Paradigm shift in groundwater governance in Andhra Pradesh

From K. A. S. Mani, Andhra Pradesh Farmers Managed Groundwater Project (APFAMGS), Hyderabad
Posted 12 March 2008

I work with the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) Project that operates on the key premise that behavioral change is necessary for voluntary self regulation.

APFAMGS is a partnership with farmers for implementing Demand Side Groundwater Management. In seven drought prone districts of Andhra Pradesh, India, thousands of farmers in 638 habitations have taken the lead to reduce exploitation of groundwater. During the Visioning Workshop of the Water Community, March 2007 (Word Size: 240 KB), we discussed the need for a paradigm shift in groundwater governance based on community participation. This will ensure sustainability of groundwater as well food and livelihood security of rural communities. It was suggested that we collate information on examples of where this has happened to evolve a working model that could be taken up by interested parties in other areas of the country.

Groundwater in India is the lifeline for Indian agriculture and for meeting the rural drinking water needs. Over the years surface water based sources have become unreliable due to preferential transfer of surface water to urban cities. Likewise surface irrigation sources are fast declining and currently more than 65% of farmers have come to depend on the unseen subsurface water for all their drinking water, irrigation and cottage industry water needs. Thus, groundwater has emerged as the principle drinking water and irrigation source, which has reached to untouched and environmentally difficult terrains. Expansion of groundwater development will continue to play a lead role in meeting drinking water supply, health sanitation and food security needs. Evidence indicates that access to protected drinking water and irrigation needs generate many positive externalities in the overall household micro-economy. The reliability and sustainability of groundwater sources is emerging as a critical parameter in socio economic and irrigation development. Overdependence on groundwater is a grave risk, as its continued availability in required quantity and quality is closely linked to the management of the rainfall received, quantity of water harvested, recharged, quantity of fertilizer, pesticide uses and more critically the handling of the industrial and domestic waste water against polluting the aquifers.

Groundwater management is still considered the purview of the government, while all investments towards groundwater development have been privately funded. Governance continues to be driven by regulations rather than rational understanding of the ground realities. Groundwater acts passed by the different states have not taken off due to difficulties in field level implementation. This stalemate needs to be broken and viable alternatives need to be explored. Continued delay will directly affect rural drinking water, sanitation, health, and food production. With the issues of climate change knocking on our doorstep one cannot but paint a grim picture of the future of groundwater availability.

Number of alternative approaches on water governance need to be explored by international funding agencies and United Nations partners involved with rural drinking water, sanitation, health, food and nutrition. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)- funded APFAMGS Project is an enabling intervention for reinforcing the internal strength and coping mechanism of groundwater dependent communities through new knowledge and skills to collect data on groundwater, rainfall and water use for different crops to explore and find out stable solution to the issues of managing ground water depletion through self-regulation. The project integrates scientific technology with social transformation, women’s economic empowerment and institutional change. Over four years of involvement with the community has led to reduced groundwater pumping (without coercion) for agricultural use (principle water use) to impact the total groundwater draft in 19 of the 31 Hydrological Units spread over 7 districts in Andhra Pradesh. A 50% reduction in area under paddy from 10,915 acres to less than 5,000
acres has been witnessed. Adopted crop diversification and improved economic returns per unit of water pumped. Overall improvement in drinking water availability, reduced groundwater pollution, improved food and nutrition status and set into motion new groundwater governance that is acceptable while taking care of individual needs.

To this end, through this e-discussion we will attempt to identify the various options for ensuring groundwater sustainability and governance with community participation that can be built into drinking water, health, sanitation, food and nutrition programmes. Specifically, members may like to discuss the following:

  • What models are members aware of for community-managed groundwater resources? Are there case studies available that describe the approach, results and lessons learned?
  • What are your own experiences with these models? For example, can you describe problems they faced and how were they overcome? What suggestions would you give to someone interested in starting up a similar initiative?
  • Do you know of cases where groundwater laws have been adopted and adapted by communitis? Why did the community pick a particular law? What aspects were modified and used, and why? What were experiences with the process of adoption/adaptation?

Members are invited to study the APFAMGS field areas while exploring other alternatives. Refer: Using the discussion points raised, the model evolved from this action group will be shared with the Community members.

Please see attachment below for the responses.