New areas of collaborative research

Two University of Iowa engineers visit Sehgal Foundation in India

Partnership background
The University of Iowa (UI), located in an agricultural state in the American Midwest, has a longstanding connection with Sehgal Foundation, headquartered in Iowa’s state capitol, Des Moines, and with S M Sehgal Foundation in India. Executive Vice President, Sehgal Foundation, Rajat Jay Sehgal, is a UI graduate. He was recently recognized with the university’s International Impact Award.

The UI India Winterim is an award-winning study-abroad program with courses held in locations throughout India for three-weeks each winter break. Students learn from organizations engaged in transformative activities in India. S M Sehgal Foundation has hosted students and faculty from the UI India Winterim course for many years. The unique project-based course is offered through the UI College of Engineering to create a better understanding of the effects of water management practices that include check dams in the Aravalli Hills and rainwater harvesting in government schools in Nuh District of Haryana. Student samples of water levels and salinity have shown that check dams enhance the amount of freshwater in the area, and a set of monitoring wells was created to measure the size and shape of the freshwater pocket in a rainwater harvesting well in village Karhera in Nuh. Seventy-five students and five faculty members have participated in six offerings to date.

Expanding the partnership
Sehgal Foundation and UI received a grant recently from the US India Education Foundation to expand its activities and engage with engineering educators at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, the premiere university in water resources and civil engineering in India. With this funding, professors and students will travel to meet together and with foundation staff to discuss evidence-based engineering training that emphasizes place-based learning for sustainable water development in resource-constrained communities. The place-based focus will engage with many communities served by Sehgal Foundation in new collaborations on topics such as flood mitigation and management, fluoride removal from groundwater sources, and evaluating the effectiveness of drinking water filters on viruses.

Following a successful visit from Dr. Kansal of IIT Roorkee to UI in May of 2019, Professor Allen Bradley and graduate student Libby Casavant arrived at Sehgal Foundation in Gurugram in late July. The office was familiar to Bradley who, in addition to chairing the UI Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department and conducting research at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, has also been an instructor for the UI India Winterim course on four trips. Casavant is a CEE graduate student who has spent the past six years working as a water resources engineer in the US and in Liberia. Her research interests include flood mitigation and management in underserved areas.

Visit to Nuh District in Haryana
Bradley and Casavant started out their trip by meeting with Sehgal Foundation staff and visiting several villages in Nuh. During these visits, they had the opportunity to collect data from observation wells and samples from borehole wells and check dam reservoirs. Previous UI visits all occurred during the winter, so this monsoon-season trip was a unique opportunity to observe annual fluctuations in freshwater and water quality in Nuh.

Sehgal Foundation staff, Harmanjeet Singh and Aparajeeta Vaibhav, introduced the visitors to several villages in Nuh that are attempting to cope with high fluoride levels in their groundwater wells. High fluoride is pervasive in some areas, appearing in both shallow and deep borehole samples. Residents report health issues related to the high fluoride such as skin and tooth discoloration and aching muscles. UI researchers hope to assist Sehgal Foundation’s efforts to produce a filter or treatment system that will reduce these levels that are notoriously challenging elements to remove from water.

Flood mitigation and management is another area UI hopes to collaborate with Sehgal Foundation and IIT Roorkee. The internationally recognized IIHR is home to the Iowa Flood Center, and UI investigators hope to use their expertise to increase resilience among flood-prone areas in India. In order to learn more about this topic, Bradley and Casavant met with researchers at IIT Roorkee and the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) in Roorkee.

Visit to Samastipur and Darbhanga districts in Bihar
Gushing from the steep slopes of the Himalayas, monsoon runoff slows down and spreads out when it reaches Bihar’s flat agricultural lands. This drastic change in topography often leads to widespread flooding. Bradley and Casavant learned more about the factors exacerbating the flooding situation and current attempts to predict, manage, and curtail it during meetings with faculty at the National Institute of Technology, Patna, Bihar, during their second week in India. The primary flood control measures currently in use are earthen embankments, which can protect some areas from flooding, but also have a track record of failing or overtopping, causing catastrophe and loss of life.

A visit with foundation team members to flooded areas of the Samastipur and Darbhanga districts of Bihar further illustrated the realities of chronic flooding, as Bradley and Casavant were able to meet and talk to those displaced by the 2019 floods. As often as every other year, people who live and farm in low-lying areas are forced to evacuate by foot or by boat. Older family members and children stay in ad-hoc tents and shelters along embankments and roads, sometimes for months at a time, until waters recede and the threat of flash flooding is reduced. This tenuous situation is not ideal for health or safety, and the loss of crops and animals leads to severe economic hardship during flood years. UI hopes to work with Sehgal Foundation and IIT Roorkee to help flood-affected persons by analyzing and modeling the flood-prone land and embankment systems. By doing so, it may be possible to target specific areas for flood mitigation and improve warning systems and disaster relief.

University of Iowa would like to thank all of the staff at Sehgal Foundation for their help and their very gracious hospitality!


University of Iowa’s 2018 India Winterim class at Karhera Government School


Sampling water levels in a check dam pond near Ghaghas