Water Options

World Water Day 2021: Ten Positive Water Stories from India

The annual World Water Day (WWD) event has been taking place since 1993 on March 22. The theme for 2021 WWD is Valuing Water. The limited fresh water sources and associated eco-system are increasingly being exploited and threatened on the planet.

While big, centralized projects have been failing in every respect including meeting the growing demand apart from causing bigger ecological crisis, there are small but significant and successful efforts by communities and individuals making a difference by restoring, conserving, efficiently utilizing the available water sources thus valuing the water in true sense. This compilation presents the ten such remarkable stories from India to celebrate the WWD2021.

Top Ten Positive Water Stories: Tried and Tested Traditions

Assam Dong a centuries-old traditional method to tap river waters  Dongs are channels that originate at rivers and form a community-managed water distribution system. This practice mainly in the border areas help people to cope with the water crisis.

“The practice of constructing dongs started from 1950. We make the Chawalkare Hastinapur Dong. The process is simple as we construct crude stone dams along the Pagladia River in Assam, flowing along the Indo-Bhutan border. A triangular structure with wooden pole called Trikathi is erected in the river. Then boulders collected from the mountain river is put inside the Trikathi. Many such Trikathis are arranged in a series across the river with stones. This forms a crude dam which helps to channelise the river water into big canal which leads the clear river water into the village. These canals are dug manually,” explained Prithivi Villas Bhattarai, Secretary Chawki Bandh Dong Committee.

A dong is being constructed by villagers on a river along India-Bhutan border. (Image: News18)

Water flowing through the earthen canal is then distributed into respective villages through a chain of sub-canals, which are called the Shakhas and Prashakhas. There is a fixed time for the release of water into these sub-canals, which normally is done twice a day. One dong caters to the need of approximately 30 villages. “The main canal is approximately 20 kms long as the river is quite far from the village area. It is mandatory that one male member of every household should participate in construction of the dong. We go to the river and stay there for five to six days till the dong is constructed,” said Bhattarai.

The dongs are constructed every year as water gushing down the mountain river during the rainy season washes them off. The water brought into the villages through dongs is being used for drinking and irrigation purpose. “We use the dong water to irrigate our Areca fields,” he added.

According the Dong Committee, participation in construction of the dong is compulsory and if someone fails to do so then he has to pay a fine of Rs 250 for each day. Similarly, there are relaxation for household which do not have male members or have people with any disability and elderly members. “The cases related to theft of water from the Prashakahs are handled strictly at the committee courts. Supply of water is stopped for a certain period of time as a penalty for the offence. Matters are resolved in the committee,” said Bhattarai, adding that “The MLA and minister also need to participate in dong making process and if they cannot then they should send their representatives.”

There are 14 dongs so far which act as an efficient water supply and irrigation mechanism. It helps in improving the quality of life of at least 70,000 families in Baksa, Nalbari and Kamrup districts of Assam. The dongs have served a long history of cooperation between the people of Bhutan and Assam over the maintenance of dongs and an informal early warning system on floods. Villagers, NGOs and local administration from both sides of the border are proud of this long-standing cooperation. https://www.news18.com/news/india/what-is-dong-know-about-centuries-old-traditional-method-that-brings-river-water-into-villages-of-assam-3057092.html (8 Nov 2020) 

Kerala Farmers revive ‘kattas’ check dams A forgotten practice, kattas have found renewed utility due to drought and water scarcity. Yethadukka village in Kumbadaje of Kasaragod district played a significant role in reviving this tradition in early 2000. There are more than 20 kattas here, and among them, seven kattas have been constructed every year over the 50 years by farmers in the last week of Dec or first week of Jan. Two streams in Yethadukka witnessed this water management system.

“We usually remove these kattas in May and reconstruct them next Dec/ Jan. Each dam costs around one lakh rupees to build, which is split between 2-3 farmers. Each katta can irrigate more than 25 acres,” says Chandrashekhar Yethadukka, who was at the forefront of reviving the katta culture in Yethadukka.

