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ISLAMABAD: The unique patch of daunting mountains in the Salt Range of the Pothohar region of Pakistan, the Soon Valley has become a centre of attraction for researchers and news seekers to unearth different most modern scientific and nature-based solutions adopted to preserve rainwater and treat wastewater in the country.

The cup-shaped valley is famous for mining silica sand, crush and coal for the past many decades. Soon Valley becomes a wetland complex based on different lakes of Khabheki, Jhalar and Uchali that are part of the Ramsar Convention and collectively known as the Uchali Complex.

Interestingly, the area temperature of the Valley is 3-4°C less than that of the federal capital and makes it ideal for off-season crop cultivation like cauliflower, potatoes and green chillies.

The Institute of Urbanism organized an exposure visit for journalists to unearth the various modern strategies adopted by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Pakistan) to cope with growing water demand and shortage spiking up side by side.

The Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division also conducted a study to gauge the potential of the area for introducing low-cost earning schemes through the cultivation of off-season crops.

Khabheki Lake, a saltwater reservoir on average receives 2,200 millimetres (mm) of rainfall a year. It is a bowl-like structure surrounded by mighty mountains sprawling across the lake.

The lake has gained much attraction due to its terrain and stopover location of migratory birds.

The WWF-Pakistan had established its office at the lake to monitor and guide actions to ensure the protection and preservation of natural reserves and explore more areas to improve groundwater storage and availability.

The rooftop of the WWF-Pakistan office at Khabheki Lake has been especially prepared for birdwatching.

Umar Bin Khalid, an environmental expert at WWF-Pakistan Khabheki Lake office said, “The purpose of focusing Soon Valley in practising wastewater or greywater treatment initiatives was its cultivatable land potential.”

Due to the off-season cultivation, the local farmers were eagerly pursuing vegetable cultivation that had increased the agriculture-based water demands, he said.

As a result, the groundwater had plummeted below 400 feet due to excessive water drilling in the area.

“The Tourism Development Corporation Punjab has also taken many serious steps to promote and develop tourism in the Uchali Complex, he added.

Khalid informed that under the Ramsar Convention of 1974, it was intended to protect migratory birds’ sites by declaring them as protected lands.

“The WWF is working on freshwater replenishment and preservation efforts in the Soon Valley. Khabekhi Lake due to its bowl-like structure easily collects rainwater from its catchment areas. The WWF has started installing rainwater harvesting systems at the household level, particularly in the areas lacking any water supply as it is a low-cost solution and its cost varies due to the size of a house.”

“It comprises of water tanks storing the filtered water of recharge structures collected from catchment points through conveyance systems, filters and recharge structures.”

“A rainwater harvesting infrastructure on average conserves 60/m3 through the system installed at the rooftop of a five Marla house,” he said.

At the initial stage, Khalid said, “Some 16 units have been installed whereas the target has been to take the number to 40.”

Among a few interesting facts about Khabekhi Lake, Dr Ejaz Ahmed from the Institute of Urbanism shared that the white-headed duck used to arrive at the Lake in large flocks from Siberia during winter and then leave for India.

The Punjab Fisheries Department introduced Tilapia fish in the Khabekhi Lake to turn into a multi-purpose ecotourism site.

‘But the Tilapia’s omnivorous nature put a dent in it as it used to bite the pads of the white-headed ducks which caused a decline in the arrival of the ducks,” Ejaz Ahmed said.

“The adjoining areas of Khishab mainly Mianwali, Chakwal, and Talagang as per the literature have an average rainfall of 600-800 mm whereas the recent calculations recorded 570mm annual rainfall in the region,” he added.

The WWF-Pakistan officials also led the journalists to visit Ablution Water Reuse System. The system has been designed keeping in view the fact that ablution water quality is better than the wastewater and could be easily reused after treatment.

Ablution Water Reuse System is designed primarily for mosques so that the treated water can be utilised for irrigation, horticulture, lawn washing and for making up for non-portable water needs.

The treatment plant consists of three chambers comprising of a settler, filter tank and storage take. It has a total capacity of 12/m3 of water treatment a day. As per the estimates, on average some 2.5/m3 treated ablution water is reused in a mosque having around 500 worshippers per day.

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