Thursday, July 11, 2019

Groundwater Must Be The Focus Of India National Water Policy

India's Water Management Crisis

A piercingly clear essay by Himanshu Thakkar on why India must realign its water resources priorities from big dams and river linking projects to protecting, managing, and regulating ground water.

Just take a look at the numbers:

"Most of the water that India uses today comes from over 30 million wells and tubewells. Irrigation is India’s biggest user of water and over two thirds of irrigated area gets water from groundwater. 85% of rural domestic supply, over 55% of Urban and Industrial water supply comes from groundwater. The graph of % of water in each sub sector coming from groundwater has been going up for at least four decades. In fact, some estimates show that over 90% of additional water India used in last four decades have come from groundwater. It sounds like an immitigable blessing. That’s not how blessings work, unfortunately.

Central Ground Water Board’s data shows that in about 70% of areas, groundwater is depleting and at many places it has exhausted or is on verge of exhaustion. The quality is deteriorating. Warnings have been available for decades now, but the government has done little to address the emerging crisis.

In fact, India’s water resources establishment, lead by the Big dam ideologues at Central Water Commission have ensured that the government do not even acknowledge that groundwater is India’s water lifeline"....


Some States have taken initiatives to manage ground water. Maharashtra recently passed the Maharashtra Ground Water Act which provides a framework for management and regulation of ground water. How much diligent enforcement of the rules actually takes place remains to be seen.

Additional Reading:

The Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act 2009 - Shashank Deshpande, Deputy Director GSDA.

A Decade Of The Maharashtra Ground Water Legislation: Analysis Of The Implementation Process - Sanjiv Phansalkar and Vivek Kher.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Papers: Indus Civilization- Resilience, Fragility And Rural Complexity

Diversity, variability, adaptation and ‘fragility’in the Indus Civilization- Cameron A. Petrie

We are inheritors of a rural civilisation’: rural complexity and the ceramic economy in the Indus Civilisation in northwest India - Danika Parikh and Cameron A. Petrie

These two recently published papers are worth reading.

The first one reviews settlement patterns, water availability, agricultural strategies and craft production in urban and rural Indus settlements. It draws inferences on the type of power structures and hierarchies that may have prevailed within cities and villages and between different regions. And there is the perennial question on the link between climate change, water stress and the decline of urban sphere of the Indus civilization. There were different response from the urban and rural spheres to environmental stress, with the more flexible and adaptable rural lifeways showing more resilience and sustainability.

"Petrie et al. (2017; Petrie 2017) have suggested that the weakening of the ISM around c. 2200–2100 bc meant that the climate in the subsequent period became ‘unpredictably unpredictable’. By this we meant that before and during the Indus urban phase, populations were familiar with ‘predictable unpredictable’ conditions and their farming strategies were tailored to make use of water supplied by combinations of rainfall, inundation, small-scale irrigation and/or lifted water (cf. Miller 2006). Populations in specific areas across the Indus zone might have been able to survive one, two, or even more years of drought, either through reliance on their own resources, or through support from other regions. However, when this range was exceeded, such as when populations were faced with protracted periods of drought, the local and medium-to-long range provisioning and support networks may not have been able to sustain the status quo. I have suggested that in such a situation, farmers may have had to engage in constant risk mitigation, thereby reducing opportunities to produce surpluses, and in such situations it is possible that living in large groups (i.e. urban centres) was not an option".

The Indus cultural sphere lasted a long time after its cities declined. In the graphic below the upper left and right panels show distribution of settlements during the urban phase with modern winter (left) and summer (right) rainfall contours overlain. The bottom panel shows the post urban settlement patterns. There are denser habitations nearer the Himalaya front in the post urban phase. This shift from Rajasthan, Cholistan and Haryana eastwards and closer to the Himalaya foothills followed more reliable monsoons in that region. Gujarat on the other hand wasn't depopulated as much suggesting regional differences in monsoon strength and varied water harvesting strategies. However, the urban center of Dholavira and nearby settlements were abandoned.

