Reviving traditional harvesting systems can unlock 6,000 crore litres of water

A kalyani filled with weeds in the vicinity of Devanahalli Fort near Bengaluru.   | Photo Credit: File Photo

In the arid Budnahatti village just beyond Challakere, the four borewells dug to provide villagers with drinking water have started drying up because of consecutive droughts.

“There is barely one inch of water yield from here, not enough for everyone in the village. We have requisitioned authorities to drill three more borewells, but we may have to go more than 1,000 feet deep to get some water,” says Eswarappa, the Panchayat Development Officer. The long-term hope is on a series of pipelines being built to bring water from Tungabhadra till Pavagada and the villages on the way.

But a simpler solution may exist in the village backyard. The two gokattes and kattes (tanks sized between 2 and 5 hectares), which are currently in disuse and filled to the brim with weeds, can store as much as 32.25 lakh litres of water after a season’s rainfall. Even by back-of-the-envelope calculations, these two traditional water systems can provide 521 households with nearly 100 litres of drinking water daily for over two months.

Traditional systems

However, in an era of borewells and large engineering projects involving water diversions and hundreds of kilometres of pipelines, traditional water systems that were once the backbone of village economies have been left to dry out.

Nearly three-quarters of the over 13,000 traditional water systems have either dried up or been encroached upon, according to a survey by the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST). For more than two years, a team of over 60 field assistants physically analysed the conditions of kalyanis (temple tanks), kuntes (tanks of less than 2 hectare size), and gokattes and kattes across 30 districts.

“We found that 10% to 15% were encroached upon, while at least another 10% stored sewage water from nearby houses, industries and even discharge from RO water purifying plants. Lack of maintenance was the single biggest reason for the disuse of kalyanis. Over 90% of dried tanks were found to be choked with weeds and silt,” said U.T. Vijay, project investigator and scientist at KSCST.

The project is expected to be completed by June and all traditional water systems will be Geographic Information System-tagged and uploaded. As of now, 25 district administrations have been given detailed catalogues of these systems and ways to revive them. In Budnahatti village, for instance, the cost of reviving kattes is just ₹3.5 lakh, according to the report for Chitradurga district.

For the drought-prone Malur taluk in Kolar, the cost of ensuring storage of 36.6 crore litres of water is just ₹2.35 crore — or, half of annual expenditure of the MLA’s Local Area Development Fund. For the parched Bengaluru Rural district, 126.5 crore litres of rainwater can be stored in 351 traditional rainwater harvesting structures at a cost of ₹12.58 crore.

For the entire State, the estimated cost to unlock over 6,000 crore litres, or 2.11 tmcft, of water is ₹300 crore. “It doesn’t take much effort or time to revive these water harvesting systems. What is also key is to provide for their maintenance. Each village has barely one or two of these systems, and local panchayats and local groups should be encouraged to remove silt and weeds periodically,” Mr. Vijay said.

The reports also highlight the ecological aspects of these systems: providing space for plantation of trees and shrubs for birds, the need to strengthen tank bunds, and distributing fishlings that provide income and ensure purity of small waterbodies.

Jalamrutha initiative

A government scheme has readily taken up the KSCST’s reports on traditional water harvesting structures.

Earlier this year, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department announced the launch of ‘Jalamrutha’, which, among other projects, will actively take up rejuvenation of traditional waterbodies on the basis of the KSCST reports.

“We were very happy to get these detailed reports and have already requested all CEOs of districts to include the recommendations in their MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme) action plans. The scheme has a budget of ₹5,000 crore and will cover the ₹300 crore needed for rejuvenation of these waterbodies,” said L.K. Atheeq, Principal Secretary, RDPR.

Considering the work involves just two or three structures in every gram panchayat, he expects it to be completed within this financial year, or in time for the next monsoon.

The KSCST reports highlight the need for supervision and monitoring to ensure that the structures do not fill up with silt and weeds again. “Under Jalamrutha, we are looking at tank development through local monitoring committees. The concept is to drill the idea of water conservation into village governance. The rules have been finalised for the committee and they will be entrusted with maintaining these waterbodies and tanks,” Mr. Atheeq said.

The village backbone

Urban migration, a loss of cultural roots, and over-emphasis on borewells as the panacea to drinking water problems has seen kalyanis and traditional water harvesting structures being sidelined to the point of disappearance, according to Suresh Moona, a historian.

“These structures were just not a source of water, but also have socio-religious significance, whether it be annual rituals or ‘teppostava’ at kalyanis. But as urbanisation spread, so did migration. Eventually, these festivals lost their importance. With it, kalyanis disappeared.”

U.T. Vijay, principal investigator with the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology, said these systems have seen drastic neglect over the past 15 to 20 years. “Borewells became the main sources of water. These structures eventually got neglected,” he said.

Among the recommen-dations is to declare the over 3,518 kalyanis in the State as local monuments, which might ensure they get attention for preservation. “These are structures of historical importance and the policy should recognise it. Their protection must be immediate,” said Mr. Moona.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 4:47:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/reviving-traditional-water-harvesting-systems-can-unlock-6000-crore-litres-of-water/article27699648.ece

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