Addressing the water crisis in Gujarat, India - A report by Columbia Water Center

The paper from Columbia Water Center is on the ground water crisis occurring in the Mehasana region, an area in the northern part of Gujarat.

 A large number of farmers and well operators were interviewed in the process. Data was also collected from the power utility that supplies power to this region. Along with this the climatic peculiarities of the region, farmers and well users perceptions on ground water management and use were also collected. The study concludes that the current rate of ground water exploitation is untenable both for the state and for the farmers of this region. The study is the first step in the Centre's plan to draw out a plan to design policy options on water use that are sustainable.

The paper is divided into the following chapters

  1. Introduction 
  2. Study region 
  3. Farmer and well operator field survey
  4. Summary of findings 
  5. Conclusions 

Introduction
It is because of the initiatives of the state government and the government at the centre that agriculture has got a big boost in the region. Subsidised reliable electricity for exploiting the area's ground water, and support for marketing of agricultural produce along with its proper pricing have helped agriculture here. However, the rate of ground water exploitation is far greater than its recharge. Thus not only is ground water depleting but the cost of extraction of ground water is also proportionately increasing. There are cascading effects in such a scenario -

  • the quantum of electricity needed increases 
  • but amount of water extracted remains same because of reducing water tables,
  • higher electricity consumption increases expenditure of the state 
  •  load on the grid increases and deprives other users of electricity.

In such a scenario the use of water saving technology will free up 2.7 billion units of electricity and save water too.

Study region
The study region spanned 180 Km and included the districts of Mehasana and Gandhinagar. The climate is semi-arid with high temperatures, rainfall occurs between June and September. Agriculture is the main consumer of water followed by domestic and industrial consumption. More than 80% of the land is under cultivation of which 65-75% is irrigated. More than half the population is occupied in agriculture or in agro-industries.

Farmer and well operator field survey and summary of findings
The survey was conducted by Taleem Research Foundation and covered 170 tube-wells that were used for irrigation. Questions on perceptions of ground water situation, energy use, frequency and amount of irrigation etc were asked of the farmers who in most cases were also the well operators.

Energy data from the local power utility was also studied.

It was found that water tables in the study area were falling for more than a decade in the study area.The decline has occurred even though there has been good rains in the area. There is incidence of salinity in 82% of the wells. There were other changes in the water which included fluoride contamination and increase in temperature. Maps indicate the extent of ground water depletion in these areas, while a graph indicates the rate of water table decline.

From the data it was calculated that 8,000 kilowatt hours per hectare of energy is required to pump water from the current depth to irrigate a rabi crop.

It is the subsidy in electricty that makes agriculture viable currently. From data gathered it has been calculated that the electric company supplies 10,000 kWh of electricity per hectare over the entire year, which costs approximately Rs 40,000 per hectare, there is a subsidy of almost Rs 30,000/-.

The study calculates a net economic loss of Rs 10,000/- per hectare.

Conclusions
The study finds that the current rate of exploitation is not making agriculture viable for the farmer nor is it sustainable in the long run. Farmers have shown interest in applying water saving technologies. However high costs dissuades them, thus there is need for extension outreach and research on such technologies.

Download the paper here:

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