Water crisis of east & west Punjab

Both sides will have to rise above politics and focus on the water crisis, which requires difficult and bitter solutions.

As the long hot summer sizzles, one’s thoughts in Lahore and Amritsar turn to water. It is scarce on both sides of the border. When the British finally and fully took over the Punjab in 1849, their thoughts turned to the possibility of engineering for agriculture. In the 1860s, they built the first canal in the Gurdaspur-Amritsar area. During 1880-1920, they built the great canal colonies, in west Punjab. Life-giving water was spread over the Baars, pushing back forever the great story of herdsman Ranjha and the peerless Heer. The open scrub lands dotted with Kikar and lusty rivers were replaced with wheat and cotton fields, and vast citrus gardens. The graziers disappeared. Sikh farmers having little land in the impoverished east went west, and by the 1930s, they became fat and prosperous zamindars. Sadly, just when the fruits were coming, they were pushed back east.

The political battle of the 1940s was also a battle for land. Someone told me in Lahore once “we are land rich.” They added to their holdings, howsoever. In the east, Tarlok Singh, ICS, devised the graded cut for Nehru to settle far too many farmers, on much less land. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Punjabis, helped with cooperative loans, sank nine lakh shallow tubewells, built the Bhakra, and created the Green Revolution. I remember in my Amritsar village, sweet water was available at just 15 feet in the well; by our land passed a small canal, perfectly designed by the British. In summer, we grew green, sweet-smelling lucerne and other fodders, and the buffaloes yielded plenty of milk. In west Punjab, the farmers did not share the land bounty fairly. The few at the top took the most. But still in their skewed farm sociology, they prospered with good harvests, more citrus orchards and plenty of water to waste.

A woman walks with a bucket to fetch water on the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab. "Both Punjabs should face up to the water crisis, with courage and steady application of science."

In the new century, all this changed. In 1960, Jawaharlal Nehru and Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in Karachi, mediated by World Bank president Eugene Black. For 50 years, this worked well for both Punjabs. Both built the Bhakra, the Beas, and the Tarbela dams, and expanded irrigation. My Punjab added nine lakh tubewells through cooperatives. The other Punjab failed with the public sector tubewells, and remains largely dependent on canal water.

Sixty years have drastically reduced the comfort of 1950 on both sides. In Pakistan, the population growth from 50 million to 175 million has put an unacceptable burden. This has reduced the water availability per capita, per year, from 5,000 cubic feet in 1960 to 1,500 today. In our Punjab too, the population has increased over 60 years but at a lesser rate. In 1947, in east Punjab, 6,000 cubic metres of potable water was available per person, per year. Now it is only 1,600 cubic metres. It is estimated to fall further to 1,147 cubic metres in 2050. However, the nine lakh shallow tubewells now dangle dry. The rich have started digging deep to 300 ft or more with submersible pumps to grab water. Small farmers who predominate cannot afford the cost and their wells are drying up. One deep tubewell will dry up a hundred around it. The water table has gone far down, and this situation will lead to social tension. We read every day that 95 per cent of east Punjab’s development blocks are in the grey area, for tubewells. In southern Punjab, and some other pockets, the underground water, in any case, is salty. West Punjab too faces these grave questions.

As a child I went to Sargodha in west Punjab to stay in the new lands. The land, the cattle and the people smiled. Now I read of Ghanzafar Ali, a farmer in Chak 95, Sargodha, and his woes. He says the water crisis means life and death to him. He does not get his regular supply. He cannot grow fodder and the cattle starve in summer. There are extended closures of the canal. According to him, the crisis is in the entire State, but particularly bad in Sargodha-Faislabad. He worries about the weather changes, and laments, “we are tied to river water, dams, rainfall and tubewells. You take away the river water, and this place will turn into a wilderness it once was.” This is what Calvert, ICS, warned of in 1928 in his classic book, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab. In Lahore, aggressive leaders challenge the IWT and accuse India of not being fair. Swiss arbitrators are brought in to adjudicate. The Americans with their satellite studies have recently put out ominous reports, of severe and steady groundwater depletion, in both Punjabs, and western Uttar Pradesh. In a convocation address at the Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana on November 5, 1998, I warned that there would be a crisis and tension within and without on the question of water. We see it already and I worry about the situation 10 years hence with more population, more demands, more anxiety and hysteria.