A villager constructing Katta check dam. Image TNM

Shree Padre, a renowned journalist and environmentalist, has also been pushing for the kattas revolution in Yethadukka. “It’s not like anybody can construct kattas, it requires skill. So now, farmers have brought in many innovations into the traditional structures,” he says. A small katta would require 100-man days to build. The biggest katta in Yethadukka was built in Berakadavu. It was built in 300-man days, and stored up to 12 crore litres water.

“Some people question why they should construct a katta every year when concrete check dams using cement can be built permanently. But when we look at Yethadukka, most of those concrete check dams have been poorly maintained and haven’t been useful over the years,” Shree Padre observes. He adds kattas are more environment-friendly.

“These temporary check dams play a major role in recharging water in open wells & borewells. In 2019, we had a severe drought here in Padre hamlet of Yethadukka.  That is when we conducted a katta festival in our village, many kattas were built then,” Shree Padre recounts. Following the footsteps of Yethadukka, under Kasaragod Development Package – a project for the development of the dist – officials had initiated Thadayana Utsavam (check dam festival) in the dist. Under it, 2,000 temporary and semi-permanent check dams were built in the district.

EP Rajmohan, special officer of Kasaragod Development Package, says that maintaining the existing check dams and constructing new temporary and semi-permanent ones is a great solution for Kasaragod’s groundwater depletion. “There are 12 rivers and more than 650 streams in the district. We already have around 1,000 structures including check dams and regulators on them. All of them have to be used and maintained properly to fight drought,” he says. He adds that as in Yethadukka, in other parts of the district too people who live near the streams should start constructing temporary check dams.

Though many farmers in the district are for these environment-friendly structures, the state govt has not given kattas a priority. “The govt spent a lot of money to construct dams, cement check dams & regulators. Compared to those costs, kattas cost only a fraction, & that amount could be given to farmers every year to construct these,” argues Chandrasekhar.

Ganesha Naik, a farmer from Pallathadukka of Kasaragod, says that if the govt had offered a little help, many more farmers would make kattas. “We have been constructing kattas for several years. But small-scale farmers cannot afford to. Moreover, everyone doesn’t contribute monetarily as they have borewells in their compound. So, it becomes costly to bear the expense alone. If the govt provides some financial help, many others will step in,” he says. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/how-kerala-farmers-are-reviving-age-old-practice-kattas-check-dams-141432  (13 Jan. 2021)

‘Katta’ idea: How an arid village checked water for irrigation Here is another detailed and informative report on Kattas check dam tradition being practiced in Yethadka village of Kasaragod which has bas been catering to potable, irrigation water needs and helping the groundwater recharge processes also. It also mentions Katta built by villagers using local materials are yielding better results than the ones built by minor irrigation department.

In this otherwise dry farm-village of Yethadka – on the edge of Karnataka – ‘kattas’ are a lifesaver. “If we don’t build kattas we will be out of water by Vishu (mid-April),” says Prakash Y H (63), who has a PhD in Botany, referring to Kerala’s New Year. He was a researcher in the Centre for Ecological Science at Kumta in Uttara Kannada district but returned home in 1991 to become a full-time farmer.

Workers consider Katta a sacred structure and do not wear footwear while building it. They offer toddy and prayers to the local deity after completion for the strength of the structure. Image EPS

There are 21 check dams in a span of 20 km on the Shiriya river snaking through Yethadka. Five of them were built by the government. The remaining 16 are ‘kattas’ built by farmers, says Udayshankara C (57). He and 11 other farmers have built the largest katta on the Shiriya river at Berkadav. It is 40m wide and 4m high and stores up to 12 crore litres of water, enough to irrigate the fields till May, he said.

The katta at Padyadka is 35m wide and 4m high and stores up to 10 crore litres of water. The smaller ones – with fewer beneficiaries – store up to 5 crore litres of water. Each katta irrigates around 25 acres of land. “This year we will have water till the next monsoon because we got rain in December too,” says Udayshankara.

Yethadka produces arecanut, coconut, cocoa, pepper, rice, and nutmeg. All these crops are irrigated by drawing water from the kattas. “If there is no katta, there is not Yethadka,” says rural journalist Shree Padre, who promotes sustainable farming.

When it comes to check dams, Yethadka is unique, says E P Rajmohan, special officer for Kasaragod Development Package. “Nowhere will you see so many manually made check dams in such close proximities,” he says. “And they are making and funding the structures on their own,” he says.

