Kamala Basin

Supporting river basin planning through the Kamala Basin Initiative

Meeting the desire to increase agricultural production, develop local industries and support mining, needs careful planning and sound management. The Kamala Basin Initiative aims to support the development of a strategic river basin plan for water resources with potential for application to other water limited catchments.

A river bed in Nepal

Figure 1 Part of the Kamala Basin

In the Kamala Basin Initiative, CSIRO through the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP), aims to support river basin planning by quantifying the water available, identifying the future needs for irrigated agriculture, developing scenarios with stakeholders to explore development pathways and improving ecological knowledge for sustainable management.

About the region

The people of the Kamala Basin in south-east Nepal have a long history of dealing with too much water in monsoon and limited water in the dry season. The Kamala Basin (Figure 1 and Figure 2) is an important agricultural centre based around the Kamala Irrigation Project built by the Government of Nepal in the 1970s. The flat fertile plains enable growing staples such as rice and wheat for subsistence. However, it is a tough existence, and many working age men are migrating overseas to earn higher incomes. This creates its own challenges and has motivated the Government of Nepal to consider development strategies to improve local livelihoods, including participatory river basin planning.

How much water is available?

Location of the Kamala Basin, Nepal

Figure 2 Location of the Kamala Basin, Nepal

The Kamala Basin intersects three states (still to be named) in Nepal. Rain falling in the Kamala Basin in State 1 and State 3 at around 1000 metres above sea level flows downstream into the agricultural plains of State 2 (Figure 2).

CSIRO is collecting knowledge and data about surface water in the region and has supported revisions to rainfall station locations, developed new gridded rainfall products and refined hydrological models of catchment runoff. This information will lead to better understanding of the timing and availability of water in major streams, including projected changes to water availability due to climate change.

Irrigated agriculture is an important economic and social feature of the Kamala Basin. The predominant crops are rice, during the wet season, and wheat and maize during winter and the dry season. Production is limited to a maximum of two crops per year supplemented by irrigation to meet water demand.

Water for irrigation is supplied from the Kamala Irrigation Project. On the plains, barrages (Figure 3) in the river divert water into a main canal and farmers divert water through secondary and tertiary canals. Further from the river in the downstream Terai plain, if irrigation occurs, farmers irrigate by pumping groundwater.

Sharing the benefits of water

A participatory planning process is being undertaken to identify the water needs, priorities and aspirations of different sectors and stakeholders. Support has been provided in this process for each sector and stakeholder group. Opportunities and risks of proposed developments are being explored through the synthesis of expert knowledge, analysis of biophysical and social data and development of empirical models.

A multi-criteria assessment process will be used to account for differing priorities and objectives and assist stakeholders in understanding crucial decisions, trade-offs and easy wins in the scenario development process. Proposed development actions for water planning will be identified with the aim to maximise the positives and minimise negatives.

In late 2018, CSIRO and the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat, Nepal (WECS) carried out, under the auspices of SDIP, a Basin Planning capacity strengthening program. This program exposed stakeholders to the concept of Basin Planning and its delivery in a highly strategic basin (Kamala) – a learning through doing exercise. Read our news story and watch the video clips on stakeholder concerns and solutions here.

Teesta Barrage, Kamala, Nepal

Figure 3 Teesta Barrage, Kamala, Nepal

Sustainable futures

Nepali scientists have a deep understanding of how water, moving through rivers and wetlands, supports ecological species (e.g. birds, fish, macro-invertebrates). CSIRO is working with young scientists to document and develop this knowledge of the river flow-ecology relationship. This knowledge will assist in identifying actions required to restore the Kamala River and associated ecosystems.

The ecological health of the Kamala Basin was assessed as in fair condition by Dr Ram Devi Tachamo Shah and Dr Deep Narayan Shah. Their study adapted a macroinvertebrate scoring method used elsewhere in Nepal ensuring assessment results are comparable. ‘Ecological health of the Kamala River Basin 2019‘ presents a picture of the ecological health of the Kamala River Basin and outlines a set of recommendations that can be implemented to improve river and basin health.


The Kamala Basin Initiative is undertaken as a multi-stakeholder partnership between the Government of Nepal and the Government of Australia. The implementing partners include CSIRO and the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS), Nepal via the consulting service from Nepal-based partners Policy Entrepreneurs Inc. (PEI) and Jalsrot Vikas Sanstha (JVS).

Project leader: Dr Auro Almeida

About SDIP

This SDIP work is part of a portfolio of investments supported by the Australian Government addressing the regional challenges of water, food and energy security in South Asia.

The SDIP2 aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in the Himalayan river basins, addressing climate risk and the interests of women and girls. It seeks to:

  • strengthen practices for regional cooperation
  • generate and use critical new knowledge to enhance regional cooperation
  • improve regional enabling environment for private sector engagement.

Find out more about SDIP work in Nepal

Access SDIP publications

Find more information about international water research at CSIRO