What should the two Punjabs do? What should my Punjab do? I know we will have to rise above, and beyond, politics and focus on the crisis, which requires difficult and bitter solutions. Scientific solutions exist, and more can be found. But they will have to be applied with a will, and firmness, over long periods, to make any visible difference. As Development Commissioner, Punjab, from 1985 to 1988, I visualised that the time had come to license and regulate tubewell sinking, including the permissible depth. All must share fairly, and not take the maximum, by means of wealth and power. I also felt that it was very easy, in the computer age, to monitor all nine lakh tubewells all the time to know the depletion and recharge; to be able to plan and administer the fair share and use of groundwater. I would appoint a High Commissioner, for Ground Water Management, for the Punjab, with full scientific staff, and powers, reporting only to the Chief Minister. He should also present an annual detailed written report to the Assembly. A more balanced crop plan has to be insisted upon. I had said in Ludhiana that the Punjab is not a great agriculture State. It is only a grain growing factory, and factories have lockouts. We are facing one now.

In our Punjab, we faced an unprecedented crisis when far too many people returned from the west to be settled on too little of poor quality land. We created a new Punjab which, since 1966, has been providing the surplus for the country to avoid imports. If we face up to this new crisis, in the new century, we can certainly overcome it. Like Israel, let us use the full scientific knowledge of the world to lay out an efficient system of water usage. Our British canals are in a state of collapse and flood irrigation will not do. We also need to have a more balanced crop regime. This requires revival of the Punjab Agricultural University and making it efficient. As for my friends in west Punjab, they should, as their Foreign Minister said, stop wasting 40 per cent of the canal water, rely on their collective will and effort, and not allow people to mislead them with the comfort that they have no shortcomings and that others are to blame. Both Punjabs should face up to the water crisis, with courage and steady application of science. Else, they will be in trouble which won’t go away.

(Dr. M.S. Gill is Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports.) – From THE HINDU

Agitations for water continue in Salem

Residents block traffic; stage dharna in front of Corporation office demanding water

SALEM: The stir for water continues in Salem city and its suburbs unabated.

All for water:People of Chinnakollapatti Periyar Nagar and cadres of CPI(M) staging a dharna in front of the Salem Corporation on Monday demanding water. — Photos: E. Lakshmi Narayanan

On Monday, hundreds of residents from Karukkalpatti and Kalignara Nagar and others in Wards 56 and 57 blocked the traffic on Tiruchy Main Road since morning demanding water.

The women and children carried empty pots and raised slogans against the Salem Corporation for not providing them the basic need.

They charged that they had been fighting for water on earlier occasions too. “Since the start of the summer, we have been asking them to provide adequate water. But they have not. In fact we staged demonstrations and agitations on earlier occasions too. The officials came and assured us to do the needful. But they did not,” said a woman.

The residents complained that the civic authority had not supplied water to them for the last 15 days. “How can we survive without water in this scorching summer,” they questioned. Officials rushed to the spot and pacified them.

Meanwhile, CPI (M) staged an agitation in front of the office of the Salem Corporation demanding public tap for the people of Thanthai Periyar Nagar at Chinnakollapatti immediately.

Led by 6 {+t} {+h} division secretary of CPI (M) M. Arumugam, the cadres in agitation claimed that a tank was established to supply water to the people of 25 streets in Periyar Nagar. But the Corporation had not provided pipe connections so far thus depriving the citizens of water. They urged the authorities to redress the grievance immediately.

Frontline leaders including CPI district secretary M. Rajagopal, West Urban secretary M. Sethu Madavan and others spoke.


Acute drinking water crisis haunting Theni district

Despite intermittent showers, marginal increase in Periyar dam level

THENI: Despite intermittent showers and marginal increase in storage level in Periyar dam, lifeline for Theni and four southern districts, acute drinking water crisis has been haunting several municipalities, town and village panchayats in the district for the past 15 days.

Many municipalities and town panchayats cannot supply drinking water to their residents even once in 10 days.

The quality of drinking water is not up to the mark. Water is turbid and brown, complain residents.

