Depleting Groundwater: Concern rises as CGWB 2016 report shows 64% decline in groundwater level

New Delhi, Nov 15: The north-western part of India is known to be the country’s granary with states including Punjab and Haryana registering a large share in agricultural outputs. But the depletion in groundwater levels have affected their farm income.

Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 2016 has a bigger news in their bag and came up with revised evaluation and guidelines for groundwater abstraction.

A nationwide trend shows that barely 3 per cent wells registered a rise in water level. According to report only 35 percent of wells showed any rise in water level,which declined in 64 percent of wells.

‘Green Revolution’ must be the key villain which highly depended on intensive use of water for irrigation and fertilizers. Even the policymakers gave away incentives for groundwater extraction. But little did anyone know that the whole course of action was unsustainable.

Behind the trend of falling water levels is India’s 251 cubic kilometer (cu km) annual groundwater extraction rate – equivalent to 26 times the water stored in the Bhakra Dam – making India the world’s biggest consumer of groundwater, according to a 2012 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report. With annual extraction rates of 112 cu km, China and the US tie at a distant second.

As reports over nine-tenths of groundwater is extracted for irrigation, according to the Ground Water Year Book for 2014-15 released by the CGWB, underscoring India’s dependence on groundwater for irrigation — it provides water for 60 per cent of the irrigated area. Over the last four decades — when India commissioned roughly half of its 50 biggest dams — around 84 per cent of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater.

Modes to tackle

A well-recharging project implemented by the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), a Jodhpur-based not-for-profit, enabled farmer Mahaveer Singh of Thumbo ka Golia village to switch from growing only castor oil to chillies, vegetables and, of late, Thai apple; his income grew by 40 per cent and could increase by 250 per cent if the berries yield the return Singh expects. “Now my well yields the same water flow even in the summer months,” Singh told IndiaSpend over the phone. “Now the water is sweet, earlier it was salty,” he added, referring to the improved quality of water.

Karnataka’s pilot scheme ‘Surya Raitha’ is helping farmers to make money by growing Solar Power as Remunerative Crop (SPARC). This revenue for farmers is free from risk factors including droughts, floods, pests and diseases.
The National Solar Mission’s goal, to install 100 gigawatt of solar capacity by 2022, can be met by 10 million farmers, each operating a 10-kilowatt solar pump.

Going solar for irrigation could have massive collateral benefits. It can revitalise stagnant agriculture in eastern India, which is flush with groundwater but short on energy to run pumps. Solar pumps here can expand winter- and summer-cropping and reduce farmers’ vulnerability to flood-losses during the kharif season.

Harvesting rainwater could recharge India’s wells en masse

Mazhapolima, a community-driven project to recharge wells in Thrissur, has made life easier for thousands, including the family of Madhavan Ramadas, 42, a banana and coconut farmer.

Ramadas’s family – like 75% of Thrissur’s population – depends on about 4.5 lakh open wells for their water needs. Till 2008, summers were a nightmare for the Ramadas family.

“Water shortages were the norm as our well used to run dry by April,” Ramadas told IndiaSpend over the phone.

“Seventy percent of wells in Thrissur would dry up during summer.”

In 2008, Ramadas signed up for Mazhapolima, which involved setting up a system to harvest and channel rainwater to recharge his family’s open well. As a result, in 2009, the family had sufficient water to last through April. A year later, the well water lasted until May, and by 2010, summer water shortages were a thing of the past.

Well-recharging has worked successfully, especially for coastal communities in the district of Thrissur, but hasn’t been as effective for those living in the mountains or in the plains, said Raphael.

Mazhapolima has increased the groundwater potential in a coastal area covering 7.6 sq km by 43.35 million litres, as well as improved the quality of water, he added.

Singh, the farmer in arid Rajasthan, has also benefited from water harvesting and well-recharging.

With the aid of non-governmental organisations and funds raised from the community, the JBF constructed a sand dam — a structure which slows down the flow of water thus increasing the amount that percolates underground — on the dry bed of a nala (stormwater drain), flowing 1.5 km away from Singh’s fields. The dam increased the water level of 103 wells, within a 4 km radius of the dam, according to Kanupriya Harish, executive director of the JBF.

The JBF plans to scale the sand dam water harvesting technology — an African invention — to six more districts in Rajasthan, with support from HSBC Bank, Excellent Development, a British not-for-profit, and local communities.

“In Thumbo ka Golia, the community contributed 18% of the Rs 17 lakh project cost,” said Harish. “Seeing the success, more communities are asking for help, and [are] ready to pay their share.”