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Sociohydrogeolgy and its application in India

In order to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) ground water management for protecting ground water quality and quantity has assumed a key role, writes Shrikant Daji Limaye*.

Socio-Hydrogeology (SHG) is a new branch of Geosciences, which promotes taking hydrogeology or the groundwater science to the society, especially to farmers, as the farmers are the greatest users of ground water in India and in many other “low-income, high-population” countries. SHG stresses the need to educate the civil society regarding the principles of hydrogeology in simple language so as to ensure society’s participation and cooperation in conservation and protection of ground water. SHG also expects that the research projects and the research funds available to Universities and Government Institutes should be oriented towards solving the practical problems faced by the rural society.

Introduction - Socio-Hydrogeology (SHG)

jkgGround water pumpage in India in the year 2015 was around 251.00 cubic kilometers, most of which was used for irrigation by around 118 Million Indian farmers. Application of Socio-Hydrogeology (SHG) in India aims at taking ground water science to these farmers in a language which is easy for them to understand and motivate them to achieve more crop production with less water, avoid over-exploitation of the aquifers, augment recharge to ground water and control sea water ingress in coastal aquifers. SHG is a new subject on which very few references are available over the internet.

Applying SHG at Farm Level

In order to achieve SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) related to long-term availability of ground water for irrigation and for domestic use, the farmers need to be informed about various factors contributing to sustainability of ground water supply. Information for applying SHG at farm level includes:

  • Importance of watershed management through soil and water conservation structures.
  • Importance of maintaining forest cover of appropriate species of local grasses, bushes and trees over the watersheds.
  • How to get ‘more Crop per Drop’ of ground water by using improved irrigation methods.
  • Importance of pumpage control in over-exploited aquifers especially in the coastal aquifers.
  • Promoting recharge augmentation during rainy season by putting decanted runoff water into dug wells and bore wells.
  • Constructing ‘Percolation Tanks’ on small first and second order streams for recharge augmentation after the rainy season.
  • Importance of desilting village tanks, farm ponds and percolation tanks, after every three years of rainy season.

In order to follow the principles of SHG, the hydrogeologists from NGOs, Universities and Government Departments, while in rural areas for their research projects, should interact with village community and discuss the above topics in simple language.

gAnother way for hydrogeologists to promote SHG is to write books on ground water in simple, local language and also write newspaper articles on local ground water problems and suggest solutions. The Author and his father (who was one of the pioneering Hydrogeologists in India) wrote a book in Marathi language of western India. The translation of the Book’s title would be “Ground Water Science Made Easy for Every One”. (Limaye & Limaye 2012) The Book (Price equivalent to 01.75 US $) is in the 4th edition now, indicating that the society appreciates such work.

The above book highlights the importance of watershed protection and management. Watershed is the meeting point or the interface between Climatology and Hydrology-Hydrogeology. In view of the climate change and the increasing number of erratic high intensity rainstorms, this interface must be made like a shock-absorbing, resilient cushion.  This cushion is created through watershed protection with forestation and with ‘soil and water conservation’ structures. These structures include small bunds on streams, contour bunds for farms, contour trenches on hill slopes and percolation tanks on first and second order streams. It is important to complete such works with funding from Government schemes, with technical guidance from Government Departments and NGOs, and with active participation of local villagers.

During this active participation the villagers learn how these water conservation structures improve recharge to ground water and reduce runoff. After two to three rainy seasons they experience that the streams draining the village watersheds have become perennial. The wells which used to dry-up in summer now support more irrigation and earn better income to the farmers. In SHG the farmers, under guidance from a local NGO or Government Department, start taking care of the water conservation structures so as to obtain sustainable benefits from them.

Another method of promoting SHG is during Water Resources Conferences, by inviting farmers to a special session of the Conference in which the hydrogeologists have face-to-face interaction with farmers.

SHG and Industries

jgh‘Social welfare departments’ of some of the rural Industries in India are actively promoting SHG by cooperating with neighboring farmers and sharing knowledge about ground water. One of the coastal cement factories in India used a very farmer-friendly approach in ground water utilization. The farmers in the villages surrounding the limestone mining area were worried that for the construction and operation of the factory, the factory would pump a lot of ground water from its limestone mines located at higher level than the villages. Such pumping by the factory would cause sea-water intrusion in irrigation wells of the farmers located at lower levels closer to the sea. After meetings and discussions with local farmers, the factory authorities declared that they would not pump any ground water from mining area. The factory then entered into an agreement with the farmers that the farmers should supply water to the factory from their wells rather than using it for irrigation and the factory would pay them in cash on daily basis, which would be much more than what they would get from the irrigated crops. The   farmers were happy. They supplied all the water needed for factory erection and operation from the wells.

After the factory started working in full capacity, it used hot gases in the chimney for sea water desalination for industrial use. The farmers then went back to using ground water for irrigation. The factory used to hold regular meetings with the farmers to discuss and implement watershed development and rain water harvesting. As an ideal example of SHG the factory told the farmers that it would promote ground water recharge by using the lowest benches of mine pits as ground water recharge ponds during the Monsoon rainy season. This increased the irrigated area from the wells of the farmers and also checked the intrusion of saline water in the aquifer. In a symbiotic relationship the increased agricultural produce of vegetables, fruits, milk, food-grains etc. had a ready market at the Factory’s staff quarters and workers colonies. 

Conclusion

SHG is empowering of the rural community by Hydrogeologists by giving them information on ground water resources in the area and by motivating them to achieve a balance between ground water pumpage and recharge. It also ensures their active participation in watershed management, forestation and recharge augmentation. Here, the SHG comes very close to the principles of Geoethics which include socio-friendly and eco-friendly development of Geo-resources. (Limaye S.D 2014).

References:

Limaye D.G. and Limaye S. D (2012) “Sarvansathi Sulabh Bhujal Shastra” (Ground water science made easy for everyone). Written in Marathi, the local language of about 120 million people of Maharashtra state in the western part of India.  

Limaye S.D (2014) “Geoethical approach to industrial development of Georesources and groundwater use: The Indian experience.” In “Geoethics: the Role and Responsibility of Geoscientists”. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 419. Editors Peppoloni, S. & Di Capua, G.

Author

Dr Shrikant Daji Limaye is Director, Ground Water Institute (NGO), Pune, India E: limaye@vsnl.com