Mullaperiyar river alone supplies water to more than 25 drinking water projects. On an average, each municipality or town panchayat provides 70 to 90 litres per head a day.

With no water in the riverbed, several drinking water supply tanks sunk on Mullaperiyar bed are dry.

At present, Theni municipality supplies drinking water once in 10 days to many wards and 12 days to some remote wards. Similar trend prevails in Chinnamanur, Cumbum and Goodalur.

These municipalities too cannot supply water once a week.

Earlier, these municipalities had been supplying drinking water to residential colonies once in three days.

Poor quality of drinking water and shortage of supply boost sale of packaged drinking water in the district.

Environmentalists and naturalists feel that indiscriminate sand mining in the river is the main reason for the poor quality of water. Sand on the riverbed acts as sponge to improve groundwater, filters all contamination in the water and makes it clean.

With no sand in the bed, water flows on rocky surface without any natural purification process.

Sharp showers

But sharp showers that rocked the Cumbum valley on Thursday night brought some respite to people.

Public Works Department engineers release water through the Iraichal Bridge for drinking purpose only. But an acutely parched riverbed absorbs a sizable quantum of water released from the dam.

To improve drinking water supply, Theni municipality has sent proposals for a new drinking water project to meet the growing demand. The level in the Periyar dam on Friday stood at 109.8 feet.


Report warns of water crisis by 2030 for India & China !

A report backed by big business users of water warns that without global action, demand for water in 2030 will outstrip supply by 40 per cent.

The biggest problems will be in India and China, and without concerted action, India will not be able to meet half of its water needs by 2030.

In neighbouring China, the problem is even worse, with demand expected to outstrip supply by 25 per cent.

The report warns demand for water in 2030 could outstrip supply by 40 per cent. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) – part of the World Bank – collaborated with multinational companies including Coca Cola, Nestle, Standard Chartered Bank and brewer Miller, among others, to write “Charting Our Water Future”.

The report says the worst affected areas will be in developing countries where one third of the world’s population lives.

One of the report’s authors, Giulio Boccaletti from strategists the McKinsey Group, says water is everybody’s problem and requires new government policies and investment, involvement of the private sector, efficiency measures, research and education.

The cost could be between $54 billion and $64 billion, but the savings could be enormous.

IFC senior manager Usha Rao-Monari told Radio Australia’s Connect Asia many of their clients – large water users – collaborated on the report.

“The first thing that they’re thinking about and worrying about and taking measures to address is saving water,” she said.

“They’re using less water or they’re treating waste water and using that for their production process, and leaving fresh water for consumption for example by surrounding communities.

“There is much broader recognition of this in all parts of the world than we had initially thought when we first started working on this report.”

The report focuses on two other countries – Brazil and South Africa.

Australia’s creation of water rights and a market for the Murray Darling Basin is used as one example where the capacity exists to regulate users.

In others, microfinance – the provision of financial services to low-income clients without access to banking and related services – might be used to improve irrigation.

Guilio Boccaletti says: “The point we’re trying to make is that there exists a number of ways, a number of policy levers, to try and adopt and help implement a program of sustainable water use to get to water security.”

From ABC News

India’s water crisis – When the rains fail

Many of India’s problems are summed up in its mismanagement of water. Now a scanty monsoon has made matters much worse

Farmers in the field

Farmers in the field

RAINFALL last month encouraged Haniya, a middle-aged member of the Lambada tribe of southern Andhra Pradesh (AP), to inspect his one-acre (0.4-hectare) field. Some speckles of green, to show the red earth had held enough water for weeds to shoot, would have tempted him to sow cotton. But, towards the end of AP’s monsoon rainy season, the field was parched and bare. If it rains again, Haniya may sow. If not? He gave the reply of peasant farmers in India and poor, dry places everywhere: “Only God knows.”

Back in his village of Veeralapalam, light-skinned Lambadi farmers gathered. Most had scattered some cotton or lentil seed after the rain. But it had better rain again: none had access to irrigation from a dozen wells sunk 90 metres into central India’s lava bedrock by richer high-caste Hindu farmers. A few expected to buy a dousing or two of costly piped water, brought by the same neighbours from a nearby storm-creek. Even if affordable, said Saidanayak, this would not sustain his hoped-for acre of cotton. Without more rain, it will fail, adding to his 125,000-rupee ($2,500) debt—a big sum, when the dowry for a Lambada bride is $1,200.

