India’s Water Management Practices

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  • Since the early times Indians have used various ingenious methods to conserve and use water for various purposes like domestic, irrigation, hydropower, navigation and recreation. 
  • Water scarcity is one of the serious concerns for countries across the world.
  • In 2019, Chennai made international headlines when the civic bodies declared ‘Day Zero’, as the city ran out of water and all the reservoirs dried up.
  • A report by NITI Aayog, a government think-tank, said that if methods for water conservation in India were not adopted, another 20 cities including Bengaluru, Delhi and Hyderabad, would run out of groundwater in the next few years.
  • The only solution to avoid this grim situation, is to adopt universal methods of water conservation, which could be replicated across households.

Water Resources in India

  • With one of the greatest spatial heterogeneities in hydrological regimes, geo-hydrological environments, climates, and physiographical conditions, as well as socio-ecologic and cultural environments, India offers one of the greatest challenges to water resource managers and policy makers.
  • An illustration of the complex socio-ecology of water in the country is that mean annual rainfall varies from as low as 100 mm in Jaisalmer, western Rajasthan, to 11,700 mm in Chirapunji, Meghalaya.
  • The country’s river systems range from one of the most complex and mightiest river systems of the world, the Brahmaputra, to several hundreds of marginalized ephemeral streams which see flows for only a few hours in the whole year.
  • Its groundwater resources range from the richest Gangetic alluvium to some of the lowest-yielding hard-rock aquifers in the plateau.
  • Its agricultural withdrawal of groundwater ranges from 1280 m3 per capita per annum in water-scarce Punjab to only 130 m3 per capita per annum in waterrich Bihar.
  • Its urban areas range from the densely populated Mumbai and Kolkatta, with 30,000 persons per square kilometre, to one with only 500 persons per square kilometre.
  • All these make water management decisions extremely complex, not only for the country as a whole, but for regions and sometimes even localities.
  • In view of the vital importance of water for human and animal life, for maintaining ecological balance and for economic and developmental activities of all kinds, and considering its increasing scarcity, the planning and management of water resource and its optimal, economical and equitable use has become a matter of the utmost urgency.
  • Management of water resources in India is of paramount importance to sustain one billion plus population. Water management is a composite area with linkage to various sectors of Indian economy including the agricultural, industrial, domestic and household, power, environment, fisheries and transportation sector.
  • The water resources management practices should be based on increasing the water supply and managing the water demand under the stressed water availability conditions.
  • Groundwater plays an important part in India’s economy. It caters to about 85 per cent of rural demand, 50 per cent urban requirements and more than 60 per cent of our irrigation needs.
  • Water Resources of India can be classified into:
    • Surface water Resources
      • In India, there are four significant surface water resources. They are rivers, lakes, ponds, and tanks.
      • In India, there are around 10,360 rivers and their tributaries with a length of more than 1.6 kilometers.
      • The total yearly flow in India's river basins is estimated to be 1,869 cubic kilometers. However, only roughly 690 cubics (37%) kilometers of accessible surface water can be used.
    • Groundwater Resources
      • The country's total replenishable groundwater resources are around 432 cubic kilometers.
      • About 46% of the total replenishable groundwater resources are found in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins.
      • In the river basins of the northwestern area and sections of south India, groundwater utilization is relatively high.
      • India also relies heavily on groundwater resources, which account for more than half of all irrigated land and serve 20 million tube wells.
      • To conserve river waters and improve groundwater recharging, India has built about 5,000 major or medium dams, barrages, and other structures.