Farmers in Yethadka say they have been making kattas for the past 70 years. The distance between two kattas — or check dams — ranges from 300m to 1km.  “If we don’t make these kattas, the water will end up in the sea and we will not have water during the peak summer,” says Udayashankara.

The building of these kattas begins in November when the flow of the water in the Shiriya begins to slow down.  The first of the kattas comes up at Kundingila, on one of the tributaries of Shiriya, and the last one comes up at Madda sometime in January. “The work at Kudingila starts in the first week of November and at Berkadav in the last week of November,” says Udayashankara. This year, the work started late because of the December rain.

Till recently, workers would use granite rocks and pack clay soil against them to make katta, says Dr Prakash. “It was labour intensive,” he says. Now, workers stack up sandbags against the granite wall and protect the sandbags with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) sheets. “It saves us some labour,” he says. Around 10 to 12 men work for two weeks to build a katta.  Dr Prakash’s katta at Neripady, which stores up to 8 crore litres of water, has seven beneficiaries.

The workers do not wear footwear while constructing the kattas. “They consider katta as a sacred structure,” says Dr Prakash. Once completed, the workers offer toddy to the deity at the sacred grove and the farmer-beneficiaries offer prayers at their temple for the strength of the katta.

As the monsoon approaches, the farmers remove the sandbags and the rocks for the free flow of the water. They keep the sandbags on the banks, wrap them with the HDPE sheet, and then cover it with coconut thatch. “This way we can reuse the sandbags for several years. I’m using the sandbags for the fourth year,” says Dr Prakash.

The water table around the katta sees a substantial rise, says N K Aravind Kumar (60), a retired assistant provident fund officer. The government has two drinking water projects for which water is siphoned from the kattas built by the farmers at Kottelu and Nerapady, says Udayshankar. There are around 400 beneficiaries for the drinking water projects. “Every year, they will ask us if we are building kattas because if we don’t build the check dam, they will not have drinking water during the peak summers,” he says.

Apart from them, the borewells and the wells along the river – up to 1km away – have water only if there is water in the katta. Rajmohan, special officer for Kasaragod Development Package, agrees. https://www.newindianexpress.com/good-news/2021/mar/19/katta-idea-how-an-arid-kerala-village-checked-water-for-irrigation-2278685.html  (19 March 2021)

Bihar Ahar pynes: Traditional flood harvesting systems  Ahars and Pynes, the traditional irrigation systems were first developed during the times of the Magadh dynasty nearly 5000 years ago and continue to be particularly popular in Gaya district of South Bihar. The system is highly sophisticated and well managed and is considered to be one of the most reliable sources of irrigation by cultivators in Bihar.

Ahar Pyne system in Gaya, South Bihar (Image courtesy: Hindi Water Portal)

The Ahar pyne system, not only helps in transferring river water to nearby agricultural fields to irrigate kharif (mostly paddy), rabi (wheat or gram in winter) season when water is available, but also sustains the water table in the area. For example, the Ahar, known as Surajkund, in Nalanda district, has five wells to recharge the groundwater.

Simply put, it is a diversion-cum-storage system wherein Ahars include man made earthen storage structures that have small embankments on three sides and store harvested river water while Pynes are diversion channels or carriers of the harvested water that is drawn from the river from a temporary head to be stored into the Ahars. In a suitable terrain, the main Pyne often connects with other Pynes and Ahars to form a network of channels drawing and storing river water.

The system is mostly used for paddy cultivation in Bihar where rainfall is scanty, farm lands are sloping and undulating and the soil is clayey or sandy with little water retention capacity. The system has attained its highest level of development and social acceptance amongst cultivators in Gaya district.

Ahars also have waste-weir to discharge excess water, which finds further use in the form of a new Pyne. The excess water, if necessary can be released in a small stream as well. https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/ahar-pynes-traditional-flood-harvesting-systems-south-bihar  (18 Nov. 2020)

Uttarakhand Women revive traditional water sources Village women have taken the lead in giving a new lease of life to aquifers and mountain springs in Almora. Maya Verma, a resident of Chanoli village in Uttarakhand’s Almora district, is a water champion who has helped revive naulas and dharas, traditional Himalayan water sources, in 15 villages.

