Blame it on El Nina or El Nino. Every year we have weather events that meteorologists blame on El Nina or El Nino. Every year the temperatures keep going up and breaking records in India. Several parts of India have witnessed soaring temperatures as early as February. The situation in Northern India is particularly hard with higher-than-normal temperatures.
Only recently we have started to realize the gravity of the situation and the effect of climate change. We now know that climate changes are leading to higher temperatures and erratic, extreme rainfall. These changes have a detrimental effect on the water cycle. Scanty or concentrated excess rainfall is leading to a water crisis, and rural India is bearing the brunt. The primary occupation in rural India revolves around agriculture, and the agrarian distress has the potential to derail food, economic, and social security that can create major upheaval that impacts the goal of growth and prosperity. The Krishna water dispute, Mahadayi water dispute, and Mahanadi water dispute are testimony to difficult issues with water management and property rights, and the problem is only exacerbated by the politics involved. Coordination between the states and central government, is necessary for the preservation, equitable distribution, and maintainable utilization of water. Thus, water management has assumed critical importance.
Groundwater is the main source of freshwater for household, agricultural, and industrial sectors. It is critical for domestic use and for long-term food security for the large Indian population. Natural replenishment of groundwater is slow and is unable to keep pace with the exploitation of groundwater in several parts of India. In order to supplement the supply of groundwater, artificial recharge has emerged as a vital water management tool. With little control over the macro climate situation, water augmentation is a critical step to solve the water crisis at the ground level.
What is Water Augmentation?
Water augmentation looks to increase availability and supply of water by replacement of the current reduced amount of water. This can be done through active recharge of water and protection of water recharge areas. Traditionally, water augmentation has been followed in India over many centuries. Harnessing rainwater and recharge of the water table allows for recharge through infiltration into aquifers. Water augmentation can be classified broadly into three areas.
1) Capturing the water through harvesting.
2) Storing the water through storage.
3) Recharging the water table through percolation into shallow aquifers.
Issues In Exploitation Of Groundwater
- Receding groundwater level, leading to lowering of water table.
- Increasing cost of extraction due to higher depth of water.
- Reduced water availability in nearby water bodies.
- Deterioration of water quality leading to increased salinity and brackishness.
- Soil erosion.
Water Augmentation Techniques
Several techniques can be used to augment water and increase availability. Depending on the hydro-geological specifications, the techniques are diverse and vary. Some include:
- Direct Surface
• Basins or percolation tanks
• Stream augmentation
• Ditch and furrow system
- Direct Sub Surface Techniques
• Injection wells or recharge wells
• Recharge pits and shafts
• Dug well recharge
• Borehole flooding
• Natural openings, cavity fillings.
- Combination Surface/ Subsurface Techniques
• Basin or percolation tanks with pit shaft or wells.
With most parts of Northern India dependent on rainfall that is getting erratic by the day, augmenting water availability by harvesting every drop of rainwater is a necessary starting point. Water harnessing structures like dams are another technique being used to capture surface and subsurface flows<.
The government, realizing the gravity of the situation, launched the “Catch the Rain” campaign under the National Water Mission. As part of this campaign, emphasis has been given to make check dams, water harvesting pits, rooftop rainwater harvesting systems; desilt tanks to increase storage capacity; remove obstructions in water channels; repair step-wells, and energize defunct bore-wells and unused wells. While the Catch the Rain campaign works on the supply side, its success is dependent on the active participation of people.
Goal number two of the National Water Mission outlines the need for external partners, corporates and NGOs to step up in this effort to augment water availability. Two of the actionable issues under this goal are:
- Encourage participation of NGOs in various activities related to water management, particularly in planning, capacity building, and mass awareness.
- Involve and encourage corporate sector / industries to take up, support and promote water conservation and management, augmentation and preservation within the industry and as part of corporate social responsibility.
Role Of Partnerships
Local and national NGOs concerned with issues such as water, sanitation, and the environment are important stakeholders in this effort of water management.
These NGOs, working in rural hinterland, have a wealth of important practical knowledge and experience of the local situations. They are an important cog in the wheel to achieve the policyholders’ ambition, and serve as the last-mile coordinators for corporate efforts and implementation agencies. These NGOs are also successful in empowering women to act for access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Thus, they work as key actors in encouraging people’s participation.
Stories From The Ground
One of the rural development NGOs in India, S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) has been working since 1999 to improve the quality of life of the rural communities in India. As a public, charitable trust, the S M Sehgal Foundation has been focusing on sustainable programs to address rural India’s most pressing needs. It has five main program areas: Water Management, Agricultural Development, Local Participation and Sustainability, Transform Lives one school at a time, and Outreach for Development.
The Water Management program works with communities to harvest and store rainwater for direct use, and replenish groundwater by building and restoring infrastructure in villages. It supports revival of traditional water bodies, construction of water storage infrastructure, and safe disposal of wastewater. It promotes safe drinking water for all with innovative low-cost, sustainable technologies and WASH behaviors. It creates awareness about the need for water conservation and management and builds the capacities of local communities for better management and long-term sustainability of their water resources. The program seeks and provides opportunities to collaborate for continuous improvement and replication of low-cost water management interventions.
A pond comes back to life post rejuvenation in Behror block, Alwar district, Rajasthan
Under a CSR-supported project, S M Sehgal Foundation rejuvenated the pond in a village in Behror block, Alwar district, Rajasthan, during January 2021. Earlier, the water collection area of the pond was small, and surrounded and filled with thorny bushes of keekar. The water catchment area was less, and large quantities of rainwater forcefully and wastefully flowed from the Aravalli hills across and out of the village. This also damaged the crops growing in the path of the water.
The villagers and the project team joined together to increase the catchment area of the pond and rejuvenate it through desilting and directing the water flow toward the pond. Now the rainwater accumulates in the village pond and is no longer wasted. Due to the rapid rate at which the water is getting recharged underground, the pond has hardly any water in it. In the monsoon of 2021, the rejuvenated pond (initially 4.6 million water storage capacity, after project intervention the water storage capacity has been increased to 16.8 million liters) collected rainwater and filled seven times. Currently there is no water in the pond as it is helping to recharge the groundwater. The water level of nearby wells for irrigating crops has also started to go up and is expected to increase by ten to fifteen feet. Due to this initiative, the plants around the pond will remain green and the environment will be healthy.
Due to the absence or depletion of surface-fresh sources, groundwater has seen increasing pressure to meet the rural demand for consumption and agriculture. Climate change and over-exploitation of groundwater resources has had implications for water security. The days of government focus on planned canals and other surface water systems in water management are witnessing a change. As water scarcity continues to rise, water augmentation is a critical step to address the looming water crisis.