Linking river flow and ecology in Nepal

April 20th, 2018

The Challenge

Within Nepal’s water reform journey, it is critical to protect the environment and maintain provision of freshwater, particularly due to impacts on women and children in need. Providing an understanding of riverine ecological indicators, building in-country research capacity and understanding the role of environmental flows are all fundamental to prevent future environmental degradation. As the country increases its hydropower capacity to meet the energy needs of the Nepalese people, significant river degradation is likely as rivers are modified with the installation and operation of hydropower plants. There is currently little consideration of the ecological water requirements of key flora and fauna such as Ganga dolphin, Asiatic Wild Buffalo, endemic crocodiles and hundreds of bird’s species to name a few. Nepal is in fact, a biodiversity hotspot of the world, however with human riverine modification, many ecological assets will be at risk in the future.

Eagle on a river bank

Red capped bird on a reed

Yellow bird on a pole

Bird life in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. PHOTOS: Tanya Doody


Our Response

  • Our capability

CSIRO is providing the expertise in riverine environments and environmental flows and in particular field expertise. While many aid countries are providing substantial money to educate the local scientists in environmental flows, CSIRO are providing field expertise to encourage scientists and their students into the field to learn how to identify and monitor ecological indicators of flow regime changes, based on expertise gathered in Australian systems and how environmental flows might be required in the future to supplement their water needs under altered flow regimes.

  •  Science and Innovation

To date the team has collaborated with 25 Nepalese scientists to identify key ecological indicators of alterations to river flow within the Koshi Basin in Nepal. A document reporting the baseline understanding of seven key ecological indicators and their conceptual models has been released. This report presents for the first time, the known qualitative and quantitative relationships between river-flow and ecology in the Koshi Basin and across broader Nepal regions. The document also reports on the relationship between rivers, ecology and livelihoods in the region.

Five students have been offered roles to undertake field work to measure the relationship between ecological assets such as Ganga dolphin, macroinvertebrates, aquatic macrophytes and woody vegetation and its relationship to river flow.

Photo a lush green river valley in Nepal

River in the Koshi Basin in Nepal, with very little native riparian vegetation. Clearing has occurred t allow agricultural development. PHOTO: Tanya Doody


This project has built capacity in pursuing a research agenda in Nepal to support consideration of aquatic ecosystems that are sustainable in the face of future climate change and water diversions.

The project is addressing an opportunity to transfer evidence based science to inform progressive water policy development through hydrological and environmental response modelling, using informed hydrological scenarios from which it is possible to predict environmental impacts of future changes to river flow regimes. The role of environmental flows and flow allocation tools will be fundamental to future river management in Nepal.

Academics involved in the project are using the current report as an education tool to instil an understanding of aquatic ecosystems and their relationship to river flows in two Nepal Universities, in order to build future capacity in this field, particularly around environmental flows and their importance.

Contact Person

Dr Tanya Doody

Additional Information