With no crop, no money and three daughters to marry off, he would join the only reliable flood in AP in these drought days: of thousands of tough, skinny peasants into Hyderabad, the state capital, in search of a day-wage. Asked what he would do there, Saidayanak pushed out his fists and shifted from foot to foot, as if cycling a rickshaw—and laughter diluted the gloom.

Many Indians share his worries. Around 450m live off rain-fed agriculture, and this year’s monsoon rains, which between June and September provide 80% of India’s precipitation, have been the scantiest in decades. Almost half India’s 604 districts are affected by drought, especially in the poorest and most populous states—such as Bihar, which has declared drought in 26 of its 38 districts. Uttar Pradesh (UP), home to 185m, expects its main rice harvest to be down by 60%. The outlook for the winter wheat crop is also poor, with India’s main reservoirs, a source for irrigation canals, one-third below their seasonal average. That also means less water for thirsty cities, including Delhi, where 18m people live and the water board meets around half their demand in a good year.

Belated cloudbursts in AP and other states have brought relief. But late sowing tends to produce a thin harvest. AP counted some 20 farmer suicides last month, and there will be more. A short drive from Hyderabad, Koteswara Rao watched as four Hindu outcasts and two blue-horned bullocks ploughed his 16 acres (14 of them leased) for cotton. If it fails he will be left with a $4,000 debt and, being of lofty caste, he said, he could never sweat it out as a labourer. “Suicide would be easier.”

No one should starve, at least. None of India’s previous five big post-independence droughts caused famine. And after two bumper years, the government says it has enough wheat and rice in store to prevent serious food-grain price inflation. With agriculture accounting for only 18% of GDP, compared with 30% in 1990, the drought will in fact cause relatively little damage to India’s economy; it should still grow by over 5% this year. Lavish spending on rural welfare since 2004, when the Congress party won power in Delhi, will also help. Almost 30m people have benefited from the government’s chief public-works project, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

Yet the drought underlines a grim truth. India’s extremes of hydrology, poverty and population present vast difficulties for water management which it has never mastered. And they are growing. Increasingly frequent droughts may be a sign of this—if, as some think, climate change is to blame. It will accentuate India’s problems, with the monsoon rains, which supply over 50% of much of India’s annual precipitation in just 15 days, predicted to become even more contracted and unpredictable. At the same time, the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers promises to deprive the great rivers of the Indian sub-continent, the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, of their summertime source. This threatens a triple whammy: of longer dry seasons, in which these rivers do not flow, and more violent wet seasons. That would mean more bad news for flood-prone eastern India, including Bihar, where over 3m were displaced last year when the Kosi river burst a crumbling embankment.

India’s water future was worrying even without climate change. Despite daunting seasonal and regional variations, it should have ample water for agricultural, industrial and household use. But most of it falls, in a remarkably short time, in the wrong places. India’s vast task is therefore to trap and store enough water; to channel it to where it is most needed; and, above all, to use it there as efficiently as possible. And on all three counts, India fares badly. Without huge improvements, according to a decade-old official estimate, by 2050, when its population will be a shade under 1.7 billion, India will run short of water.

There are already signs of the conflict this would cause. Having bickered for decades over their rights to the Krishna river, AP and upstream Maharashtra and Karnataka are now furiously building dams and diversions that the river might not support even in flood. In Orissa 30,000 farmers—for whom over 80% of India’s water is reserved—laid siege to a reservoir in 2007 to try to stop factories using its waters. The desert state of Rajasthan has seen similar protests against the diversion of water to its growing cities. In one, five farmers were shot dead by police.

