Environment

India’s Water Woes, in Five Charts

On April 11, a goods train left for Latur from Miraj in western Maharashtra, carrying 2.7 million litres of water for the parched city. Another load is expected to reach Latur on April 15. The drastic measure was initiated following a declaration of drought in the agrarian Marathwada region of the state, home to over 18 million. The Manjara dam, which feeds Latur, has been dry since February – a condition that’s not unique to itself. Three other major reservoirs in the region are also dry though they shouldn’t be for this time of the year: Yeldari, Girna and Jayakwadi.

The reservoir data comes from the Central Water Commission, under the Ministry of Water Resources, which publishes a bulletin listing the water-levels in 91 reservoirs around the country every Thursday. According to the latest such bulletin, from April 13, 2016, the reservoirs are cumulatively 23% full and that amounts of 35.839 billion cubic metres of water. However, CWC’s comparison against historic data shows that in this period in 2015, the reservoirs held 1.5-times as much while the average stored in the same period in the last decade was 1.3-times as much. As the breakdown below shows, none of the reservoirs in the north and the west have good news, joined by most of their counterparts in the south. And apart from the four dry in Marathwada, the Nagarjuna Sagar in Andhra/Telengana is also empty.

water-levels-1

The problem received the most attention when the Bombay High Court asked the national and regional cricket administrative bodies why they wanted to water three of their cricket pitches, in Mumbai and Nagpur, with 6 million litres of water when the rest of the state was suffering. Even so, that Marathwada region will be stressed has been anticipated for a while. According to data from the Central Groundwater Board, the region has had better groundwater levels (more than 80,000 hectare-metres) but also a higher groundwater stress (40-80%) – both relative to its neighbourhood as well as the rest of the country – as of 2011. Groundwater stress is the amount consumed as a fraction of the supply.

Net groundwater availability, 2011. Source: Central Groundwater Board/WRI

Net groundwater availability, 2011. Source: Central Groundwater Board/WRI

Baseline groundwater stress. Source: Central Groundwater Board/WRI

Baseline groundwater stress. Source: Central Groundwater Board/WRI

The World Resources Institute (WRI), Bengaluru, has estimated that groundwater levels have receded by 54% since 2008 under 4,000 wells around the country, affecting 600 million people (twice the entire population of the US). At the same time, in a swath of land running from eastern Gujarat through Rajasthan, across Punjab and Haryana, until it covers northwest Uttar Pradesh, the groundwater stress has breached 80%. Punjab and Haryana together produce 50% of the country’s rice and 85% of its wheat. Moreover, the Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra aquifers, which flank this swath toward the north, are also becoming depleted faster than they’re replenished. According to data logged by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites, the Indus basin levels are falling by 4-6 mm/year and the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin levels, by 15-20 mm/year.

Annual groundwater level decline rates of the 37 largest aquifers. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL

Annual groundwater level decline rates of the 37 largest aquifers. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL

The WRI has projected that large parts of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu will be in the lowest quintiles in terms of groundwater availability for irrigation by 2025. In a report in 2009, the consulting group McKinsey had estimated that the national water supply (740 billion m3) would’ve fallen 50% behind demand (1.5 trillion m3) by 2030. “As a result, most of India’s river basins could face severe deficit … unless concerted action is taken, with some of the most populous — including the Ganga, the Krishna, and the Indian portion of the Indus — facing the biggest absolute gap.”

Net groundwater availability for future irrigation uses in 2025, in hectare-metres. Credit: WRI

Net groundwater availability for future irrigation uses in 2025, in hectare-metres. Credit: WRI

All WRI maps can be accessed here.