Evaluating water use reduction strategies in Marathwada

Tracking the outcome of select water conservation structures with the community in Aurangabad
18 Jul 2022
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Farmers are assured of regular irrigation water, hence they have started cultivating ginger (Image: Sehgal Foundation)
Farmers are assured of regular irrigation water, hence they have started cultivating ginger (Image: Sehgal Foundation)

Marathwada, comprising eight districts in Maharashtra, often makes the headlines due to recurring drought. Irregular rains and shifts to cash crops have made the water situation precarious in the region. “The solution lies in tapping the rains wherever it falls,” is most talked about but is not easy to implement due to a lack of financial resources and poor convergence between community, gram panchayat, and government departments.

In the selected villages of the Phulambri and Sillod taluka, Aurangabad district, rainwater has been tapped through water conservation structures in ten locations by the community, gram panchayat, and Sehgal Foundation. The outcome tracking of the rainwater conservation structures with the community shows increased water levels in wells, availability of more water for agriculture, increases in crop yields, and more regular availability of drinking water.

The Phulambri taluka has an average annual rainfall of 640 mm and witnessed an annual decrease of groundwater level by more than 0.2m/year in both project talukas as per CGWB. Also, the aquifer management plan by CGWB indicates that in both the tehsils an additional gross storage capacity of 230 million litres each is required to check the declining trend.

The threat to groundwater sustainability by any increase in the groundwater development stage (as per CGWB) from 83.24 percent in Phulambri, and 67.57 percent in Sillod to more than 90 percent will need to be offset through the construction of more check dams and enhanced groundwater recharge. The villages where ten check dams were constructed in 2019–21 have the lowest groundwater levels, i.e., 200 ft below ground level, as per the CGWB, Aquifer Maps and Ground Water Management Plan for Aurangabad district by CGWB (2019).

Nearly 50 percent of the villages in Aurangabad district received only 56 percent of average rainfall in 2018. The average annual rainfall from 2013-17 was 640 mm as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Recurring droughts have highlighted the urgent need for water conservation and for increasing water availability using different water augmenting techniques. Sehgal Foundation’s proposal for the construction of check dams had instant community and gram panchayat support.

Site selection with the village development committee

While selecting sites, a participatory approach was adopted. The process started with the formation of village development committees (VDCs) comprised of influential persons of the village, members of gram panchayat, women leaders, and those from deprived sections, with the objective of orienting selected community leaders to lead the process of development in the village.

Feasible sites proposed by the VDCs were finalized on the basis of technical inputs on local geology, water harvesting potential, and priority area maps for groundwater recharge prepared by the state Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) of Maharashtra.

The VDCs also helped to overcome and deal with various concerns related to dam safety, submergence of adjoining fields, obstruction to their field roads, and socio-political issues raised by adjoining beneficiary farmers and site owners. It was not always a smooth ride. On many occasions, families, in spite of knowing the benefits, protested the civil construction that led to changes in two check dam sites.

Selected sites were near agricultural fields with a high density of irrigation wells so that benefits could be immediately visible. Depending on the sites, structure sizes varied from 8.5 to 16 meters in length and 2.5 to 3 meters in height. All check dams were constructed in RCC to overcome safety issues of the structure due to sudden surges of water, challenges posed by black soil, and the non-availability of good quality stones required for stone masonry.

Check dams in the area had to be constructed in a short period, i.e., April to June when fields are vacant, to transport construction material and machines to the site, otherwise it would have been difficult due to standing crops and wet soil.

Focus group discussions with the community (Image: Sehgal Foundation)

Tracking outcomes with the community

After the construction of the check dams, outcomes were tracked with the help of the community and engineers. The tools used for outcome tracking were transect walks to the sites, wells, and agriculture fields; focus group discussions with farmers and families in the villages, sentinel images (remote sensing data), and the Google Earth Engine platform for estimating crop acreage.

Table: Increase in rabi crop coverage measured with sentinel images and Google Earth images

Name of village

Cropping area 2019, ha

Cropping area 2020, ha

Cropping area 2021, ha

Cropping area 2022, ha

Times increased over the pre-construction period




















The data in the table was gathered from farmers in the focus group discussions, indicating a substantial increase in area under rabi crop due to enhanced water availability as compared to the preconstruction period. The rise in Hatti village was considerably more due to a large rainfed area (>90% reported in the 2011 District Census Handbook) brought under irrigation.