Need for Management of Water Resources

  • Water distribution is uneven and therefore, large parts of India remain deficient in rain, as well as groundwater.
  • This unequal distribution across the country, makes most of the population face water scarcity.
  • The requirement of water in urban areas is higher than the availability. Moreover, water conservation will ensure availability of clean for future generations. This can be done by ensuring that the consumption of freshwater from an ecosystem does not exceed its natural rate of renewal.
  • Since rainfall in India is highly seasonal, water is required to irrigate crops. Water protects the ecosystem and wildlife.
  • Moreover, conserving water also saves energy. That is, by using smart appliances which are water and energy-efficient, we can reduce water usage and save energy too.
  • Lesser consumption of water will maintain more water in the environments and help sustain the wetland habitats for plants, wildlife and aquatic life. It is especially important during dry seasons.
  • The extraction of freshwater from the icebergs has increased significantly in recent years. The demand for water has also gone up to a great extent, including the need for power supply water-based power generation.
  • A report titled “Composite Water Management Index (CWMI)”, published by NITI Aayog in June 2018, mentioned that India was undergoing the worst water crisis in its history; that nearly 600 million people were facing high to extreme water stress; and about 200,000 people were dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
  • The report further mentioned that India was placed at the rank of 120 amongst 122 countries in the water quality index, with nearly 70 per cent of water being contaminated.
  • It projected the country’s water demand to be twice the available supply by 2030, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual loss in the country’s GDP.
  • As many as 256 of 700 districts in India have reported ‘critical’ or ‘over-exploited’ groundwater levels according to the most recent Central Ground Water Board data (from 2017).
  • India has become the world’s largest extractor of groundwater, accounting for 25 per cent of the total. Some 70 per cent of our water sources are contaminated and our major rivers are dying because of pollution.

History of Water Management in India

  • As early as third millennium BC, farming communities in Baluchistan impounded rainwater and used it for irrigation. Dams, built of stone rubble, have been found in Baluchistan and Kutch.
  • Dholavira, a major site of the Indus Valley Civilisation (3000-1500 BC), had several reservoirs to collect monsoon runoff. It also had an excellent drainage system.
  • Wells were probably a Harappan invention. A recent archaeological survey of the Indus Valley Civilisation revealed that every third house had a well.
  • In the 1st Century BC, the city of Sringaverapura near Allahabad, established sophisticated water harvesting system, using the floodwaters of Ganga.
  • Evidence of irrigation with water harvesting can be found in Kautilya’s Arthasastra, written in the 3rd century BC. The book indicates that people knew about rainfall regimes, soil types and irrigation techniques. It also mentions that the state rendered help for the construction of irrigation works, initiated and managed by he inhabitations of a newly settled village. Member of the village community who did not cooperate were punished.
  • Archaeological and historical records how that Indian were constructing dams, lakes and irrigation systems in the time of Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BD). There was a regular class of officer’s to superintend the rivers, measure the land and inspect sluices by which water was let out from the main canals.
  • The 2nd century AD Junagadh inscriptions provide information about the repair of an embankment, which was destroyed in a flood, and restoration of lake Sudarsana, which ceased to exit in the 9th century AD.
  • Bhopal king Bhoja created a huge lake by constructing an embankment across two hills. It was one of the largest artificial lakes in India in the 11th century AD, which covered an area of over 65,000 hectares and was fed by 365 streams and springs.
  • The 12th century AD account of Kashmir, Rajataranginin By Kalhana, describes a well- maintained irrigation system, in notable structures existed around the Dal and Anchar lakes and the Nandi Canal.
  • West Bengal’s system of over flow irrigation in the 17th century AD worked very well until the advent of the British. It not only enriched the soil but also controlled malaria.

