Payment for Ecosystem Services

20 Sep, 2019

Water Management at Alha Catchment Forest, Himachal Pradesh

By Sanjay Tomar, Senior Advisor and Satyan Chauhan, Technical Expert, GIZ

Freshwater ecosystems are vital for all living organisms and major ecosystems, including human health, food production, and economic development. In the Himalayan region, water availability depends on the health of glaciers and catchments of perennial streams. The correspondent catchments are mostly forests and play a vital role in recharging the aquifers. According to a report by NITI Aayog, nearly 50% of the springs are drying up in the Indian Himalayan region. In addition to climate change, the warming trend in the Himalayas is much higher compared to the global average. As a result, it has been witnessing an increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events and natural hazards.

Mindful of these developments, the draft National Forest Policy 2018 has designated its overall objective as “Safeguarding the ecological and livelihood security of people, by sustainably managing the flow of Forest Ecosystem Services (FES)”. Here, water was identified as the most important FES, which is in line with the findings of the baseline survey by the Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Services (HP-FES) project.

HP-FES is using the PES approach for the Alha Catchment Forest, adjoining Dalhousie town. The idea of this PES scheme is to ensure that the beneficiaries of ecosystem services pay the providers for these services. The PES model from Alha catchment forest is expected to provide valuable learnings and inform the formulation of operational guidelines for PES policy.

The Alha Catchment Forest: Historical Importance of Dalhousie Town

Dalhousie is a prominent tourist destination famous for its schools and colonial era buildings. On an average, every third person in the town is a tourist (as per the estimates from the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department-HPTD) and this number increases significantly during summers, when water scarcity is at its peak. The water supplied to the town by the Irrigation and Public Health Department is adequate only for the residents. This acute water shortage during the tourist season is addressed through water from nearby springs, supplied through tankers. Most of these springs are replenished by water recharged in Alha catchment forest.

©GIZ / Joachim Schmerbeck

The Alha catchment forest has its historical significance of water provisioning to Dalhousie town. The catchment forest was carved out on watershed principles to regenerate water for the town during British rule in India. It was guarded and had controlled human entry. Biotic interference including cattle grazing, fuelwood collection and felling of trees were not allowed in order to maintain water level in springs along with hygienic conditions. However, the forest conditions deteriorated with multiple transfers to different divisions within HPFD. In its current state, the Alha forest does not support generation of water as FES to its optimum capacity due to challenges such as extensive gully erosion, open access to tourists, plastic litter and open grazing and in some cases, disposal of cattle carcass.

Project interventions

Considering the challenge of water scarcity faced by the local population with their strong consent and willingness to pay, this was ideal site to test the PES approach for water centric forest management.

During Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercise, stakeholders were identified and sensitised on the principles of PES approach. Subsequently, the Alha Catchment Forest Management Society (ACFMS) Dalhousie, under the aegis of Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD) was registered with the local administration. This society, an institution of stakeholders is the end user of ecosystem services provided by the Alha Catchment Forest. The Executive Body comprises of representatives from hotelier’s association, tanker water supply unions, public schools, Municipal Council, cantonment board, contractors and adjoining Gram Panchayats etc. The Deputy Ranger from HPFD is an ex-officio member of ACFMS. The society aims to create awareness on environmental issues in Dalhousie, plan and monitor activities and raise funds to support implementation of activities enlisted in the PES-plan.

A detailed plan for Alha catchment forest has been prepared to manage the forest for water as the primary FES. Interventions like fencing the area to minimise trespassing, ban on grazing, lopping and grass cutting, artificial/assisted regeneration, soil and water conservation works, including construction of check dams and water recharge measures have been planned. The planning process was supported by HP-FES and technical inputs based on commissioned studies on geo-hydrological mapping, socio-economic surveys and economic valuation of water from Alha catchment forest were provided. The implementation of the work in PES plan will be done by HPFD while ACFMS will be involved in the monitoring process.

PES has been used as an effective tool for resource management. Although Himachal Pradesh has ratified a policy on PES, it has fewer examples. The HP-FES took this opportunity of using PES approach for forest management and carved out a model that can be easily replicated in hill-stations like Shimla and Dharmashala having similar geographical conditions. Water scarcity is the most common problem faced by hill stations, especially during summers, being the peak tourist season . Alha PES model will offer an alternate option for managing catchment forests in the state.


We would like to hear from you. Write to us by clicking on the feedback button on top.

Previous Next