Infrastructure (DoLI), which regulates infrastructure development activities in Nepal, will be the primary beneficiaries of this project.

The expected results of the RoSPro project include:

  1. Successful implementation of roadside spring protection through pilot interventions in Dhankuta municipality and promote “Nature-based solutions” and “Green Roads for Water (GR4W)” approaches.
  2. Evidence generation on the impact of the pilot intervention through cost-benefit analysis.
  3. Assessment of the potential impact of upscaling roadside spring protection through the development of a digital twin and decision support toolkit.
  4. Capacity building for Dhankuta municipality and DoLI regarding roadside spring protection approaches, technologies, impact, and upscaling.

RoSPro will lead to improved water security for consumptive and productive uses, directly benefiting up to 500 households in the region. Following the pilot phase, the project aims to expand its services to established clients and partner networks in Asia and Africa. The demand for similar services is high in many high mountain countries, and RoSPro aims to generate a framework to upscale this at national and regional scales.

Thus, the RoSPro is a vital initiative that seeks to address the critical issue of dwindling springs in the Himalayas. By transforming road development into a contributor to local water resources, RoSPro will improve water safety and security, benefiting both the communities and the environment in these challenging mountainous regions.