Since October 2017, because of the efforts of Verma and her fellow village women, the revived naulas now have water throughout the year. Earlier, they would go dry in the summer. While naulas are found in the mid-Himalayan elevations, dharas mostly occur in the upper Himalayas, just below the snow line.

Women at a ‘chal khal’ (trench to collect rainwater) in Uttarakhand. Image: Maya Verma/Zengar

The rejuvenation of Himalayan springs like naulas and dharas has turned around the fortunes of women who used to spend hours fetching water for households.

Considered architectural marvels with intricate designs carved on stone, naulas or depression aquifers, resemble little houses with roofs, with a short flight of steps to enable village women to reach the water source housed below. Naulas are found in every village. Their opening is narrow to prevent cattle from making the water dirty.

On the other hand, dharas have water flowing out of them perennially, like a fountain. “A dhara comes out of an opening in the mountains and can be seasonal too. Sometimes, tanks are constructed at dharas to collect water,” said Sheeba Sen, the founder of social organisation Alaap based in Nainital which is engaged in afforestation and regeneration of Himalayan ecosystems.

“Things have changed for the better after community sensitization on the revival of these traditional mountain water sources,” said Bina Joshi from Baigania village. “Now, women in my village spend just 10-15 minutes every day fetching water. Earlier, we would spend hours in getting water,” Joshi said.

The condition of the naulas and dharas had worsened over the years due to community neglect and mismanagement. Revival was not easy either. There was a long process involved, starting from selecting the villages in Almora that are facing water scarcity to surveying the condition of the water sources, which needed immediate attention. https://www.zenger.news/2020/11/06/women-revive-traditional-water-sources-in-uttarakhand  (06 Nov. 2020)

Similarly the women in the Dubroli village of Lamgar block in Almora have brought an end to their water woes by reviving traditional water sources with their own efforts and a bit of help. In 2019, they started a rejuvenation project in Dubroli. Instead of using a conventional watershed approach, where water recharge pits, ponds and bunds were made without a focus, Chirag adopted a springshed hydro-geological approach.

This approach is cost-effective as a small area of land is taken for recharge and rejuvenation, Badrish Singh Mehra, executive director of Chirag, said. Chirag formed a village committee led by women. Under this committee, the rejuvenation of the springs started.

Women from the village made recharge pits, checked dams, bunds and planted trees in the recharge zone of the spring. Each household contributed Rs 25 per month for the rejuvenation of the springs. Chirag contributed the rest of the amount which covered 80 per cent of the total expenditure.

The women of Dubroli are not trained hydrologists or geologists. But they were relentless when it came to conserving water. With the help of experts and through the community, they found a solution to their hardships. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/video/climate-change/women-power-uttarakhand-village-women-revive-dry-springs-end-water-woes-75153  (21 Jan. 2021)

Here is one more video report on successful spring revival work by Kulghadh village women in Uttarakhand. https://scroll.in/video/976027/eco-india-meet-the-barefoot-hydro-geologists-bringing-dying-himalayan-springs-back-to-life  (18 Oct. 2020)

Rajasthan Young water experts quench thirst of parched communities Bhujal Jankaar is a Hindi phrase that describes someone who knows a lot about groundwater —invaluable knowledge in a place with unreliable rainfall. Several communities in the northwest Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat are already home to some of these young water experts, trained up by the MARVI project, a cooperation between the University of Maharana in Rajasthan and the University of Sydney.

Small teams from the university pass on the necessary scientific knowledge to Bhujal Jankaars, who combine it with their own working expertise. Many of the village residents didn’t go to school but now, as qualified Bhujal Jankaars, they’re training others in water management. The Bhujal Jankaars monitor precipitation, measure groundwater levels in local wells and pass the information on to scientists who give advice in return, including on which crops are best to plant when water is sparse.

– Farmers taking part in the project haven’t experienced any crop failures since it started back in 2012. The scientists say they want to expand the program to other parts of India. A film by Manish Mehta and Tabea Mergenthaler. https://www.dw.com/en/indias-young-water-experts-quench-thirst-of-parched-communities/a-55949569  (21 Dec. 2020)

Manju Soni, the sole female Bhujal Jaankar in Dharta watershed, is optimistic about women’s participation in the groundwater management project if the training is customised accordingly. Photo by Sahana Ghosh/Mongabay.