The government is worried: “2050 is a very frightening sort of a picture,” says A.K. Bajaj, chairman of India’s central water commission, which provides technical support to the state governments who control India’s water. Its main solution is to build more large dams (390 are under construction), and river diversions, including a long-mooted extravaganza of 30 linkages which would unite most of India’s river basins. Indeed, India needs more water storage: it has 200 cubic metres per person, compared with 1,000 cubic metres in China. But given the decrepitude of much of its existing water infrastructure, and its profligate ways with water, its more urgent priorities are to repair and reform.
Worshipping old gods

Famine-prone for most of its history, India’s attachment to dams is understandable. Its ability to feed itself owes much to a splurge on big dams and canal projects in the 1950s-70s—for example, the colossal Bhakra dam in Himachal Pradesh, completed in 1963 and described by the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as a “new temple” of India. The Bhakra brought 7m hectares of north-west India, chiefly Punjab and Haryana, under irrigation. This prepared the way for the Green Revolution of the 1960s, when the introduction of new seeds and chemical fertilisers hugely boosted farm yields in those states and in the coastal region of AP—which was irrigated in the 19th century by a British engineer, Sir Arthur Cotton, who is still worshipped there as a god.

But, the world over, without expensive maintenance to prevent siltation in reservoirs and leakage from canals, grand dams and irrigation schemes tend to be as inefficient as they are environmentally destructive. And India’s corrupt, underfunded and overmanned state irrigation departments—UP’s, for example, employs over 100,000 people—often provide no maintenance at all. As a result, each year India is estimated to lose the equivalent of two-thirds of the new storage it builds to siltation. Bad planning, often as a result of inter-state rivalries, causes more waste. Thus, between 1992 and 2004 India built 200 large and medium-sized irrigation projects—and the area irrigated by such schemes shrank by 3.2m hectares.

Map with States of INDIA

Map with States of INDIA

The village of Veeralapalam offers a snapshot of this, and of the losers in a political economy where water is the main currency. From the early 1960s it received occasional water in a small canal, at the tail-end of a system off the Krishna river. But this has been dry since 1985 because of leakage up-channel and, the Lambadi farmers say, illegal tapping by members of a more favoured community. The canal was re-dug last year under the NREGS, but seems unlikely to get any water.

A few miles up-channel in Ulisaipalam, a village dominated by high-caste Hindus, there is water, but more problems. Wading shin-deep, P. Venkat Reddy transplants dark green paddy into his two acres of irrigated, but undrained, land. When there is water in the canal, for around four months each year, it is waterlogged, fit only for paddy. But in recent years the canal has held insufficient water for a full paddy crop—forcing Mr Reddy to supplement it with groundwater. He pumps this, with electricity given free to farmers in AP, from a borehole drilled 45 metres into his land.

Since the 1970s, when affordable water pumps became available and electricity reached many more places, millions have done the same. India is the world’s biggest user of groundwater, with some 20m bore-holes providing water for over 60% of its irrigated area. Being entirely in farmers’ hands, this is up to three times more productive than canal irrigation. In 2002, by a conservative estimate, it was worth $8 billion a year to the Indian economy—more than four times what the central and state governments spend on irrigation schemes.

Groundwater irrigation has transformed the lives of millions. It has also rectified problems, of water-logging and salination, caused by canals. But in many places, including productive Punjab and Haryana, whose rather well-off farmers also get free or cut-price electricity, the rate of groundwater extraction is unsustainable. Nearly a third of India’s groundwater blocks were defined in 2004 as “critical, semi-critical or over-exploited”. The World Bank reckons that 15% of India’s food is produced by “mining”—or unrenewable extraction of—groundwater, including in 18 of Punjab’s 20 districts. Satellite maps released by America’s NASA last month showed that north-western India’s aquifers had fallen by a foot a year between 2002 and 2008: a loss of 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of water, or three times the volume of America’s biggest man-made reservoir.

This is storing up trouble. As bore-holes run dry, as those over the hardrock aquifers of southern-central India do on a monthly basis, many poor people may be deprived of safe drinking water. Currently, 220m Indians lack this. Not all India’s groundwater is potable anyway; in places, it is getting seriously polluted. And India’s groundwater reserves will be especially missed when climate change makes surface-water sources even more sporadic. Their depletion will accentuate this, with springs, which could have provided a trickle of run-off during the extended dry seasons, increasingly failing.