The groundwater level also showed a significant increase up to 33 feet in the dug wells in the Wawna and Nidona villages from 2020 to 2022. The average rise in water level was in the range of 12–10 feet in the dug wells located 200 to 500 meters from the check dams.

Ashok Shelke, a farmer of Wawna shares that water in his well has increased from 4-5 feet before the construction of the check dam to 25-30 feet after the construction of the check dam, hence he has enough water to irrigate his crops. Prakash Janjal of Hatti village and Mahadev Rautry of Nidona village have also seen several feet increase in water level in their wells after the construction of check dams. Farmers recognized that the construction of sixteen artificial recharge wells also contributed to faster groundwater replenishment.

Focus group discussions and interviews with thirty-nine farmers show that 97 percent of farmers accept that groundwater levels and cropping areas under irrigation have increased in the last two years. Also, the average income from agriculture has increased by 30–40 percent in this time span.

In the three villages, some farmers have shifted from cotton and wheat to ginger as it fetches a good price in the market. It also shows that farmers are assured of regular irrigation water, hence they have started cultivating ginger.

When asked about any changes or improvements in drinking water availability, 90 percent of farmers mentioned that their drinking water problem is completely resolved as water is regularly available in wells. Earlier, the wells used to dry up in April–May every year.

Check dam in Wawna village (Image: Sehgal Foundation)

Demand side management of water through village development committee

The community has testified that the water availability (irrigation and drinking) has increased due to the construction of check dams in the villages. Aurangabad received good rains in 2020–2021, which has also affected crop yield positively. But good rainfall may not result in the replenishment of water in the wells as the drains in the area are steep, and water flows through them quite fast.

Check dams, by slowing down the flow of water, have resulted in the replenishment of the wells. The average recuperation rate (time taken to reach water level to its original position) of the well has improved from 23 to 12 hours after the construction of check dams in Nidona village and 5 to 3 hours in Wawna village due to the construction of check dams in the villages. The faster recuperation rate in Nidona may be due to the location of sites in higher reaches of hills and geological formations.

Realizing the benefits of check dams, villagers have been keen to install water-saving devices in agriculture through the state government scheme, Nanaji Deshmukh Krishi Sanjeevani Prakalp (POCRA), which provides drip, sprinkler, and other irrigation facilities at 80 percent government subsidies. VDC members have been made aware of the scheme in the training programs run by Sehgal Foundation.

Due to the efforts of VDCs and gram panchayat in adopting the scheme, nearly 70 percent of cotton-growing areas in project villages are under drip irrigation, thereby saving considerable water on irrigation in the village. However, farmers shifting to ginger due to better availability of water is a cause of concern that still needs to be discussed with farmers.

Farmers have shifted to cotton in the villages from less water-consuming traditional crops two decades back, and its reversal seems to be a difficult proposition in the context of unpredictable income from agriculture due to weather issues. Overall, villagers understand the importance of conserving water using water harvesting structures and saving water in usage through appropriate water-saving devices in agriculture.

Way forward

The process followed in site selection with the community, and tracking outcomes with them make the construction of water harvesting structures inclusive and helps the community to own the structures. Closely watching the benefits which accrue to them, they want to maintain the structures with the help of VDCs and the gram panchayat.

The question is how to replicate the process and build structures appropriate to local conditions. Neither the panchayat nor the community has the financial resources to build the structures. Shortages of local black stones prevent them from making structures from local materials. The central or state government schemes should bring in policy to support the construction of two water harvesting structures per year in a gram panchayat, which will give a fillip to water harvesting in rural Marathawada.



Vikas Jha, Principal Lead, Local Participation and Sustainability, Sehgal Foundation has a PG Diploma in policy studies (SOAS, University of London). He has worked on policy analysis in development projects, governance and advocacy, capacity building, community mobilization and social accountability for twenty years. 

Vishnu Khedkar is Program Lead, Water Management, Sehgal Foundation. He has a B Tech degree in Agricultural Engineering, (PDKV Akola, MS), Master of Engineering in Agricultural Engineering (specialization in Farm Machinery Power); PG Diploma in Organic Agriculture Management from MPUAT, Rajasthan. He specializes in natural resource management and in the capacity-building of farmer organisations.

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