The Artificial Recharge Movement in India

Artificial recharge, one of the oldest activities undertaken in India to conserve rainwater both above-ground and underground, is as old as the irrigated agriculture in the arid and semi-arid regions. In the olden days, the recharge movement initiated by the local communities was aided and supported by kings, chieftains, philanthropists and by those who valued water and practised con servation. There are numerous examples and stone inscriptions from as early as ad 600, citing that ancient kings and other benevolent persons considered as one of their bound duties the construction of ooranies (ponds) to collect rainwater and use it to recharge wells constructed within or outside ooranies to serve as drinking water source. Even today, thousands of such structures exist and are in use for multiple purposes in the southern coastal towns and villages of Tamil Nadu where groundwater is saline (DHAN Fondation, 2002).

Similarly, more than 500,000 tanks and ponds, big and small, are dotted all over the country, particularly in peninsular India. These tanks were constructed thousands of years ago for catering to the multiple uses of irrigated agriculture, livestock and human uses such as drinking, bathing and washing. The command area of these tanks has numerous shallow dug wells that are recharged with tank water and accessed to augment surface supplies. Many drinking water wells located within the tank bed and/or on the tank bund are artificially recharged from the tank into these wells to provide clean water supply throughout the year with natural filtering (DHAN Foundation, 2002).

In traditionally managed tank irrigation systems, when gravity-supplied water from the tank is insufficient for crop production, it is not uncommon that the village community decides to close all the tank sluices and allow the tank to act as a percolation unit to recharge the wells in the command area; the recharged water is then shared by the beneficiary farmers. This has been done to distribute the limited water to the crops without any line losses due to gravity flow. This practice is in use even today in many traditionally managed irrigation systems. However, with water supply to many tanks dwindling, converting irrigation tanks to purely percolation tanks for artificial recharge of wells in the command is increasing day by day. The trend has essentially become a movement by itself and even some state governments such as Karnataka are encouraging the practice through enactment of law enforcement (Sakthivadivel and Gomathinayagam, 2004).

Rooftop rainwater harvesting and the storage of harvested water in underground tanks is also a very common phenomenon in many Indian states experiencing acute shortage of drinking water supplies. Similarly, pumping induced recharge water from wells located near water storage structures like tanks, irrigation canals and river courses, and transporting it to a long distance through pipelines for irrigation is a common sight in many water-deficient basins. These activities can also be considered a social movement that originated spontaneously from local necessity. Further details on traditional water harvesting and recharge structures can be found in Dying Wisdom (Agrawal and Narain, 2001).

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