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Water Management Practices

With the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion in India, the demand for water is increas­ing expo­nen­tial­ly. Water is in demand not just for indi­vid­ual con­sump­tion but in var­i­ous sec­tors like agri­cul­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing, con­struc­tion etc. While the demand is grow­ing at a rapid pace, the avail­abil­i­ty of water has declined sharply in the past five decades. Reports say that the there is high amount of inequal­i­ty in the demand and avail­abil­i­ty of water in the rur­al and urban areas. While the demand is 135 liters per capi­ta in the rur­al areas, it is about 40 liters per capi­ta in rur­al areas. This sharp demand for water has also been the cause of inter and intra-state dis­putes in the coun­try. The prob­lem of water is so mul­ti­di­men­sion­al in nature, with no spe­cif­ic sin­gle cause, that a mul­ti­pronged strat­e­gy will be required to solve it. Bet­ter water man­age­ment tech­niques, aware­ness cam­paigns, strate­gies of reduc­ing water wastage and increas­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of water will all have to explored.

Agriculture Based Consumption

So what are the water needs in var­i­ous sec­tors? Agri­cul­tur­al irri­ga­tion con­sumes the max­i­mum amount of water and in the com­ing years we would see an increase in the con­sump­tion of water by the ener­gy sec­tor.


While we assume that this water comes from entire­ly from the rivers, data says that only one-third of the riv­er water is usable. The remain­ing water comes from borewells which are dug very deep in rain shad­ow areas. So where does this borewell water come from? We get this water from aquifers which are of two types name­ly: con­fined and uncon­fined. Uncon­fined aquifers are the most acces­si­ble and locat­ed beneath the ground. These aquifers are formed by the water that seeps in from the ground sur­face above. Con­fined aquifers are deep inside and it is dif­fi­cult to per­me­ate into them. In some coun­tries where water is real­ly scarce, peo­ple have start­ed con­sum­ing con­fined aquifer water which has tak­en thou­sands of years to build up. The ground­wa­ter we use for dai­ly is from uncon­fined aquifers and they do not have a pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism. Dig­ging these borewells uses up a large part of uncon­fined aquifers and the worst part is that these aquifers can be pol­lut­ed eas­i­ly and hence exten­sive use of fer­til­iz­ers can be extreme­ly detri­men­tal. So a 360 degree view of the prob­lem is need­ed to be able to solve this. Solu­tions can­not be just at the indi­vid­ual lev­el but also big­ger pol­i­cy deci­sions are need­ed. For instance, while as cit­i­zens we can take mea­sures to reg­u­late our dai­ly water usage, con­struc­tion of large num­ber of dams has to be rethought. While dams made good sense before 50 years, now they make very lit­tle eco­nom­ic sense. Sev­er­al sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies, includ­ing one by the Unit­ed Nations Envi­ron­ment Pro­gramme in 2001, empha­size that dams have two main adverse effects on rivers. First, dams alter the chem­i­cal con­tent and tem­per­a­ture of water. Water stored by dams has a tem­per­a­ture dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent from the rest of the riv­er, and being stag­nant, picks up unwant­ed things such as sand, besides encour­ag­ing algal bloom. The water scarci­ty in India has led farm­ers to heav­i­ly depend on rain­fall for cul­ti­va­tion. With 85% of the water being con­sumed by agri­cul­ture, we need bet­ter ways of man­ag­ing this con­sump­tion. This man­age­ment will not just require quick fix solu­tions but will also involve reflect­ing on the food con­sump­tion pat­terns of peo­ple. Rice based con­sump­tion has increased the usage of water for agri­cul­ture. So what are the var­i­ous dimen­sions that we need to focus on to man­age water effec­tive­ly?

  1. Increas­ing the water reten­tion capac­i­ty of soil

  2. Ways of replen­ish­ing ground water

  3. Mov­ing to con­sump­tion of food that requires less water

  4. Bet­ter water stor­age and usage tech­niques

  5. Reduc­ing the depen­dence on sea­son­al rain

  6. Enhanc­ing the usage of indige­nous crop vari­eties that require less water

The Indi­an agri­cul­tur­al ecosys­tem has giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty for inno­v­a­tive water man­age­ment prac­tices by some sim­ple and cre­ative peo­ple. We are shar­ing some suc­cess sto­ries here.

Borewell Recharge

Hubli region in Kar­nata­ka is a very dry region and relies very much on rain­fall. Borewells are a solu­tion but almost 70% of the borewells had dried up in the area that received 997 cms of rain­fall every year, water tables had sunk to 400 to 500 feet and farm­ers like Deven­drap­pa were fast sell­ing off their lands to repay their debts. Sankalpa Rur­al Devel­op­ment Soci­ety (SRDS) came up with an inno­v­a­tive way of doing direct borewell recharge at a frac­tion of the cost of dig­ging one. SRDS’ inge­nious method uses a catch­ment pond that can store upto 3 lakh litres, to chan­nel all the rain water, a 10X10X10 pit that acts as a pri­ma­ry fil­ter around the borewell and tiny slits through the cas­ing pipe to per­co­late water with­out loss. The tech­nique is very afford­able: recharge requires an invest­ment of around Rs.30,000-Rs.35,000 on an aver­age while build­ing a new borewell costs Rs.1,00,000- Rs.1,50,000. Four years and two good rain sea­sons lat­er, as the SRDS method of recharge has slow­ly gained the trust of farm­ers and the results look impres­sive: 305 borewells recharged, 5,75,00,000 litres of water har­vest­ed and farms in 12 vil­lages reap­ing good har­vests.