Source: Cameron Petrie

Even the decline of the cities was not a sudden event. Indus societies did not collapse due to any one catastrophic environmental change such as one big river changing course or a very rapid decline in monsoon. Urbanization was at a peak between 2600 B.C and 1900 B.C. But at Mohenjodaro for example, signs of abandonment and depopulation begin by 2200 B.C. On the other, Harappa continued to be occupied throughout the urban phase and well into the late Harappan Phase, although analysis of skeletons do suggest increasing physical stress.

The second paper by Danika Parikh and Cameron Petrie concentrates on bringing out the complexities and variation in rural lifeways and economies. Ceramic products from four Indus age villages in Haryana are analyzed and described and some interesting inferences drawn on urban rural (in)dependence and the socio-economic role of villages in the larger Indus sphere.

"The regional rural ceramic economy innorthwest India was clearly complex and shows a considerable degree of variation. Rural communities produced some ceramic forms similar to Classic Harappan forms, and others that were quite different, and they used some decorativemotifs that were common and others that we had previously not seen. This pattern of similar ceramic forms but different techniques and decoration is particularly interesting, given what we understand of how pottery production is learned. Pottery forming is often learned through ‘vertical transmission’, inter-generationally; shape and decorative motifs are more easily imitated and are often transmitted horizontally, or peer-to-peer (Knappett 2011, 106–107; see also Gosselain 2000). The use of different techniques to produce the same forms suggests that Classic Harappan and Haryana Harappan ceramicmaterial was not produced in the same workshops, and that these potters are unlikely to have been members of the same communities of practice".

The rural populations were not only engaged in agro-pastoralism. Villages had varied occupations such as functioning as workshops for specialized craft production and as factory sites making goods for larger towns and cities.

Open Access.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Groundwater Worries: Saving Pune's Hill Slopes


I wrote a short note on my Facebook page on Pune groundwater and its growing importance in response to a citizen's petition to save natural recharge areas that occur on several of Pune's hill slopes. There is a proposal for two roads (the petition mentions only one) to cut across these hills, which will result in the paving over of the recharge surface. In the picture below, the roads will be built at two levels across the slopes behind the green and yellow colored building.

 Forested Slopes of Law College Hill

Besides the threat to groundwater, there are other objections to the road, including its outdated route  and its preference for private vehicles over public transport.

Pune nature lovers and others too... do consider signing the petition and help save part of our precious remaining natural heritage.

Cross Posted from Facebook:

A couple of days ago it rained about 75 mm in central parts of Pune. If you consider a 1 area around your neighborhood, about 75 million litres of water came crashing down in a few hours. If just 2 percent of that infiltrated into the ground, about 1.5 million liters were added to our ground water resource through a 1 sq. km surface area.

Surprised that rock can hold this much water? Those who grew up swimming in the Tilak Tank of old won't be. It was fed by a natural spring. At any one time the pool held about 2.5 million liters of water. The Tilak Tank hole in the ground would have held much more, but excess water was being drained into a nullah. More recently, the Suvarnarekha building on Prabhat Road was demolished, and the builder excavated a hole for a basement. It soon filled up with ground water. It held about 5.5 million liters of water. As the builder started pumping out the water, more kept rushing in. Over a one and half year period up to 100 million liters of water was likely pumped out. All this water held under a few hundred square meter area!

Pune receives about 650 mm of rain annually. That means 260 billion liters of water falls yearly over a 400 area. How much of that is infiltrating into the ground.. 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent? No one knows for sure and the amount will be highly variable across a surface. But we do have an idea how much is being taken out. A recent estimate by ACWADAM, one of the leading experts on local hydrogeology, puts our annual extraction of groundwater to be 3-4 TMC, which amounts to 80-100 billion liters of water. This suggests that we are extracting more than the natural recharge, since ground water levels are beginning to dip at many places.

The Pune dam cluster collectively store 826 billion liters of water out of which 315 billion liters are allocated annually to Pune. Our increasing use of ground water at 80-100 billion liters annually, underscores the critical role ground water is beginning to play in our lives.

It is imperative that we redress the growing imbalance between extraction and natural recharge. We can do this by individual action of leaving ground uncovered around our homes, and also by protecting larger swaths of recharge areas where infiltration rates are particularly high. The Vetal - Hanuman Tekdi slopes have been identified by ACWADAM as an important natural recharge zone. They must be protected from being covered over by concrete by the proposed HCMTR and Balbharati roads.