Ground Water Changes in INDIA

Ground Water Changes in INDIA

Pump and be damned

Some excuse this resolute destruction by saying that India’s farmers do not understand groundwater. But they know when it is running out, as an impromptu conclave in the Punjabi village of Lubana Teku showed. “Punjab will become a desert, like Rajasthan,” said Jarnail Singh, a stately, orange-turbaned grower of rice. When Mr Singh began pumping groundwater in 1973, turning his 14 acres from cotton to paddy, it took a three-horsepower engine to bring it up from 1.5 metres. Now the groundwater is 20 metres down, and he requires a 15-horsepower pump to sluice his green paddy-fields. “We know the water is going,” said Mr Singh. “But we’re not going to change our ways unless the government makes us.”

Rather, it encourages him to keep pumping. Besides paying nothing for his water or electricity—seven hours of it a day—Mr Singh knows the government will buy all the rice he can grow, at a pre-ordained “minimum support price”. Set against this package, Punjab’s efforts to conserve its groundwater, mainly by telling farmers not to transplant paddy before the monsoon rains, are rather puny.

State governments know that this is madness. Over a quarter of India’s electricity is given free or cut-price to farmers. As a result, the state power utilities are bust. Understandably, however, politicians balk at reform. Two chief ministers recently tried charging farmers for electricity, in AP and Madhya Pradesh, and were kicked out of office. The Congress party chief minister of Haryana, which is going to the polls in October, will not make that mistake. He is demanding $200m from India’s Congress-led central government as a contribution to Haryana’s agricultural-power subsidy.

The subsidy raj is not confined to farmers. Many municipal governments price water well below cost, and therefore struggle to supply it. Delhi, where the water board’s revenues cover only 40% of its operating costs, should have plenty of water. It draws 220 litres per citizen, more than Paris. But half of it disappears from leaky pipes. To mend these, workmen, having no underground maps, must dig up and sift through a tangled mass of pipes and cables, like untrained surgeons manhandling intestines.

Predictably, for a couple of hundred rupees a month, posh south Delhi gets the best water supply. When its taps run dry, the locals, including India’s political and bureaucratic elite, pump groundwater—often illegally. By one estimate, bore-holes provide 40% of the capital’s water; and south Delhi’s groundwater, which underlies the offices of India’s Central Groundwater Authority, is being depleted by up to three metres a year. But tube-wells, which cost around $600, are no option for Delhi’s poor, including 4m slum-dwellers. To augment their supply they must buy water, of dubious quality and at extortionate prices, from a well-connected water mafia.

In fiery June residents of Sangam Vihar, a poor suburb of south Delhi, rioted after getting no water for two weeks. In normal times, according to Vishnu Sharma, a 36-year-old resident, he and his family receive, at unpredictable times, around an hour and a half of muddy piped water each week. They pay $2 for this, he said—and another $20, or a quarter of his factory wage, to private water-sellers in cahoots with corrupt water-board officials. “So why bother complaining?” he said angrily.

An increasingly precious load

An increasingly precious load

Who could deny that rich Delhiites must pay more for water, so the city’s poor can get more? The rich, of course. In 2005 a World Bank-sponsored effort to reform the water board was shot down by local NGOs. As well as worrying, reasonably, about the bidding process for contracts, they were outraged to discover that, in return for round-the-clock clean water, the targeted households would be charged about $20 a month—or what Mr Sharma pays his local water don.

Pay more, use less

To make farmers use less water, they must pay, or pay more, for electricity. The longer state governments wait to institute this, the higher the cost of pumping groundwater will go—and the more difficult reform becomes. Nor is pricing alone a panacea. According to a World Bank study, farmers are already paying rather a lot for subsidised but poor-quality electricity. In Haryana, farmers with electricity spent 25% of their incomes on it and on repairing burnt-out pump-engines; those without electricity spent 31% of their incomes on diesel. To charge farmers more for electricity, utilities will have to improve supply. And farmers must learn to use water more efficiently.

Selling groundwater to cities, as farmers outside Chennai have done, is one possible answer. Another, to keep up India’s food production, is to spread the use of modern seeds and other technologies—such as an improved system of paddy cultivation that uses half as much water and has boosted yields in Tamil Nadu and AP. Ideally, commercial cultivation of thirsty sugar-cane and paddy should also be shifted eastwards, to the poor and sodden parts of Bihar and West Bengal. For now, alas, the political trade-offs and mammoth infrastructure development this would require make it seem unimaginable.

