The Punatsang Chu is one of Bhutan’s four major river basins. The word‘ Chu’ means ‘river’ in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s official language. The Punatsang Chu has two major tributaries, the Mo Chu and Pho Chu, and five sub-tributaries. The Mo Chu rises in the Great Himalayas and at Punakha, the former capital city of Bhutan, it is joined by the Pho Chu before joining the Brahmaputra River in India. Rice farming is the main source of income for the people in the basin who depend on the river for irrigation of their paddy fields.Climate change is now threatening this economy. The Punatsang Chu once provided drinking water to local residents; however, the river has become too polluted by municipal, industrial and hydropower construction waste for this use. The Punatsang Chu Basin is also the main habitat of the critically endangered White Bellied Heron — now under massive threat from the installation of two hydropower projects along the river. The Punatsang Chu Waterkeeper will work with its sister organization Wang Chu Waterkeeper to establish a national system for water quality monitoring and advocacy for watershed protection.
Kesang Lhendup is currently working as a manager and river guide at Lotus Adventures Bhutan, a rafting company based in Punakha in the Punatsang Chu Basin. Kesang has been working as the first river guide since the company’s inception in 1998. Lotus Adventures was the pioneer in introducing white water sports to Bhutan and was instrumental in surveying various rivers, developing the sport and training the first Bhutanese river guides. Kesang and his rafting team formed a “Green Bag Warrior” group where they conduct cleaning campaigns weekly along the Punatsang Chu. He has always been dedicated to protecting this river system from pollution through citizen involvement and community action, and is now proud to be the Punatsang Chu Waterkeeper.