A man-made lake designed at a strategic location at the Hyderabad Farming Collective.
India is a land where nature is worshipped and tradition is a testament to it. We have festivals dedicated to harvesting seasons, rich rivers that are more than sacred, tribes and communities living off and for the dense forests, and folk tales passed on under the shade of generational trees. These traditions not only remind us of our cultural values but also come with solutions for modern problems, only if we look close enough.
A Free Resource with Great Value
Water is essential for life. But it is also a free natural resource, and just like anything that comes for free, the value of water also seems to have faltered over the years. It is true that over 70% of the earth is covered with water, but only 3% of this water is fresh and merely 1% of it is drinkable, with the remaining being present in ice caps, glaciers and groundwater. Perhaps this will give us an idea about how scarce the most abundantly available natural resource actually is!
Our ancestors understood the value every drop of water held and devised systems to conserve and restore it as much as possible. These traditional water management systems may just be the solution to the modern water crisis. From the historical step wells to kunds, to talabs – these water management systems are a testament to timeless architecture, built to foster an environment of well-being.
Let us understand in what ways they can help us today.
- Rainwater Harvesting
Rainwater harvesting helps to conserve water resources, reduce dependence on groundwater, and provide a sustainable source of water for various purposes such as irrigation, drinking, and sanitation, especially in areas facing water scarcity and drought. Traditional water harvesting systems seen in Rajasthan like khadins, johads, talabs, and bandhs are designed to capture rainwater and store it for later use.
We have all studied the importance of rainwater harvesting since childhood, but implementing it in our own houses can be challenging due to the limited space available in cities and towns. With the increasing water scarcity in many parts of India, rainwater harvesting needs to be adopted at all levels – from a household level by filling up overhead tanks, to a city level by creating artificial lakes at suitable locations in and around the region of use.
- Groundwater Recharge
Groundwater is an important water source for many in the country, especially where water levels are high. Many traditional water harvesting systems are designed to recharge groundwater by allowing rainwater to percolate into the soil. However, in the concrete jungles we live in, most of the rainwater is run off (if not stored), due to the concrete and tar ground covers. And the results are already showing with the major cities of India out of water. So, it becomes all the more important to bring back the groundwater levels and keep recharging it to sustain in the long run.
Recharge wells, percolation tanks and check dams play a major role in groundwater restoration. Recharge wells (or bore wells) are nothing but long, deep shafts with water in it. Found in many rural areas today, it’s time they make a comeback to cities as well. Check dams built across smaller rivers/river streams can help slow down the water flow and allow water to permeate into the soil. Percolation tanks are surface water bodies made on highly permeable soils to allow water to get collected and eventually seep through. Groundwater recharge is a sustainable way of replenishing aquifers and can help address the problem of declining groundwater levels.
One of the 54 check dams built across 132 acres of the Hyderabad Farming Collective.
- Community-based Water Management
Traditional water management systems in India have always been community-based. A borewell shared by a street, a stepwell shared by a village and a river used by entire civilisations! The sense of accountability lay with the locals and the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep of the system – a collective effort. The principle is very simple – when a resource is to be used by all, it is to be respected and kept safe by all.
Collective activities have always been successful in bringing transformation. It is nothing different when it comes to water management. Several organisations have formed committees that are actively involved in saving and managing water, and when many hands clap together, the voice reverberates across. One such impactful project is Biome Environmental Trust’s Million Wells Project – with a community of experts and locals on a mission to revive 1 million wells in the city of Bengaluru.
Such approaches can be used to promote greater community involvement in modern water management systems and to build more sustainable, locally-led water management practices. This is what we also aim to do at our forest-friendly Beforest Collectives while integrating other water management principles.
A 100-year-old well at the Hyderabad Farming Collective; used and kept alive by the villagers of Bodakonda.
- Nature-based Solutions
Many traditional water management systems are based on natural features like rivers, streams, and wetlands. Effective water management starts with the efficient use of the natural element itself. With rivers thinning and lakes getting polluted day by day, protecting natural ecosystems that provide vital water resources becomes key. It comes with a culture of respect for water and the earth.
How do Traditional Water Management Systems Help us?
Applying traditional knowledge with modern technology can help us
- Mitigate droughts
- Cope with climate change
- Be prepared for extreme weather conditions
- Replenish the natural environment
- Bring economic stability to water-dependent occupations like farming
- Build a sense of community
- Inculcate values of people care, earth care and fair share
What Factors Determine the Adoption of a Water Management Strategy?
- Availability of Water Resources
The availability of water resources in a particular region is a crucial factor that determines the water management strategy to be adopted. Areas with abundant water resources may require different management strategies than those with limited water resources. Riverside civilisation may need to work on flood management while landlocked regions may need to build canals to channel water and store it through artificial ponds/lakes.
A man-made pond irrigating the veggie beds at the Food Production Zone of the Hyderabad Farming Collective.
- Water Demand
The water demand in a particular region is another important factor that influences the water management strategy. Areas with high water demand, such as urban areas or agricultural regions, may require different management strategies than areas with low water demand. Urban areas may require harnessing rainwater and recharge groundwater, while farmlands may need a combination of both as well as use systems such as drip irrigation systems to use water efficiently in a field.
The climate of a region is an important factor that determines the water management strategy. Areas with high rainfall may require different management strategies than those with low rainfall or those prone to droughts. For example, the dry and hilly terrain of the Hyderabad Farming Collective needs water management strategies which harness as much water as possible from every natural resource. But the Poomaale Collective which is located in the rich rainforests of the Western Ghats would need to channel excess rainwater in a sensitive manner.
Water flows if there is a slope. Therefore, the topography of a region, including factors such as elevation, soil type, and slope, can influence the water management strategy. Areas with steep slopes may require different management strategies than those with gentle slopes. Hilly areas like Hyderabad Farming Collective have little to no rivers flowing through them. Rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge are the most suitable water management methods. Building recharge wells, check dams, manmade ponds and lakes work best for these kinds of terrains.
Overall, the water management strategy adopted must take into account a range of factors, including the availability of water resources, water demand, climate, topography, socioeconomic factors, etc in order to ensure sustainable and equitable management of water resources for both people and the environment.
Here, traditional water management systems of India offer valuable insights into how we can address the modern water crisis. By reviving and adapting these systems, we can build more sustainable and resilient water management practices that meet the needs of both people and the environment.
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