Traditional Rain Water Harvesting

Parts of Rajasthan receive the low­est rain­fall in the coun­try. Large scale agri­cul­ture seems out of ques­tion in these areas. How­ev­er, reviv­ing tra­di­tion­al water har­vest­ing prac­tices has helped peo­ple in these areas immense­ly. Jethu Singh Bhati has been using these tech­niques and has been cul­ti­vat­ing with­out irri­ga­tion. Bhati has been exten­sive­ly work­ing on the paar sys­tem of rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing. He took mon­e­tary help from the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and Envi­ron­ment and pur­chased non-farm­ing land from a pan­chay­at on a five-year lease in 2003. This tra­di­tion­al method of paar max­i­mizes the catch­ment of water per­co­lat­ing into the sandy soil. The water flows from the agar (catch­ment area) and in that process per­co­lates into the soil. To access the per­co­lat­ed water, 5 to 12 meter deep beris/ kuis (small wells) are dug in the catch­ment area using tra­di­tion­al mason­ry tech­nol­o­gy. Around six to ten beris are con­struct­ed in an aver­age paar. He has also been using the irri­ga­tion free Khadin sys­tem of agri­cul­ture. Accord­ing to Bhati, this sys­tem of agri­cul­ture has been in usage since 15th cen­tu­ry. A khadin, also called a dho­ra, is an inge­nious con­struc­tion designed to har­vest sur­face runoff water for agri­cul­ture. Its main fea­ture is a very long (100–300 m) earth­en embank­ment built across the low­er hill slopes lying below grav­el­ly uplands. Sluices and spill­ways allow excess water to drain off. The khadin sys­tem is based on the prin­ci­ple of har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter on farm­land and sub­se­quent use of this water-sat­u­rat­ed land for crop pro­duc­tion.

Millet based consumption

Indi­ans in gen­er­al con­sume more wheat and rice com­pared to oth­er crops. In 2010, an urban Indi­an con­sumed 52 kg of wheat, almost twice the 27-kg annu­al con­sump­tion of the mid 1960s. As a result, since 1956, the area under mil­lets has shrunk: 23%for pearl mil­let, 49% for fin­ger mil­let, 64% for sorghum and

85% for small (or minor) mil­lets. Rice requires huge amount of water for cul­ti­va­tion and hence mov­ing away from rice con­sump­tion grad­u­al­ly may help the water avail­abil­i­ty in the long run.


If we look at this graph, we see that cul­ti­va­tion of mil­lets requires much less water than rice. Revival of mil­lets can help in major way. Tim­bak­tu Col­lec­tive, an orga­ni­za­tion in Anan­tha­pur Dis­trict has helped local farm­ers tran­si­tion from cash crops, espe­cial­ly ground­nuts, to mil­lets. Their inter­ven­tions have giv­en amaz­ing results. The farm­ers who used to grow ground­nut gen­er­al­ly used to sub­sist on rice avail­able from the PDS. After they start­ed grow­ing mil­lets, they have includ­ed them in their day to day con­sump­tion. The chart below shows the yield of a farmer from 2011–2014.

  1. Barn­yard mil­let has 531% the iron in wheat, 1,033% that in rice. Pearl mil­let has 314% the iron in wheat, 611% that in rice. Lit­tle mil­let has 265% the iron in wheat, 516% that in rice.

  2. Fin­ger mil­let has 839% the cal­ci­um con­tent of wheat and 3,440% that of rice. Pearl mil­let and wheat are com­pa­ra­ble in cal­ci­um con­tent, both of which have four times the cal­ci­um den­si­ty of rice.

  3. Barn­yard mil­let has 313% the min­er­al con­tent of wheat, 783% that of rice; fox­tail mil­let has 220% the min­er­al con­tent of wheat, 550% that of rice.

  4. Proso, fox­tail, pearl and barn­yard mil­lets com­pare with wheat in pro­tein con­tent. Sorghum and all mil­lets are rich­er sources of pro­tein than rice.

  5. Girls fed a diet com­posed of sorghum (60%) and rice (40%) record­ed a high growth rate than those fed just rice, accord­ing to this 2015 study by the Indi­an Insti­tute of Mil­lets Research and the Nation­al Insti­tute of Nutri­tion, Hyder­abad.

There are many such suc­cess sto­ries all over the coun­try. What we need to do is to look at the sit­u­a­tions local­ly, adopt and adapt these solu­tions. One great way to increase the water reten­tion capac­i­ty of soil is to using mulching tech­niques. Though plas­tic paper based mulching is com­mon and has yield­ed good results, nat­ur­al mulching through usage of coconut fibre is rec­om­mend­ed. Mulching with coconut coir can retain water for a longer time and also reduce the evap­o­ra­tion of water.

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