As the world celebrates Water on 22nd March the good news at Ice Stupa site is that finally the 4” PVC pipeline finally started working on the same day, after two months of problems.

So we thought on this occasion we could celebrate some facts and figures about the Ice Stupa artificial glaciers as a unique form of water conservation in a region affected by climate change and shrinking glaciers.

When the new pipeline started working yesterday our volunteers eagerly recorded the flow and it was 6.5 litres per second. Therefore together with the 3.5 litres per second supplied by the 2.5” dia HDPE pipe donated by Jain Irrigations, we now have a whopping 10 litres per second at the site.

This means we have 870,000 litres a day reaching the desert of Phyang… completely free of cost, using no machines or energy except gravity. As the weather is warming up these days, water at the ice stupa freezes only around eight hours a day. Rest of the time the water is fed into the swale (a long earthen absorption tank) or into the serpentine canals in which the 5,000 trees have been planted.

Although at this time the tree saplings are dormant and do not need watering, this is our way of adding moisture to the entire field with the excess water from the stupa so that this moisture is available to the saplings later in spring when the entire village will be struggling for each drop of water. Once even this moisture dries up the ice stupa will start feeding its meting waters to the saplings through an elaborate system of drip irrigation. And once the ice stupa also has fully melted by early June… the natural glacial melt water in the Phyang stream starts flowing once again and the villagers are happy to give away any amount of water. So from June to September the same pipes that feed the ice stupas during the winter, become the pipeline for bringing the excess stream water to the desert rather than making it flow into the Indus. And then by the end of October… well the ice stupa cycle starts again. Isn’t that wonderful!

On the occasion World Water Day let me summarise for you that the Ice Stupa system strives to collect all the water that flows wastefully in Ladakhi village streams during the winter and freezes them in the form of huge ice cones, for use during the period of acute water scarcity in spring season particularly April to mid June.

In the case of Phyang village roughly 150 litres per second flows down into the Indus river during the winter months. If all of this water is piped to the desert it will be roughly two billion litres over five winter months from November to March. Of this roughly one billion litres can be frozen and the rest can be soaked in the desert as moisture, to be re-absorbed by the tree roots later. This means there is a total potential for building roughly 100 ice stupas, each roughly 100 feet (30 m) tall and storing roughly 10 million litres of water. This figure in simple terms means that each stupa is roughly two times the famous Karzoo zing pond in Leh city… or to give a better idea let’s say 1,000 Ladakhi water tanker trucks. By the way this year’s pilot stupa is only 60 feet tall.

As for the cost of building ice stupas, in the case of Phyang village, the infrastructural cost comes to less than 1 paisa per litre, whereas the cheapest government built reservoirs in Leh (eg. The one in Phey village) comes to roughly 20 paise per litre.
Can we call it Cheap and Best… as we often like to say in India!