Creating a repository for India’s water resources data

Remoteness of the observation sites poses a challenge in setting up the data collection instrument (Image: Pxfuel)
Remoteness of the observation sites poses a challenge in setting up the data collection instrument (Image: Pxfuel)

Water, a scarce natural resource fundamental to life, livelihood, food security and sustainable development is required in every sector i.e. domestic, agricultural, industrial and environmental. Its source is precipitation, the usual forms being rainfall, snowfall etc. These in turn build surface and groundwater resources in the form of rivers, lakes, ponds, glaciers, groundwater etc.

Access to reliable and consistent data on water – its availability, quality, quantity and variability is key to comprehensive management of water resource. Surface water data refers to river flow and discharge at a particular station, volume at the reservoir, and its quality, whereas groundwater data refers to the water available below ground in the aquifers and its quality.

India has vast geographical landforms like hills, plateaus, valleys, wetlands etc., hence, to properly manage the hydro-meteorological and agricultural domain, a vast variety of data on allied themes such as geology, geomorphology, land use, land cover, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, major & medium irrigation projects, wetlands, soil, surface water bodies, floods, droughts, wasteland, land degradation, coastal information, minor irrigation, waterlogging and soil salinity etc. is necessary.

Challenges in generating water data

  • India uses a decentralised and localised mechanism for data collection as water is a state subject. The data generating, executing and utilising agencies are at the state level.
  • Accessibility of the data collection points or remoteness of the observation sites poses a challenge in setting up the data collection instrument or to reach data collection point physically for manual surface water data collection. In case of groundwater, the water level can be either measured from open dug well but due to increase in population and its water demand, many of the dug wells have become dry. Hence, more and more drilling of observation boreholes is required.
  • Automated water data acquisition systems present a challenge as the sensors for all the water-related parameters are currently not available. Further, the instruments or sensors installed at data collection stations require regular maintenance and replacements especially during floods/cyclones etc.
  • Non-uniformity in measuring standards due to multiplicity of data collection agencies at the central and state level.
  • Maintenance of data in various formats (excel/csv/pdf etc.) and media (databases, paper reports etc.) and storage in a decentralized manner by various data generating agencies of states also present difficulties.

Present status of water data

To overcome these challenges, the Government of India initiated the project named “India WRIS” in the year 2008, jointly executed by Central Water Commission, Department of Water Resources, RD & GR, Ministry of Jal Shakti and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Space.

The project was conceived to provide comprehensive, authoritative and consistent data & information of India’s water resources along with allied natural resources in a standardised national GIS framework. It would be equipped with tools to search, access, visualise, understand and analyse the data for assessment, monitoring, planning, development and water resources management. India WRIS is web-based portal ( designed to enable the common man to visualise, analyse and download the water resources data.

To have a nation-wide repository on water resources data from all diverse sources and to provide single window access to all stakeholders, Government of India created the National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC) as a subordinate office under the Department of Water Resources, RD & GR, and Ministry of Jal Shakti. The India WRIS web portal has been revamped with enhanced features and is being managed by NWIC now.

Based on the frequency of data collection, the modules of India WRIS have been classified into 3 types - dynamic, semi-dynamic and static. The dynamic modules are the ones in which the data is updated on a daily/monthly basis, which includes rainfall, reservoir level, river level and discharge, groundwater level, surface and groundwater quality, evapotranspiration, soil moisture and minor irrigation tanks.

In semi-dynamic modules, the information is updated after a particular period of time, biennial or triennial depending on the data type and its availability. These modules are on - groundwater resources, snow-glacial lake, water resources project, minor irrigation census, inland navigation waterways, inter-basin transfer links, land use land cover, wasteland, wetlands, coastal information system and water tourism.

The static modules contain information resulting from particular project/studies and hence its frequency of updating is not certain. These include litholog, aquifer data, probable maximum precipitation atlas, reservoir-sedimentation studies, information on - surface water bodies, river basin system, socio-economic census, extreme events – flood inundation/drought prone area program/earthquake-rainfall-temperature, groundwater prospects, region-agro-climatic /agro-ecological, soil, land degradation and waterlogging & soil salinity.

The above-mentioned modules in web-portal is supported by GIS layers processed using state-of-art GIS and remote sensing techniques. There are more than 100 layers of pan-India data currently being used to visualise/display the data in spatial and attribute form.

NWIC collects data from almost all central agencies working in the field of hydro-meteorology such as Central Water Commission (CWC), Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), India Meteorological Department (IMD), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Soil and Land Use Survey of India (SLUSI), Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), Survey of India (SOI) etc. Under the National Hydrology Project, the data collection is being automated at the state level through telemetry based sensors, mobile apps & web-based data entry tools.

NWIC provides transparent & easy access to the water resources data & information through its website & also provides a facility for downloading of data by the general public.