Even in the 2020 monsoon, the Suryamati River burst its banks after moderate rains led to slope failure. Shankar Bista, 65, says a pasty mixture of sand and water flowed down the mountain and washed away everything in its path.
“We see increased sediment load in rivers, and without tree cover the water does not seep into the ground but runs off, causing a lot of damage,” says Basanta Raj Adhikari, a professor at Pulchok Engineering Campus, who has been researching landslides on the valley rim for the past 20 years.
Along with Gokarneswar, the phenomenon of contractors mining and quarrying the mountains and then selling the property for houses is going on at the base of mountains all around the valley—in Chandragiri, Budanilkantha, Godavari, Lele, Nagarkot, and elsewhere.
“This rampant destruction is affecting the nature and ecosystem, making slopes unstable and reducing the recharge of the Valley’s underground aquifers,” says researcher Adhikari.
There has not been a comprehensive study of Kathmandu Valley’s groundwater, but a Japanese research project in 1994 concluded that the northern end of the Valley was critical for groundwater recharge. The study showed Kathmandu Valley could sustainably pump out only 20 million litres of groundwater, but the city is already extracting 70 million litres a day through pumps and deep tubewells.
That study led to the establishment of the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park to protect the watershed. However, the unchecked destruction now taking place at the edge of the park and in the buffer zone will reduce monsoon recharge, and lower Kathmandu Valley’s water table, which has already been depleted by over-extraction.
“The northern fringes of the Valley are made up of sandy slopes and forests which absorb rainwater and let it percolate into the ground, but all this construction is affecting the seepage,” says retired Tribhuvan University professor and water management engineer Ashutosh Shukla.
Locals in Gokarneswar say they have taken up the water shortage issue with their mayor Santosh Chalise many times, but nothing has been done. In fact, they suspect the mayor himself is in partnership with real estate developers.