History of Water Resources Utilization

Irrigation: Annals show that irrigated agriculture was practised in Nepal as early as during the era of Gautam Buddha and he had involved himself in resolving disputes among irrigators. However, considering the vestiges of the irrigation infrastructure and the facilities under operation even at present, irrigation development in Nepal can be put under four phases- a) primary phase or the period prior to planned development, i.e., before 1956; b) infrastructure development phase (1957-1970); c) intensive development phase (1971-1985); and d) integrated development phase (1986-date).

Irrigation facilities constructed in the Kathmandu valley during Lichhvi period and Malla period such as Raj Kulos of which the traces are still found are the oldest ones under primary phase. King Ram Shah of Gorkha had special contribution in irrigation management aspect by empowering local people in irrigation related dispute resolution. During the Rana regime, Chandra Shumsher, with the assistance of British engineers, had developed Chandra Canal system in 1928. The other irrigation facilities during primary phase are- Juddha Canal in Sarlahi district, Jagadishpur Irrigation system in Kapilvastu district, Pardi Irrigation system in Pokhara, etc. In addition to these, the irrigation systems developed with the involvement of the State within this period covered 6,228 ha.

Irrigation facilities developed in 1st, 2nd and 3rd Plan periods fall under infrastructure development phase. Nepal developed different irrigation facilities with the
cooperation from India and USA in this phase. Tika Bhairav, Mahadev Khola and Budhanilkantha irrigation systems in the Kathmandu valley and Vijayapur irrigation system in Pokhara valley were developed. Likewise, Sirsha, Dudhaura and Tilawe irrigation systems were developed by the Indian engineers under the financial aid of the USA. Khageri (Chitwan), Kamala and Hardinath (Dhanusha), Kodku-Godavari (Lalitpur), Pahsupati (Kathmandu), Jhanjh (Rautahat) and Tinau (Rupandehi) are the examples of a few other irrigation systems that can be cited in infrastructure development phase. Apart from these, irrigation systems, which were developed under the Koshi and Gandak treaties with India, were also constructed during those three plan periods.

During 4th, 5th and 6th Plan periods, multi lateral donor agencies like the World Bank and the ADB came forward in aid of Nepal in irrigation development. These agencies focussed their assistance to convey irrigation water to farmers’ fields with the canal network development from the infrastructure already created and to initiate coordination between irrigation and agricultural agencies, hence the name- intensive development phase. Development of Kankai and Mahakali-I Irrigation Projects, initiation of command area development in Narayani Zone Irrigation System, etc., were carried out with these agencies’ assistance. During these plan periods, CARE Nepal had assisted to develop a number of small irrigation systems covering a total of 10,000 ha. Bhairawa-Lumbini Groundwater, Marchawar Lift and Hill Irrigation Projects were also initiated in this intensive development phase.

From the 7th Plan onward, i.e., since the mid eighties, there has been a major paradigm shift in irrigation development. Construction oriented development has
been given less importance and new dimensions- such as farmers’ participation through organised associations, rehabilitation of farmers’ canals, management
transfer, etc., have been given more and more attention. Leaving Bagmati, Babai, Mahakali-II and the very recent Sikta Irrigation Projects aside, no other major
projects were taken up. Rehabilitation of small farmers’ canals were given high priority under sectoral approach. Irrigation Sector Project, Second Irrigation Sector
Project were implemented and the ongoing Community Managed Irrigated Agriculture Project is being implemented in Central and Eastern regions under the
assistance of ADB. The World Bank version of these projects implemented (or being implemented) in the remaining three western regions are Irrigation Line of Credit Project, Nepal Irrigation Sector Project and the IWRMP.


With the commissioning of Pharping hydel plant (500 kW) in 1911, development of hydropower began in Nepal, which was soon followed by Sundarijal hydel plant (600 kW). Khopasi hydel plant (2,400 kW) with the grant assistance of former USSR, and Trishuli hydel plant (21,000 kW) with that of India were then constructed in the sixties. They were followed by the Sunkoshi hydel plant (10,000 kW) with the Chinese grant assistance in the early seventies. Thus till early 1970s hydropower was developed in Nepal solely under bilateral grant in aid. The first hydropower project constructed with the major part of project financing with multilateral loan assistance with that from the World Bank was Kulekhani-I hydel project (60 MW), which was commissioned in 1981. The other two hydropower projects, which were constructed immediately afterwards with the loan assistance were Kulekhani-II (32 MW) and Marsyagdi (69 MW). All of those projects were developed till the end of Panchayat regime.

With the formulation of first hydropower development policy and enactment of law to put the policy in effect in 1992, the period of early nineties was an epoch of hydropower development in Nepal, not with major development achievements in the sector, but with a major policy shift to liberalize the economy after the restoration of multi-party democracy. Power generation, which was considered State’s domain till then, gave plenty of space for private sector participation. Bhote Koshi hydel plant (36 MW) and Khimti hydel plant (60 MW) were commissioned with foreign private sector investment. A number of other small hydropower projects have also been developed with domestic private sector investment. Likewise, Kaligandki-A (144 MW) is the major addition to the power system of Nepal from Nepal Electricity Authority, the public sector electricity utility in 2002.