Farmers on arid, rain-fed land need help of other sorts. Even if they had electricity—which 400m Indians do not—they could hardly pay for it. Nor would it be altogether desirable for them to pump groundwater unless they could be enjoined to sow appropriate crops, such as pulses and millet, and water them wisely. In dry areas, where profligate water-use by one farmer can make many wells run dry, farmers have been persuaded to share information on rainfall, groundwater levels and cropping, and so collectively regulate themselves. One attempt at this in central AP involves 25,000 farmers.

And India must have more dams. These need not be large; indeed, given problems of maintenance and resettlement, it would be better if they were not. For these and other reasons, most experts also seem to want the ambitious river-basin-linkage idea to be scrapped. In most places, urban and rural, India’s state governments would do better to concentrate on building and restoring millions of small water storages, tanks and mini-reservoirs, and put local governments in charge of them. There is no simple solution to India’s complicated water crisis. But if prayers are necessary, let them be offered in small shrines, not vast concrete temples.

From Economist

India-Tamilnadu-Acute drinking water crisis looms large

DINDIGUL: With extremely poor storage in two out of three major drinking water schemes owing to absence of rainfall, Dindigul town and many villages have been facing acute drinking water crisis. Further delay of monsoon will worsen the situation.

Three drinking water projects — Rs.100-crore Cauvery drinking water scheme, Peranai water supply scheme at Nilakottai and Athoor Kamarajar drinking water scheme — had been implemented to augment drinking water supply.

NO SIGN OF WATER: Goats grazing on the bed of Athoor Kamarajar dam. — PHOTO: G. KARTHIKEYAN

NO SIGN OF WATER: Goats grazing on the bed of Athoor Kamarajar dam. — PHOTO: G. KARTHIKEYAN

Of these three projects, Athoor dam, an age-old and perennial drinking water scheme, is the lifeline of people in Dindigul town and 17 wayside villages and town panchayats.

Now, its condition is dismal. Water level has gone below the level of three filters used to pump water from dam, leaving vast portion of the dam bed dry. It has become a grazing ground for cattle and a haven for illegal sand miners. One can see a small pond of water around the pumping area. Capitalising poor storage, local people scoop away large quantity of fish from the dam illegally.

People at the villages are the worst affected. While Chinnalapatti gets water once in 10 days, Chithiayankottai receives water once in nine days.

But municipal officials pay less attention to repair breaches in main pipeline. Large quantum of water has been drained for more than 15 days owing to breach in the main pipe line at Adhi Lakshmipuram and at Vakkampatti.

Athoor dam water has been meeting 40 per cent of total drinking water needs of Dindigul municipality. Cauvery water meets the needs of the rest.

Dindigul municipality has been supplying water to residents in the town once in seven days. If there is no rain, Dindigul municipality will face a tough time, and will fall back on Cauvery drinking water project to meet its total requirement.

With damage in pipeline and no water in Vaigai channel, Peranai water scheme does not serve much for Dindigul.

If there are no yield in wells at Peranai, Athoor dam would normally come to the rescue of the Dindigul municipality.

Most of residents are not in favour of the poor quality of water from Cauvery River and even local leaders cutting across party lines stopped claiming credit in bringing the scheme to Dindigul.

From THE HINDU By K. Raju

Water Crisis – India – Dcreasing Groundwater

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) — Orbiting satellites measuring the gravitational pull of water below the earth’s surface confirm what authorities in India suspected for more than 20 years: groundwater is shrinking in some of the nation’s driest areas.

Three northwest Indian states lost a volume of water from underground supplies equal to more than twice the capacity of Lake Mead, the biggest U.S. reservoir, between August 2002 and October 2008, scientists said in the journal Nature yesterday.

The findings suggest that pumping water from wells for irrigation is damaging India’s resources more than the government has estimated. Without measures to curb demand, dwindling groundwater supplies may cause drinking-water shortages and erode crop production in a region inhabited by 114 million people, the authors said.

