Homes and gardens

The benefits of tank water harvesting

The rains in this part of the countryside have been above normal. Usually prone to drought, groundwater extraction has resulted in a falling water table plumbing depths of over 1,500 ft. Yet the old ‘tank’ system has proved to be a saviour. Mastered by the ancients but more importantly rehabilitated by the modern, this simple artefact of an earthen dam thrown across a valley harvesting rainwater is a powerful construct for water sustainability.

Here is a tank called Cholanagunte. Built perhaps in the 11th century, it was redone recently thanks to a programme called Jala Samvardhane, a community-based tank management system. The feeder channels to the tank were cleaned up, the overflow weir strengthened and repaired and the feeder channel distribution system in the command area made systematic. This was done some years ago yet the benefits of this work flow.

Thanks to this preparation, when the rains came, the tank has filled up. Now over the entire irrigation atchkut rice paddy has been planted. Every square metre of it is well watered. The overflow from the tank has fed another and in the chain of tanks here most are full and are feeding Palar river. It is a lovely sight to see the rice saplings being transplanted and rain sweeping over the land.

The monsoon is capricious. In one year there may be plenty, in another less so. It is a combination of the old practice of water conservation and the new practice of water efficient crops and irrigation systems that make possible drought-resistant societies. When there is less water in the tanks, ragi is grown. When there is more it is rice paddy.

While individual farm ponds too store water and provide it for the needs of farmers, they tend to make water a private resource. The tank on the other hand is a common pool resource. How to ensure that it does not suffer from the ‘tragedy of the commons ‘ with all using it up and none helping to maintain it has always been a challenge. By creating tank user groups, by placing funds and expertise with these tank user groups, by making sure that there is equitable sharing of the resource it becomes possible for the system to become robust and long lasting.

In the meanwhile, the wells have filled up, borewells once dry now have water and the land is busy with agricultural activity.

The tank water harvesting system is a project linking the sky and the earth. It is a much bigger project than the linking of rivers for at its heart it teaches the lesson of cooperation and living within ecological means of a place. Building strong equitable communities is to build water resilience. Understanding that would be water wisdom.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 1:43:36 AM |

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