One more report on this states that a group of trained farmer-researchers, ‘Bhujal Jaankars’ in two Rajasthan and Gujarat watersheds monitor groundwater levels under a village-level project for groundwater sustainability. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/06/bridging-the-gender-gap-through-groundwater-monitoring-in-a-rajasthan-village/  (29 June 2020)

Madhya Pradesh Doha model of groundwater recharge saved the livelihoods of farmers District Tikamgarh, by virtue of being located in Bundelkhand has very undulating topography, erratic rainfall, and unpromising agriculture. With erratic rainfall, the agriculture lands located in the vicinity of the small streams are left with a limited source of water for irrigation. These shallow streams, running dry without any scope for recharge take its toll on the rabi crop.

Image RRA Network

To address the issue, SRIJAN, made an effort to construct small pond like structures called *“Doha”* along the stream. This allows the storing water during monsoons, leading to creating additional water potential.

So far 23 such structures have been constructed covering the 3 villages and stream length of 4 kms, benefiting more than 150 families. The intervention will provide the farmer with a source for irrigation. The district administration has appreciated the effort and promised their support.   https://rranetwork.wordpress.com/2020/06/26/srijan-initiatives-on-doha-model-convergence-collaboration-and-cross-learning/  (26 June 2020)

Jharkhand Innovative check dams conserving water The bori bandhs are a very simple concept. The contractors while providing cement often leave gunny bags and the same bags were reused after filling them with sand or soil and used to make embankments. They are usually made on small rivulets and other water bodies and are usually 30 feet wide wherein the gunny bags filled with sand and soil are put atop one another and adjacent to halt the flow of the water. Along with soil or sand, grass also manages to tighten the hold of the dam. They last longer and need little repair work over the years.

Sharma reportedly managed to help the villagers help themselves using the sense of community. Borrowing from their own concept of Madait, which involved locals coming together to share a meal together after a positive outcome, he made the villagers come together to celebrate the success of the embankment building. https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/innovative-check-dams-are-conserving-water-yielding-greener-results-for-over-8000-jharkhand-farmers-3306014.html  (18 Jan. 2021)

From paddy, wheat, mustard to sweet corn, watermelon and various other vegetables and fruits began to flourish in their fields with the help of bori bandhs (low cost check dams). Image: EPS

The bori bandh check dam model had fetched an award of excellence from the Union Jal Shakti Ministry in the participatory water management category at the National Water Innovation Summit 2020 held on a virtual platform in Delhi. With bori bandhs, farmers can cultivate mustard and wheat in rabi season and grow vegetables in large tracts as against the earlier practice when agriculture land used to remain fallow during the entire rabi season forcing farmers to migrate to nearby cities in search of livelihood. https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2021/jan/03/check-dams-yielding-green-resultsin-jharkhand-2244613.html  (03 Jan. 2021)

The farmers built a cheque dam on Jojiya river that flows right through the middle of the village.  https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/farmers-in-jharkhand-village-build-dam-533241.html  (31 Jan. 2021)

Villagers build 700 check dams From strengthening Gram Sabha to shunning alcoholism, IFS officer motivates villagers to transform their lives through ‘shramdaan’, which helped them build 700 check-dams. 110 households in Ara and Keram villages under Ormanjhi Block, located about 45 km from Jharkhand capital Ranchi. From being economically and socially backward three years ago. To being mentioned in Mann ki Baat by PM. Thanks to Siddharth Tripathi, IFS, posted as Commissioner (MGNREGA).