“That part of northern India is really experiencing rapid groundwater decline that’s mostly human-driven,” said co-author Jay Famiglietti, associate professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, in a telephone interview yesterday. “What they are doing is not sustainable.”

Farmers with officials near a well

Farmers with officials near a well

About a fifth of water used globally comes from under the ground, the Stockholm International Water Institute has said. Withdrawals are predicted to increase 50 percent by 2025 in developing countries, and 18 percent in developed countries, according to the policy group based in the Swedish capital.

India’s area of irrigation almost tripled to 33.1 million hectares (82 million acres) from 1970 to 1999, the authors said, spurred by the so-called Green Revolution that began in the 1960s to bolster production of wheat, rice and other staples.

‘Low Recharge’

“Farmers don’t see an alternative” to using groundwater in India, Jan Lundqvist, senior scientific adviser at the Stockholm water institute, said in an interview. “The problem is the recharge is very low.”

Land use techniques that help rain filter through soil to refill aquifers is one solution, Lundqvist said. Low-till farming, in which seeds are planted by disturbing as little soil as possible, is one method used in the U.S., Brazil and Africa.

Surface water supplies are also strained. Three-quarters of the country’s rivers, lakes and dams are contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent, according to a report by the Ministry of Urban Development in September.

Groundwater stocks in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana states are being lowered at an average rate of about 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) a year, Famiglietti and colleagues said. The depletion is equal to about 17.7 cubic kilometers (4.7 trillion gallons) of water a year, exceeding the estimate of 13.2 cubic kilometers by the Ministry of Water Resources, the researchers said.

Monsoon Forecast

More than a quarter of the land area in the three states is irrigated accounting for about 95 percent of the groundwater consumed, they said. Levels of subsurface water also appeared to be declining in western Uttar Pradesh. That state, along with Punjab and Haryana are India’s largest wheat-producing states.

This year’s monsoon may be the weakest in five years, the India Meteorological Department said this week. That’s exacerbating demand for watering crops and prompted some governments to divert electricity to farms to pump water, said Sunita Narain, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, who was not part of the study.

India’s government established a Central Ground Water Authority in 1986 to regulate pumping from aquifers. Groundwater hasn’t been developed evenly across India, and exploitation has led to a drop in water levels and seawater intrusion in some areas, the Ministry of Water Resources said on its Web site. Of 5,723 sites assessed, 839 are “over-exploited,” 226 are “critical” and 550 are “semi-critical.”

Waiting for Crisis

“I don’t think that the water issues are going to get the attention they deserve until we reach crisis mode,” Famiglietti said. “In that part of India, they are certainly reaching crisis mode.”

Pumping costs are being ratcheted up by the falling water table and the need to drill deeper wells, said Steven Gorelick, professor of earth sciences at California’s Stanford University.

“The problem of declining groundwater levels will become self-limiting at some point,” Gorelick said in an e-mail yesterday. “Use will curtail when it is simply too costly to pump the water to the surface from great depths, or when the quality of deeper and deeper groundwater is no longer suitable.”

Measuring from Space

Famiglietti and colleagues used hydrological modeling and data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or Grace, to quantify groundwater losses over more than six years. Groundwater depletion over the study period was equivalent to a net loss of 109 cubic kilometers of water, which is enough to fill India’s largest surface-water reservoir twice and Lake Mead almost three times, the authors said.

Grace’s twin satellites, launched in March 2002, detect subtle changes in the earth’s gravity field influenced by the motion of water and air. The satellites detect relative differences in gravitational pull since they occupy different positions in space, according to the mission’s Web site.

“What is remarkable about this study is that such small declines in groundwater levels can be detected using remote sensing based on Grace satellite data,” said Gorelick. “The approach is like trying to track new construction of urban skyscrapers by sequentially measuring the average elevation of an entire city.”

The technique will enable scientists to gauge water levels in aquifers that cross international borders, Famiglietti said.

“This is the first time that we have been able to go into the region with essentially no data on the ground and be able to come up with a pretty reasonable number for the rate of groundwater depletion,” he said. “We have the power now to be able to get that holistic synoptic of view of what’s going on over a large area.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Gale in Tokyo at j.gale@bloomberg.net.

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