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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Thomas Niven

Evaluating the Sustainability of Small Town Reliance on Runoff Water Sources: A Case Study in Northern India.

Small mountain towns in the Western Himalayan region of India continue to grow both in physical size and in population. These small mountain towns as well as the surrounding farming communities rely solely on snow and rain water runoff and reticulation of that runoff for all their water needs from drinking through to the irrigation of crops. The recent growth of these towns’ populations has resulted in their water infrastructure being placed under increasing pressure while endeavouring to cater for the needs of more people. This in turn places their water security at risk. As the strains on current water provision systems continue to grow, it is vital that the sustainability of these systems are ensured for current as well as future users.


The overall objective of this study is to better understand the water needs of one of these towns and to quantify the current magnitude and management of its water resource. Included in this analysis is the research of the different stakeholders, their relationships with the water supply and how their needs shape the demand for this precious resource.

The small mountain town of Rajgarh is situated in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.This town is home to just over 3000 people who’s water is supplied by a single, gravity fed pipeline approximately 18km long. This study was conducted to assess and evaluate the sustainability of this fresh water source, the current pipeline as well as the distribution system. Through conducting a baseline study of the town’s current supply and demand, while considering all the necessary elements for sustainable water provision, system leverage points were identified in order to determine where the largest positive impact could be made with the least amount of effort. It was established that currently the supply is meeting the town’s demand although the gap between the two is shrinking quickly as the town’s growth continues unabated. Similarly the source is not a high risk area provided that climate conditions and annual rainfall do not change significantly. However, system resilience in the supply pipeline is the main problem and in order to achieve complete water security, the supply to the town and surrounding region requires comprehensive but robust water infrastructure. This infrastructure must meet the demands of the current population while having the flexibility to scale and cater for the future demands of the town and the surrounding communities as they continue to grow. 
The challenges of sustainable water supply are being faced by millions of people living in small towns and rural communities across the Western Himalayas. By better understanding the problems and possible solutions of Rajgarh’s water system, we can apply the acquired knowledge and leverage these methods to many other towns and rural communities living with similar conditions and threats. The daily access to basic clean water is a human right that should not be denied. It is in the interests of humanity that we attempt to provide this right to water in a fair and sustainable manner.