Ara and Keram villagers did wonders through ‘Loose Boulder Structure’ (LBS), an indigenous method to conserve water. Boulders were arranged in a pattern to harness the flow of water from the mountains, allowing it to pass through the boulders towards the agricultural fields. “This required ‘shramdaan’ of 180 villagers’ non-stop for 75 days during which 700 LBS check-dams worth Rs 1.75 crore were built,” said Gram Pradhan of Keram village Rameshwar Bedia. This resulted in stopping soil erosion, and also facilitated recharging the water- table, he said. https://www.newindianexpress.com/good-news/2020/jul/19/agent-of-change-motivated-by-ifs-officer-jharkhand-villagers-build-700-check-dams-2171696.html   (19 July 2020)

Here is more information on LBS built in different states of India. https://thewotrblog.wordpress.com/2020/06/16/importance-of-loose-boulder-structures-in-watershed-development/ (16 June 2020)

Maharashtra Nashik villagers bag national award for water conservation For the last 27 years, some 17,000 farmers from Nashik have been meticulously planning post-monsoon irrigation, ensuring there is no theft. The apex body of these farmers, whose members are drawn from 41 smaller units dependent on the Waghad irrigation project in Dindori taluka here, has bagged the second prize of the Union government-instituted national water award, 2019, in the “best water users’ association” category.

Farmers working water conservation work under Waghad Project. Image: ToI

Waghad Project Level Water Users’ Association has been managing equitable water distribution for irrigation. It ensures distribution of measured water to every farmer, collecting water dues and water distribution through the canal network. The office-bearers of the association are elected as well as selected from across all the 41 units. Politicians do not have any role in this system. It has a turnover of Rs 30-35 lakh per year by way of water cess and management charges.

“Every farmer clears his dues genuinely,” said Rajesh Gowardhane, senior officer from Palkhed irrigation division that manages the Waghad project. The project is designed to irrigate agriculture farms for eight months. However, considering the usage of water in the monsoon, the farmers get an estimate of the water storage and, in October, plan for water release from the dam. The Waghad project constructed on river Kolwam, a tributary of river Kadwa, irrigates more than 140% of its planned target of 6,750 ha. The farmers, who could earlier take up only kharif crops, today cultivate cash crops like grapes. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/nashik-villagers-bag-national-award-for-water-conservation/articleshow/79315275.cms  (20 Nov. 2020)

Andhra Pradesh Kadapa’s water harvesting efforts paying off The Kadapa district bagged the prestigious No.1 slot in the south zone under the ‘2nd National Water Awards’ announced by the Jal Shakti Ministry for the year 2019. The district received deficit rainfall during most the last seven years, which had a cascading effect on the cropping acreage in the ensuing Kharif season. As a result, the farmers had to dug more borewells to safeguard their standing crops. While 5000 to 8000 new borewells sprouted every year, around 25% of the older ones turned dry. Ground water level dipped from 9.15 metres to 19.33 metres from Oct 2001 to Nov 2019. Similarly, the water table witnessed a steady fall in the seven of the last eleven years viz., 2009-10 to 2019-20.

A view of the Challagirigalla check dam of Ganugapenta project in Kadapa district. Image source: The Hindu

To tide over the situation, the district administration roped in geologists and water conservationists to build water storage structures and got tank beds desilted to ensure better percolation. “In all, 289 check dams, 912 water storage tanks and 17583 farm ponds were built and 108.90 lakh cubic metre of silt removed during 2018-19. These apart, drip and sprinkler irrigation were promoted in a big way”, says the Collector Ch. Hari Kiran. The district ensured recharge of a 3.57 TMC of water through the various structures this year. 31994 acres was brought under cultivation, thanks to water recharge in 12797 bore wells.

About 1,21,857 works were geo-tagged, which included 52890 rain water harvesting structures, 23765 under renovation of traditional resources, 10823 on recharge structures, 28410 under watershed development and 5969 under intensive afforestation. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/from-barren-to-swampy-kadapa-shows-the-way-in-water-conservation/article33083806.ece  (12 Nov. 2020)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

4 thoughts on “World Water Day 2021: Ten Positive Water Stories from India

  1. Wonderful success stories from all over India.
    Actually it’s a myth that people living in an area exploit the natural resources mainly water for their living. Since they are aware of the local conditions, they know better, how to use it sustainably.
    It’s always outside businesses who exploit natural resources for making money and in most cases, results are already out in the open. Eg. Dam construction, mining, deforestation and making tourism friendly activities.
    When we visit village areas of mountains, we always find that all women are occupied with some constructive actions. Be it cattle rearing, water conservation and even ploughing fields for agriculture.
    Apt to say, when we educate a girl, we educate a whole generation.


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