Water Resource Management

Water Resource Management

  • In India the average annual precipitation is nearly 4000 cubic km (km3) and the average flow in the river systems is estimated to be 1869 km3.
  • Because of concentration of rains only in the 3 Monsoon months, the utilizable quantum of water is about 690 km3.
  • Quantum of ground water extracted annually is-about 432 km3.
  • Thus, on an average, 1122 km3 water is available for exploitation and is considered adequate to meet all the needs. However, the situation is complicated because this water is not uniformly available either spatially or temporally.
  • Six of the 20 major river basins in India suffer from water scarcity. Water has already become one of the most limiting resources in the country.
  • These shortages have exacerbated with rising demand for particularly irrigation. Contributing to the scenario is inefficient water management and use.
  • The efficiency of surface water irrigation is estimated as low as 40 percent and although overall groundwater exploitation is only about 50 percent, resource-threatening exploitation levels have been reached in several locations. Subsidies for canal irrigation and power have encouraged inefficient resource use.
  • Water quality issues compound the problem. Deep borewells and handpumps, expected to address quality problems associated with traditional sources such as open wells, have become problematic themselves. Arsenic, fluoride, sodium and nitrate contamination have been evidenced with groundwater extraction from deep aquifers.
  • Technologies for addressing these have been developed, but their applicability and cost in rural environments remain an issue.
  • Analyses of current problems point to inadequacies in the overall policy, legal and institutional framework. In India, the entire approach to water resources in the post-Independence period was geared towards resource exploitation through capital investments rather than equitable and sustainable water management.
  • It is within this questionable approach that many of today’s concerns are rooted. The deterioration of traditional water harvesting structures has been one major impact of this flawed approach.
  • The legal position, where water rights are aligned with land rights, offers little opportunity to correct the situation.
  • Landowners ‘mine’ water resources without any statutory control. Regulation of water has been a politically sensitive issue and a Model Groundwater Bill has been pending action for over a decade.
  • At another level, the legal framework has proved rather weak in addressing interstate water disputes.

Water Resources Management in Larger Aspects

  • India faces serious temporal and spatial water shortages that are worsened by rising demand, declining quality and poor water management and resource-use efficiency.
  • The present situation has been traced to a variety of reasons, of which the most crucial are:
  1. Traditional policy and institutional focus on resource utilisation rather than management, and
  2. Lack of regulation (including self-regulation) on inefficient water use.
  • Government agencies, often uncoordinated, unsystematic and trapped in resource utilisation modes, have been largely unsuccessful in addressing the situation.
  • The success of NGO and donor-driven watershed or water conservation interventions with community-centred processes offers some promise, but larger issues relating to sustainability and scale cast a shadow.
  • While water conservation initiatives appeared to gain centrestage during the latter half of the nineties, the role of millions of farmers who actually manage groundwater resources has been limited even in these initiatives due to low levels of resource literacy on causes, consequences or choices.
  • In this context, there emerges a case for building upon the momentum generated by watershed and water conservation interventions through locally developed and agreed mechanisms for sustainable and equitable water use.
  • Water management at the local level offers opportunities for community involvement in analysing, planning, negotiating and managing the resource.
  • This can correct the unsustainable and iniquitous use patterns arising from the earlier focus on resource utilisation and development.
  • Most villages suffering water shortages are found in the upper parts of river basins. In these areas, small water harvesting structures are considered the most appropriate and viable.
  • These can potentially offer benefits of
  1. water availability during the end of the monsoons to protect against crop failure;
  2. groundwater recharge for improved drinking water availability during summer;
  3. protective irrigation for rabi crops.
  • Such local management systems have existed in several parts of the country but have been rendered ineffective over time by the dominant ‘resource exploitation’ mode of working.
  • At the local level, their resurrection (though challenging), offers opportunity to demonstrate innovative approaches, engage with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and other related community institutions with fewer institutional complexities and resource demands

Key Issues /Conclusion

On the overall situation of water resources, the key issues can be summarised as:

  • The existing legal, policy and administrative frameworks do not operate in coherence with resource boundaries (basin, watershed) and IWRM would require changes in these to enable a resource-oriented approach.
  • Due to temporal variations in water resource availability, groundwater regulation assumes critical significance. Existing legal and administrative mechanisms for such regulation are inadequate.
  • The subsidisation of irrigation and electricity supply has impacted water resources adversely for such subsidisation offers no economic incentive for users to ensure end-use efficiency.
  • Watershed development programmes (during the eighties and nineties) have attempted to enable participatory planning and management of local water and land resources. However, experiences from these programs suggest that water conservation and management programmes need to pay more attention to:
  • Developing, negotiating and agreeing on equitable, sustainable water management and use practices at the village level.
  • Increase primary and secondary stakeholder capacities for water resource management and appreciate issues impacting participation, transparency, equity and sustainability levels.
  • Enhance inclusive village level planning processes based on systematic assessment of resource availability and demand.

Programmes and Projects For Water Resource Management

  • With domestic and external assistance, there are a number of important ongoing National programmes and projects supporting the implementation of recommendations of Agenda 21 in India.
  • Generally, the projects in the water resources sector are being implemented under categories of major, medium, and minor (surface water and also ground water) projects and schemes, flood control projects, and Command Area Development Programmes. Some of these initiatives include:
  1. guidelines for sustainable water resources development and management have been formulated;
  2. a hydrology project with World Bank assistance is under implementation for the systematic collection and analysis of data;
  3. Master Plans for river basins to optimize use and inter-basin transfers are under preparation;
  4. flood and drought management, and environmental and social impact assessments are an integral part of project formulation, implementation, and monitoring in various States and are continuous processes of all plans;
  5. documents on non-structural aspects of flood management in India have been prepared (a draft bill on the flood plan zone has been prepared and a National Flood Atlas is under preparation);
  6. human resource development is being implemented through water and land management institutes, and other organizations and agencies;
  7. Water Resources Day is being observed every year as part of a mass awareness programme;
  8. research and development programmes on different subjects in the water resources sector are being undertaken through Indian National Committees by universities, research institutes, and other organizations;
  9. pilot projects on recycling and reuse of waste water and artificial recharge of ground water are under implementation;
  10. guidelines on the conjunctive use of surface water and ground waters have been prepared and are under implementation;
  11. Command Area Development Programmes have been implemented since 1974;
  12. Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) through Water Users’ Associations and women’s participation is being actively encouraged and implemented;
  13. a network of hydrological stations, hydrometric observation stations, and ground water measurement stations collect data, including water quality data, through organizations under the Central and State Governments on a continuous basis (water resource data are collected and transmitted through the network of the National Informatics Centre); and
  14. standardization is being carried out continuously through the Bureau of Indian Standards which participates in the International Standards Organization
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