January 16, 2014

Water Sustainability – Less Intensive Crops

For the last two years this area has suffered meagre rains during the yearly monsoon. Now that farmers have planted their crops for the coming season it is sad to report that even now there are farmers who insist on planting at least one rice crop before the heat sets in at the end of February, beginning of March. As reported in Tehelka at this link here in an excellent article entitled “WATER SCARCITY TN WILL FACE CRISIS, WARN EXPERTS ,” 

“ . . . area of concern is the over-exploitation of groundwater in many places. According to experts, farmers took to cultivating water-intensive crops and indiscriminately exploited groundwater for irrigation, which has led to a steep fall in water table in many places. Many wells have run dry in Coimbatore and adjoining Districts.” 

Agriculture accounts for 85-90% of the total use of water in Tamil Nadu. By the judicious planting of less water intensive crops and gaining a 10% reduction in the agricultural sector, would considerably ease the impending water shortage situation. 

In respect of the above the below extract from 'Report on Rain Fed areas by the Planning Commission, New Delhi,' is very relevant and is 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.” 

The above is particularly relevant nowadays in Tiruvannamalai now that contractors have been given Local Government permission to undertake industrial level sand quarrying in several major water catchment areas in the city. As to the possible complications such injudicious radical excavations will make in the long term to the water supply of the town cannot be assessed at this time. Certainly it makes very good sense to halt all sand quarrying in this area while an independent water survey under judicial oversight could be undertaken. 

Anyhow on to happier subjects, the photographs accompanying this posting were taken a few days ago of ladies planting an onion crop for a local farmer. As it is the auspicious time of Pongal I am also posting recent photographs of the countryside surrounding the Hill. 

Arunachala Pongal 2014

Village Ladies planting onions

The Ladies

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