On June 6, 2016 the total water available from the 91 reservoirs in India monitored by the Central Water Commission was down to 23.786 billion cubic meters or 15% of the total storage capacity . These reservoirs are sized to capture the Monsoon rains, but the Monsson rains failed completely last year. On Sunday after a delay of about 10 days as the southwest Monsoon has finally arrived in drought-hit Marathwada as well as 90% of Maharashtra.
The Indian government is still predicting a strong Monsoon season and that is expected to bring relief for the building water crisis especially to Maharashtra. However, longer term, things must change to overcome the significant water management challenges that is growing from the competition for diminishing groundwater supplies and limited surface water resources among farmers, industries and cities. The monsoon is vital to the water supply and prosperity of India's agricultural sector responsible for 16% of the country's gross domestic product, but providing the livelihood of 700 million people more than half of the population. However, water resource management and conservation is necessary for India to move into the future.
The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission from the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) has been collecting data for more than a decade. Two recent papers from a group of researchers assembled from the University of California- Irvine, National Taiwan University, and National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder Colorado and the Hydrological Sciences Branch at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have worked in partnership to apply 10 years of collected data to quantify groundwater use, resilience and stability.
The GRACE scientists found that the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed aquifer on earth and using up their groundwater faster than it is being replaced. The Maharashtra aquifer is not as overdrawn. Through most of history, surface water and rain have served as the principal freshwater supply used by mankind. However, the importance of groundwater has increased in recent decades as mankind’s demand for water has surpassed surface supplies and our ability to access groundwater has increased with technology. Fresh surface water and rains used in the old ways can no longer support the needs of mankind.
Accessing groundwater allowed populations to increase, and provide reliable water as surface water has become less reliable and predictable as weather patterns change and regions experience extended droughts. However, using groundwater without ensuring adequate recharge endangers the supply. Regions of the earth have come to rely more heavily on groundwater as the primary water supply source. Groundwater represents almost half of all drinking water worldwide, though a lesser proportion of irrigation water.
While insufficient rainfall is a reason for drought, it’s not the only reason. Even while having the largest number of dams in the country exclusively for irrigation, and being in central India where groundwater is not as overdrawn; Maharashtra had the worst drought in the region. Poor selection of crops, inefficient methods of irrigation and imbalanced use of ground and stored water worsened the situation. Water is not unlimited; yet Maharashtra does not manage their water resources and has created a situation called ‘man-made drought’.
Maharashtra has been facing this man-made drought since 2012. While villages like Hiware Bazar and Pulkoti in the heart of the drought-prone area, have managed to escape the drought, by changing their crops (away from sugar) and methods or irrigation and managing their use of groundwater. These communities utilized rainwater harvesting and water conservation. The villagers built dozens of earthen bunds, stone bunds, and permeable dams which served to capture rainfall and recharge groundwater. Maharashtra needs to follow their example.