Cover Image
close this bookIndigenous technology knowledge for watershed management in upper north-west Himalayas of India (1998)
close this folderChapter 2 - Soil and water management techniques
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSources of irrigation water
View the documentConstruction of kuhls (water channels)
View the documentDistribution of kuhl water in fields
View the documentUse of kuhl water for running water mills
View the documentMethods of irrigation
View the documentWater harvesting methods
View the documentMoisture conservation through mulching
View the documentDrainage
View the documentUse of smoke for protecting fruit crops from frost damage
View the documentSoil management
View the documentSoil fertility management
View the documentUse of ash in Ladakh

Distribution of kuhl water in fields

In the cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh, participatory management is employed for distribution of water. All disputes regarding the distribution of water through kuhls (water channels) are amicably settled without hampering the water requirement of any period.

In the West Himalayan cold deserts, all the irrigation channels (Kuhls) cannot be run satisfactorily due to non-availability of sufficient water from Nallas/Khads. This is because of scanty snowfall during the winter months. The majority of hamlets, which lie on the plateaus on the sides of main river get water from the streams which trickles down from the cliffs overhanging the plateaus. These hamlets are the worst off for water, for in the year of scanty snowfall, the streams dwindle quickly and dry up in the beginning of August. Additional snowfall in winter results in less water in natural springs during the season, whereas less snowfall in winter result in the reduction of level in natural springs during summer and consequently crop suffer.

Kuhls are a time tested community made water channels for sharing the glacial water for ensuring cent per cent irrigation in otherwise dry and porous soils.

In Spiti valley, the farmers have developed the irrigation water distribution system on the basis of their land holdings, in which every field is irrigated timely. So there is no dispute regarding the maintenance of kuhls and irrigation water distribution.

In Kinnaur and other regions, nallas passing through a village are harvested on turn basis called pala. Temporary channels are dug by the farmers towards their fields. The whole community is divided on the basis of number of farm families and one family gets one full water day to irrigate their fields turnwise. For example, if there are 20 farm families in a village, the turn falls after every 20 days. But two adjoining families may share the water for half day each when there is turn of either of the two families. This way these two families get a chance to irrigate their fields after a gap of 10 days rather than 20 days. This way the distribution of water is so well managed that maximum use of water takes place in a particular village. The turn of a family comes/starts around 2000 to 2200 hrs on a particular day and all the members of the family are engaged in the job on its turn.

In upper Kinnaur, the irrigation technique is much more pronounced. The fields are generally divided into small compartments by making earth bunds to allow water to stand in the field for a longer duration for saturating the soil (Fig. 2.5). Hence need for second irrigation arises only after 20 to 25 days even in those agricultural crops which otherwise require irrigation after a gap of 10-15 days. At the first turn of irrigation, first compartment is irrigated; followed by second and so on. On the second turn of irrigation, however these compartments are irrigated in reverse order, i.e. sixth compartment is irrigated first followed by fifth and so on.

Fig. 2.5 Irrigation water application

In temperate areas of cold deserts crop cultivation without irrigation is not possible because precipitation takes place in the form of snowfall. People take advantage of glacial water and perform collective operations for effective distribution and ensured supply of this scarce source. The management of water in a particular field is regulated by apportioning into different compartments because of the season. The mouth of first compartment is closed to regulate the flow of water towards the second compartment (Fig. 2.6). The same method is adopted to irrigate the following compartment. This results in raising the height of channel in front of the first compartment than the channel in front of the second compartment and so on. Now when this field is irrigated during its second turn, the water flows straight towards the fourth compartment. This practice prevents the washing off the upper fertile layers during irrigation.

Fig. 2.6 Irrigation water distribution with provision of indigenous control system

In the entire Spiti valley, the first irrigation is done 40 days after sowing of crop takes place during April. In the initial stage of watering from the Kuhl to field, the ladies bring water to the field by the use of Urma which is made from animals horn. As per the turn pertaining the Baraghar watering/irrigation is done by constructing small beds in the fields. This method is time consuming and laborious. But on the other hand this method checks the loss of nutrients by leaching. Uniform watering of the plants with equal flow, checks the nutrient loss from field to field and from one bed to another. In Ladakh and other regions standardized irrigation schedule for different crops is followed.

The general schedule is:

Irrigation number

Stage of crop growth

Local name

English name


Tol Chu



Sak Chu



Non Chu



Gep Chu

Seed setting


Do Chu

Crop ready for harvest

The "Gep Chu" or 4th irrigation depends on the colour status of the crop. If crop seems yellow in colour "Gep Chu" is delayed. However, the colour position is blackish "Gep Chu" is hastened.

The farmers have developed irrigation schedule matching the stages of crop growth. Thus, irrigation during critical stages results in the maximization of crop yield as well as water use efficiency.