Water to the power of four
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) workers desilting 'Chempetta kulam,' an abandoned pond at Chullimada near Kanjikode in drought-stricken Palakkad. | Photo Credit: K. K. Mustafah
By innovating in integrated water conservation methods, Telangana has developed a replicable model of groundwater recharge, which has improved its water table significantly
Gottigarpally, a village 60 km from the district headquarters of Kohir mandal, has been attracting regular visitors who have an interest in water. They come to learn about Four Waters, a technique to improve groundwater level and raise three crops a year.
Four Waters is the brainchild of the late T. Hanumantha Rao, an engineer who implemented it in this village between 2001 and 2004 under the Drought Prone Area Development Programme.
At its peak, the plan brought irrigation to as many as 1,000 hectares of parched land through groundwater, at a cost of ₹50 lakh.
Cement not used
What made the programme distinct was its use of earthen material, and no cement, to build 163 mini percolation tanks, 500 hectares of continuous contour trenches and staggered trenches around the hilly areas of the village.
In the Four Waters concept, the central focus is on using rain water, surface water and groundwater, and maintenance of soil moisture at a high level. It provides crops with protection from extreme heat and lack of irrigation.
The results are astonishing. Gottigarpally now has a healthy groundwater table and farmers are able to cultivate two or three crops a year. Today, the water is visible at a three-metre depth in one pit and at 25 feet in an open well.
It has attracted countrywide attention, and former vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, Marri Sashidhar Reddy, said after a visit that it was good enough to be replicated across Telangana.
Taking a cue from the village, Sriram Vedire, who hails from Warangal district and is Chairperson of the Rajasthan River Basin and Water Resource Planning Authority, decided to adopt it. Working with a team consisting of Rakesh Reddy (from Nizamabad), Janga Reddy (Nalgonda) and Mohd. Afsar (Medak), he implemented the Four Waters concept in all districts of Rajasthan.
“We have implemented it initially in 50,000 acres and it is now being extended to 16.5 lakh hectares at an estimated cost of ₹1,800 crore under the Mukhyamantri Jal Swawalamb Abhiyan. The average cost per acre comes to between ₹4,000 and ₹8,000, depending on the soil and other conditions,” said Mr. Afsar, who visited the village last year. With Four Waters, the Rajasthan
government even hopes that 12 of its desert districts will bloom, ultimately.
Kerala: Drought in the land of plenty
With the monsoon failing twice last year, Kerala is in the throes of unprecedented water stress, and its population and fragile environment are on the brink of a disaster. The government has responded by launching the Haritha Keralam Mission, aimed at conservation of water resources, integrated watershed management, improvement of agriculture and total sanitation.
The mission, which was launched last December, will use a decentralised approach to planning, with local bodies playing a pivotal role in ensuring people's participation.
The first phase involves the revival of ponds, streams and wells, followed by protection of rivers, lakes and other water bodies.
The mission group, chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has identified 9,453 out of a total 40,974 ponds and streams for revival in the initial phase. “This year, the demand for water during the summer months is estimated to be 30,000 million cubic metres while the supply is hardly 17,000 mcm. At the local level, the water stress is acute in many locations,” says Dr. R. Ajayakumar Varma, adviser to the mission.
Dr. Varma, a former scientist at the National Centre for Earth Science Studies, points to a host of factors that contributed to the crisis. “Spiralling demand, errant rains, reclamation of ponds and wetlands, unregulated river sand mining, soil erosion, overexploitation of groundwater, pollution of water bodies, deforestation, salinity intrusion and heavy siltation in reservoirs are possible reasons.”
Fortified by coir geotextiles
The Kerala government has put in place a plan of action to use coir geo-textiles to protect and conserve streams and ponds, particularly in the Kuttanad region of south Kerala, which has large water bodies.
Coir geo-textiles refer to loosely woven coir mats that can be used to strengthen the walls of rainwater harvesting pits and banks of ponds and streams. The government's plan is to use coir geo-textiles on a large scale as part of its green mission, titled 'Haritha Keralam' (Green Kerala).
Ponds have already been rejuvenated at several places by strengthening the banks with concrete walls. Replacing the concrete and rubble with geo-textiles would facilitate growth of grass on the banks, resulting in a natural strengthening process, which would be environment friendly, providing a long-lasting solution to the problem of soil erosion.
Under former Collector M.G. Ramamanickam, the Ernakulam district administration in Kerala has come up with an innovative programme to revive abandoned water bodies to tide over water crises experienced by the port city of Kochi.
As many as 55 ponds have been revived under the project titled ‘Ente kulam, Ernakulam’, which roughly translates to 'My pond, My district’.
The project, launched in December 2015, is being executed by 200-odd volunteers of ‘Anbodu Kochi’, a voluntary organisation originally formed to coordinate relief work in Kochi to help victims of the December 2015 floods in Chennai.
“We started off cleaning one pond a day and the high point was when we cleaned up 15 ponds a day,” said Bimal Vas, one of nine founding members of ‘Anbodu Kochi’.
Ponds revived are handed over to the local community. The condition of each revived pond is reviewed once in two months to ensure their upkeep. Ten best-kept ponds were identified and persons responsible for their upkeep were recently felicitated by the District Collector.
First published by The Hindu