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Updated: January 4, 2011 11:59 IST

Framework for water management

R. Maria Saleth
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This book is based essentially on the field research conducted by the author in the Narmada river basin and in parts of western Punjab and eastern Uttar Pradesh. It also includes a macro analysis of water issues carried out at the national and international levels. The introductory chapter sets out the context and provides an overview of what follows in the rest of the chapters.

The second chapter discusses the prospective demand-supply equation during the period, 2025-50. Based on data at the macro and micro levels, Dinesh Kumar shows the fallacies of options such as rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge, especially in water-scarce arid regions (Chapter 3). From the perspective of a river basin, water harvesting in one place will affect availability elsewhere.

The effectiveness of artificial recharge depends critically on several factors such as recharge efficiency, aquifer's storage potential, and the dynamics of interaction between surface flow and groundwater.

A major factor often ignored in water planning relates to the quantity and productivity of ‘green water', which is the rainwater that gets used for supporting rain-fed agriculture and forest-based ecosystem. Using agro-economic data pertaining to the nine zones of the Narmada basin, the author establishes the relative productivity of ‘blue' water — water that is stored in dams and aquifers — and ‘green' water for different crops at two points in time (Chapter 4). Notably, the productivity of ‘green' water is higher than the productivity of ‘blue' water.

In the next chapter, he shows that, unlike ‘blue' water which is subject to severe inter-sectoral competition, ‘green' water is used up entirely by dryland agriculture and the natural ecosystem. Also, the use of ‘green' water is four times that of ‘blue' water — for instance, during 1999-2000, in the Madhya Pradesh portion of the Narmada basin, the use of ‘blue' water was 4.53 billion cubic meter (bcm) and that of ‘green' water 17.52 bcm.

Interdependence

In the sixth chapter, the author highlights the increasing interdependence between surface and sub-surface water and, in the process, attempts to counter what could be termed the hydro-schizophrenia of exalting one source of water against another.

An analysis of the relationship between rainfall-runoff and groundwater-stream flow levels over a period of time in the Narmada basin shows that groundwater depletion enhances rainfall infiltration, but reduces runoff yields. Similarly, aquifer depletion also brings down groundwater outflow, thereby reducing stream flows. How the economic concept of the differential incremental value of water can be used to justify water transfer from better-endowed to less-endowed regions is illustrated, in the next chapter, by citing the examples of western Punjab and eastern Uttar Pradesh. Discussing the key drivers of change in water productivity (Chapter 8), the author argues that, given the limited scope for the application of water-saving technologies, the major avenues for increasing water productivity and water-saving in agriculture are: improved irrigation reliability, water reallocation, and re-ordered crop patterns. The next chapter provides a macro analysis of the correlation between sustainable water use and economic growth on the basis of a whole range of data related to 147 countries. The results show that investment in water laws, water policies, and water organisations pays off in the long-run. The concluding chapter looks at the policy issues related to water management at the basin level. The book is a major contribution to literature and policy inasmuch as it provides, within the framework of river basins, a wealth of empirical knowledge concerning the hydrological, economic, and institutional issues involved in water management.

The author deserves appreciation for his boldness in exposing the limitations of some of the popular options, such as water harvesting and artificial recharge. From an academic perspective, it can be a good supplementary study material for courses in natural resources, environmental economics, and civil engineering.

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