Traditional Water Management Practices in India

  • Talab or Bandhi
    • Talabs or pond are reservoirs to store water for drinking and household consumption. These ponds may be natural or manmade.
    • A reservoir spread over less than five bighas is known as talab whereas a medium-sized lake is known as a bandhi.
  • Jhalaras
    • Jhalaras were constructed for regular water supply for community use, religious rites, and royal ceremonies in the past. These are rectangular-shaped stepwells with tiered steps on three or four sides.
    • The subterranean water seepage from a lake or an upstream reservoir gets collected in these stepwells.
  • Baolis
    • Baolis were constructed by the ruling class for strategic, civic, or philanthropic purposes. These structures were open to people of all sections of the society. Baolis are stepwells that were beautifully designed with arches and motifs.
    • The place where these baolis were located mainly determined their purposes. For instance, baolis on trade routes were used as resting spots while those located inside villages were for used for utilitarian purposes and social gatherings.
  • Kunds
    • Kunds were built for the conservation of water and harvesting rainwater for drinking purposes, mainly in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is basically a catchment area shaped like a saucer, sloping towards the circular underground well at the centre.
    • Modern kunds are built with cement. In earlier days, they were covered in disinfectant lime and ash.
  • Bawari
    • Bawaris are stepwells that formed the earliest water storage networks in Rajasthan.
    • They were uniquely designed to divert the minimum rainfall the region would receive to artificial tanks via canals constructed on hilly terrain in the city outskirts.
  • Taanka
    • Taanka is among the traditional types of water conservation systems involving rainwater harvesting technique specific to the Thar desert region in Rajasthan.
    • Taanka is a cylindrical paved underground pit, where rainwater flows from courtyards, rooftops and  artificially prepared catchments.
  • Nadi
    • Nadis refer to village ponds where rainwater collects from neighbouring natural catchment areas.
    • As these water bodies get water supply from irregular, torrential rainfall, they would witness quick siltation due to large amounts of sandy sediments deposited regularly.
  • Bamboo Drip Irrigation System
    • Among the different methods of water conservation in India, the system of bamboo drip irrigation has been practiced in northeastern parts of the country.
    • It is an over 200-year-old technique developed by tribal farmers for irrigating terrace fields. In this system, water from perennial springs is transported using bamboo pipes.
  • Zings
    • Zings are water harvesting structures found in Ladakh. These are small tanks built to collect the melting glacier water.
    • This one of the easiest water conservation and management methods in such mountainous regions. Water from the glacier is diverted to the tank through a network of guiding channels.
  • Kuhls
    • Tapping glacial waters coming from rivers and streams through surface water channels has been one of the oldest ways of water conservation in the hilly terrains of Himachal Pradesh.
    • These channels are known as Kuhls widely used for irrigation of over 30,000 hectares of fields in the region. There are hundreds of Kuhls in the region.
  • Jackwells
    • Jackwells are small pits used for harvesting rainwater.
    • In earlier times, people in the low-lying regions of the Great Nicobar Islands constructed the structure using bamboo and logs of wood.
  • Water harvesting structures of Ramtek
    • One of the traditional save water projects and techniques is the Ramtek model in Maharashtra.
    • The system uses a network of groundwater and surface water bodies where tanks connected by underground and surface canals form a link, from the foothills to the plains.
    • Once water fills the tanks in the hills, it flows to the successive tanks.

Modern Methods of Water Management

Rainwater Harvesting

  • Rainwater harvesting is a very effective method of conserving natural water and replenishing the groundwater level.
  • In this method of conservation of water, the rain water is collected and allowed to percolate into a deep pit or a reservoir, so that it seeps down and improves the ground water table.

Water Metering

  • Another efficient way of cutting down water wastage is to install water meters and measure the amount of water that is being used in residential and commercial buildings.
  • The volume of water that is used, is calculated and charged according to the price of water. Always monitor the water bills for unusually high usage. It can help detect any leakage.

Grey Water Recycling

  • Greywater recycling is a method of saving used and waste water from kitchen sinks, washing machines and showers, which is then recycled for usage in toilets, for watering plants, etc. Unlike rainwater harvesting which relies on rainwater, greywater is surplus in volume.
  • Environmentalists have demonstrated that the usage of this recycling system has reduced almost 70% of domestic water usage.

Pressure Reducing Valves

  • A pressure reducing valve basically controls the amount of pressure in a hydraulic system. These valves ensure a pre-set level of water that is to be used.
  • In this way, downstream components used in the water system last longer and water consumption is also reduced. This is a very efficient solution for water conservation in industrial, residential, commercial and institutional buildings.

Water Efficient Accesories

  • Currently, the market is flooded with water-efficient toilet tanks, taps and shower heads that can cut water consumption by up to 60%.
  • Innovations, such as change in spray patterns in taps and showers and increased pressure for flushing in toilets, are pushing the boundaries of water conservation, without compromising on usage habits.

Way Forward

  • A new water revolution is needed to preserve, harness, develop and manage water resources keeping in view both their quantity and quality.
  • For sustainable development of freshwater resources, it would be important to enable individuals and communities to appreciate their options, evaluate them and then choose the one that is the most appropriate.
  • Water is a major factor in each of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social, and environmental.
  • India has to initiate a series of measures to ensure that her people have access to clean water and sanitation, there is food security, and there are no water related conflicts.
  • Water must meet the needs of the present population and those of future generations. 

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