Please sign this petition for saving Pune's tekdi slopes from being destroyed! Say no to the HCMTR and Balharati Roads.



A small addition to the above post. An earlier study by Raymond Duraiswamy and colleagues published in 2009 had identified the Hanuman (Law College) Hill slopes as potential recharge zones. The map below shows recharge potential of parts of Pune as identified using hydrogeologic criteria. The red rectangle (my addition) roughly outlines the hill slopes under threat of being paved over by roads. The study highlights an area inside the red rectangle (Table 20: Balbharati Building) as an ideal site for enhancing recharge and also points out old quarries in nearby places which could be repurposed to store runoff water for recharging the underlying aquifers. Unfortunately, some of these quarries are now being encroached by slums and also being used as dumping grounds for construction debris. 

Source: Raymond Duraiswamy, Vrishali Dumale and Usha Shetty 2009 - Geospatial mapping of potential recharge zones in parts of Pune city.

ACWADAM will be soon releasing a detailed study of the ground water situation of Pune along with maps of aquifers. I will post that information when it is made available.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Structural Geology And India's Societal Needs

This is a thoughtful essay by Manish Mamtani from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, on the need for Indian structural geologists to tailor their research towards the concerns of industry.

Usually, a call for more 'applied' research comes from the Industry side, and so it is refreshing to see an academic ask for a reevaluation of research priorities.

The application of structural geology for society are varied, ranging from better understanding the origin of economic deposits, to assessing geological structures of mountain slopes and their associated landslide risk, to evaluating rock properties for foundations of dams and bridges.

The author worries that recommendations for forging links between academic research and industry  in this subject may remain buried in seminar abstracts and reports unless there is a change in the way research is funded and career advancement evaluated.

"I am sure many of the above aspects that outline the importance of Structural Geology studies to industry/societal issues have already been listed several times in reports of seminars held in the past. Unfortunately, we do not see much progress on the implementation side. One of the ways forward could be setting up of a special program by a funding agency that specifically targets “Applied Aspects of Structural Geology”. This can attract Structural Geology projects, the outcome of which would be useful to society/industry. Indian funding agencies could also consider a special program where two way funding is provided to academicians – partly by industry and partly by the agency itself. For e.g., MoES/DST could act as the nodal agency to bring academicians and personnel from industries like ONGC or Hutti Gold Mines Ltd (HGML) on the same table and they jointly fund Structural Geology research directly related to respective industries. 

In such a collaborative environment, there will be a natural drive in the involved academic to provide solutions to the industry. In the long term, such modus operandi can have a domino effect on the way Structural Geology courses are set, designed and taught in Indian Universities/Institutes. This can also lead to producing students who are better prepared to serve industry and society once they obtain a Master’s degree in Geosciences. But, one has to bear in mind that in doing industry-oriented project work, the “poor” geoscientist will have to sacrifice (to some extent) addition of publications to the “CV”. This would imply delay in career progression, a risk many academicians would not consider worth taking. The onus thus lies on, not only the funding agencies, but also on persons who evaluate career progression of (geo)scientists. Due credit must be given to a geoscientist whose research provides solutions to industry/society even if the “CV” is short on number of publications".

Open Access.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Insufficient Assessement: Pancheshwar Dam Uttarakhand

Environmental implications of Pancheshwar dam in Uttarakhand (Central Himalaya), India.

A warning from earth scientists that sufficiently detailed studies of seismic risks and potential environmental consequences have not been undertaken.

Map from the linked paper shows the location of the Pancheshwar Dam and the future backwaters in red.


We have assessed the likely environmental consequences of the proposed Pancheshwar high dam in  Uttarakhand Himalaya (Indian Central Himalaya) in the light of current geologic and geomorphic   understanding. The study suggests that if executed in its current  format, the proposed  dam  raises  concern  about  safety  and  its sustainability due to seismicity, reservoir-induced  seismicity,  slope instability due to reservoir draw down effect, and unpredictable large volume sediment  mobilization from paraglacial zones. The study therefore, highlights the pressing need to re-assess the feasibility and its  geo-environmental implications through multidisciplinary studies.

During my recent travels in Kumaon I met locals who were also expressing fears over loss of livelihoods as large tracts of fertile land will be drowned. 

Open Access.