Connecting water and Community
By Nimit Jain and Shobana Srinivasan

Although Himalayas have an abundance of water locked in their glaciers, tiny villages nestled in the Kumaon range are facing a severe water crisis. Use of water at a rate beyond its ability to recharge, changes in rainfall patterns attributed to climate change and dependence on poorly managed rain-fed irrigation systems have been blamed for the problem. Few interventions have been effective at curbing this trend, but being left alone without any technical assistance or funds won’t help either. Experience in the villages of Meora, Satinagaon Talla and Satinagaon Malla is beginning to show that interventions that can combine the right engineering and management strategies with community participation are proving effective in an area where so many others have failed.

Meora, a village in Nainital district has had traditional naullahs (springs) supplying water to satisfy the household and agricultural needs. The Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (Chirag) is an NGO based in Simayal that is dedicated to improving the lives of people in the region through several initiatives. In 2008, Chirag collaborated with the Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) based in Pune, Maharashtra to come up with a programme to rejuvenate the failing naullahs.

One major strategy was to reverse the slopes of the steps already present on the hillside to arrest the run off of water. They channeled the water towards the natural fracture lines parallel to the mountain slopes. The fracture lines direct the water downwards into check dams that facilitate the recharge of groundwater and prevent soil erosion. Recharge wells (khal) and percolation pits were also dug towards the same aim.

This simple watershed management approach was then coupled with community participation to ensure that the programme would actually meet people’s needs while being sustainable. The grasses and oak trees planted along the hills serve a dual purpose of preventing erosion and providing fodder for lifestock. The construction of the check dams was carried through a system called shramdaam where community members offer donations in the form of their labour.

The villages of Satinagaon Talla and Satinagaon Malla in the Almora district of Uttarakhand had similarly faced with the challenge of depleted groundwater reserves. In 2009, the Pan-Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation (commonly referred to simply as ‘Grassroots’) analyzed the landscape to learn that the reforestation of the surrounding hills with carefully placed native tree species would help to create perennial streams of water, called dushad gadhera.

The work was carried out through cooperation with women’s self help groups who were similarly concerned about the depletion of their water resources. Their work included programme of tree planting and digging recharge pits in the catchment area of the local streams, called gadhera, which were on the verge of disappearing. Community support was developed further through the incorporation of infiltration wells that collects rainwater runoff through the soil and purifies it into potable drinking water for the use of the village. 

A new spirit can be found in these villages. Villagers’ long standing tension over access to water is finally lifting and it is through their own efforts that change is being realized. In the words of Hema Devi, a resident of Satinagaon Talla village, “Earlier, there was no water. But the past four years have been fine.”

Key Features
Fracture line: Linear cracks on the earth’s surface.
Runoff: The flow of water from rain or other sources.
Aquifer: A water bearing strata. When an aquifer is unconfined it is not under pressure.
Recharge well: A well through which surface water is introduced to an underground aquifer.
Infiltration well: The infiltration well is a simple tumbler-like pit around the naullah. The entire cavity is then lined with bricks and gravel which are porous in nature. The water is filtered through semi pervious layers and pumped out manually providing clean, potable water.

Percolation pits: Pits on the ground filled with porous material to
recharge rain water.

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