Save the Karnali


Your participation helps us reach our expedition fundraising goal and gives you the opportunity to float the river for 10 days with the scientists in charge of the expedition.  You get access to in-depth knowledge of the environmental and cultural resources and values of the Karnali River.

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The Karnali River is the last free-flowing river of Nepal.  The other major rivers  have already been dammed by construction of hydropower plants. The Nepal River Conservation Trust and Waterkeeper Alliance are collaborating to Save the Karnali River from imminent hydropower dams on the main stem. The  environmental and social consequences of even one main stem dam has the potential to alter the area irreversibly.  We are collaborating to support a scientific expedition to highlight the remarkable and outstanding values of the river and watershed. The expedition team will visit communities along the Karnali River and work with them to produce a “Sacred River Corridor Management Framework” that protects aquatic species, supports sustainable hydropower development, and creates economic opportunities to enhance livelihoods throughout the Karnali River Corridor.

The Nepal River Conservation Trust is dedicated to conserving Nepal’s riverine environment and river systems, to promoting the biological health of aquatic organisms, and to protecting and restoring rivers to enhance the health, livelihood, and cultural integrity of Nepal’s river communities. Since its inception in 1995, the NRCT has worked on a variety of river conservation and advocacy projects throughout Nepal, to raise awareness among all river users about the need to conserve Nepal’s rivers. NRCT also works closely with communities to develop sustainable tourism and environmentally conscious economic activities that can help maintain ecological

Waterkeeper Alliance is the fastest growing nonprofit solely focused on clean water. The international organization strengthens and grows a global network of grassroots leaders. Their goal is swimmable drinkable fishable water everywhere.

Karnali Prospectus

Article from American Whitewater – Save the Karnali

Karnali River Newsletter #1

Karnali River Newsletter #2


About the Karnali River

Karnali River Context Map

The Karnali rises from Mt. Kailash on the Tibetan Plateau, and flows 671 miles to its confluence with the Ganges River in India. The river provides water for millions of people, provides for fish and wildlife resources and has a high value for ecotourism especially in the form of whitewater rafting and as an approach corridor to the Sacred Mt. Kailash. These ecological services sustain livelihoods throughout the Karanli River Basin. An ancient river, the Karnali was in place as the Himalayan Mountains were thrust up by the collision of the Eurasian and the Indian tectonic plates. As the mountains rose, the river downcut into the landscape, the sinuous channel already in place. Hard rock ledges, ancient and current day landslides create steep stream gradients, boulder strewn reaches and world-class whitewater rapids. Fed by glacial meltwaters and strong monsoon rains, this powerfully erosive river provides water, nutrients and sediments to the lands along its path providing fertile agricultural plains.

The Karnali, along with three other sacred rivers, the Ganges, the Indus (Sutlej), and the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) all initiate from within 100 km (66 miles) of the slopes of Mt. Kailash on the Tibetan Plateau and supply food and water to billions of people in China, Nepal and India.

The Threat of a New Dam and Reservoir








Three hydropower dams are planned for the main stem of the Karnali River, with another 40 proposed on tributary streams throughout the watershed.  Construction of hydropower at this scale will irreversibly affect aquatic species habitats, migrations and ultimately their survival.  The majority of the power provided by these dams will be exported to neighboring nations while Nepal will bear the social and environmental costs.

 Environmental & Social Risks of Hydropower Development

Hydropower development has multiple environmental and social consequences if not based on a strategic planning process.  The risks include: Continue reading “About the Karnali River”

Karnali Scientific Expedition 2018

A team of interdisciplinary scientists from Nepal, United States, India and China will jeep, hike, and raft the length (671 miles) of the Karnali River from the headwaters near the Tibetan Plateau to the Ganges River confluence in India. The expedition team will assess and describe the ecological and social values of the only remaining free-flowing major river system in Nepal. This project will highlight key ecological drivers; collect information about aquatic resources, stream system functions, and riverine health; and describe the socio-environmental values that characterize the Karnali River basin.

The goal of this project is to provide the scientific foundation to develop a culturally informed, locally supported integrated water resource management framework on the main stem of the Karnali River. We propose to visit communities and work with them to produce a “Sacred River Corridor Management Framework” that protects aquatic species, supports sustainable hydropower development, and creates economic opportunities to enhance livelihoods throughout the Karnali River Corridor.
In addition three adventure kayakers (from Nepal and Spain) will do the first descent of the Karnali River from the headwaters.  Their film will be used to document the river, landscapes, people, fish and wildlife encountered along the way. A short documentary will publicize the values of this pristine river system.
The product of the expedition provides an integrated river corridor management framework and that can be tiered to and implemented by the local community, non-governmental and governmental organizations. In addition, the data collected during our project can help support the introduction of National Wild and Scenic River legislation in Nepal.  Currently, none of the rivers of Nepal have anything like protected status, and so there is an opportunity for the Karnali Corridor to become the first Wild and Scenic River in Nepal.


Specific Objectives

  1. Document and describe the environmental features governing the stream system processes of the Karnali River Basin.
  2. Develop a “Sacred River Corridor” management framework for the Karnali River Corridor through Nepal that accounts for the cultural, socioeconomic, and environmental values in riverine communities
  3. Collect data that can support a proposal to the Government of Nepal to create “Wild and Scenic River” legislation in Nepal.
  4. Build the capacity of the Nepal River Conservation Trust and other non-governmental and civil service organizations working in the Karnali River Corridor, to promote future advocacy efforts.
  5. Raise national and international awareness about the Karnali River and environmental issues in the landscapes through which it flows through a variety of public outreach initiatives.