27 May 2008

Water Sustainability

Extract from Report on Rain Fed areas by Planning Commission, New Delhi

“About 12 per cent of India suffers from the threat of desertification in the arid northwest and in a broad semi-arid zone from the Punjab in the northwest to Tamil Nadu in the south. There is an estimated 1.7 million km2 of arid land in India and Pakistan.”

With the huge increase of private borewells being sunk in Tiruvannamalai, the below extract from 'Report on Rain Fed areas by Planning Commission, New Delhi,' is very relevant and definitely something that needs to be considered by local Government.

“The most important aspect of groundwater is that it is a common property resource, the means of access to which is privately owned. We generally access groundwater through private wells and tubewells. But withdrawal of water from our source can adversely affect the water in our neighbour’s water source. Depending on the hydrogeology of the watershed, the question “who is my neighbour?” gets answered. If the watershed is in an alluvial tract, for example, my deep draw of water can affect a farmer even hundreds of metres away. Thus, how farmers decide to collectively manage the groundwater resources of the village could have a deep bearing on how long groundwater survives. It could actually determine the entire efficacy of the watershed programme. Indeed, one could go as far as to say that sustainable and equitable management of groundwater could be the key area of rural governance in the 21st century

The unique aspect of the situation is that water below my land is not "mine". Groundwater is a non-stationary, "fugitive" resource that merges into water under another's land in a fluid sort of way. By lowering the depth of his tubewell, my neighbour can squeeze all water out of my well. Without proper collective arrangements for groundwater use, there tends to be an infinite regress of competitive extraction, with farmers outbidding each other in depths of drilling. Competitive extraction of groundwater leads to disastrous outcomes, the worst of which are observable in coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, for example. Here, saline ingress of sea-water poses a virtually irreversible environmental hazard for farmers who have engaged in competitive pumping of groundwater.”

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