Lessons from Tauktae: Can extreme weather help with rainwater harvesting?

Cyclone Tauktae that crossed Gujarat as an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’, caused heavy rainfall in semi-arid places

By Shivangi Aggarwal
Published: Monday 24 May 2021
Will extreme climate help in recharging the existing rainwater harvesting structures in rain shadow areas? Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Saurashtra is known as the rain shadow-area of Gujarat, which means the area receives scanty or no rainfall. This has led to agrarian crisis in the region. DownToEarth has been following the crisis where farmers have been waiting for years to tide over the water woes.

Water conservation structures like check dams, wells, construction of earthen embankments, construction of farm ponds, gully controlling structures were constructed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) to meet water demands in water-scarce areas.

Such activities continued under the Ministry of Jal Shakti (water resources ministry) through Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), launched in 2019.

Water conservation structures like check dams, percolation tanks and farm ponds have played a key role in turning around Saurashtra’s drought conditions by increasing groundwater levels and adding to the agricultural growth in the area. More than 70 per cent funds under MGNREGA was used for creating such water conservation structures under JSA.

In the latest of phase of JSA, launched in March 2021 by the Prime Minister, around 858 structures were completed in Kutch and Saurashtra region. In the two previous phases, more than 5,700 structures were implemented in the state of Gujarat.

But the water crisis prevails if there is not enough rainfall. Then how will such structures recharge? Will extreme climate have any added advantage?

District Water Conservation- Total
Started from 22/03/2021 Till Y'day Completed from 22/03/2021 Till Y'day Ongoing
Amreli 218 18 218
Bharuch 79 63 79
Botad 141 0 141
Devbhumi Dwarka 109 498 109
Gir Somnath 200 20 185
Jamnagar 190 71 190
Junagadh 221 19 219
Kachch 134 2 134
Morbi 111 7 111
Porbandar 160 98 158
Rajkot 343 8 343
Surendranagar 235 54 235
Total 2141 858 2122

 (Source: MGNREGA)

‘With the cyclone Tauktae cyclone hitting major parts of Maharashtra, Saurashtra and Kutch region in Gujarat and south Rajasthan in the middle of May 2021, most regions received huge amounts of rainfall as per the Indian Meteorological Department’s bulletin (https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/cyclone-tauktae-destruction-gujarat-death-toll-705386).

The cyclone crossed the Gujarat coast as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm”, said the bulletin, with rainfall much higher than the normal volume.

Rainfall distribution in Saurashtra and Kutch division

(Source: India Meteorological Department, New Delhi)

Will such extreme events recharge the existing water conservation structures and help in solving the water woes of the arid areas? Sutapa Das, associate professor, department of architecture, town and regional planning, Indian Institute of Engineering, Science & Technology, Shibpur explained:

The structures are being constructed based on the predictions of annual rainfall. They can only be filled to their capacity designed. With the current rainfall due to cyclone Tauktae, the water can only be conserved through natural ways. This could be absorbing capacity of the soil, rise in the level of natural sources of water. One extreme event cannot define the amount of rain which can be conserved using any artificial centralised or decentralised water conservation techniques.

AK Gosain, professor in the department of civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, had a different view. He argued that one should not draw a connection between cyclone-prone rainfall and water harvesting.

“Rainfall can be annual or seasonal and one should focus on how rain water harvesting can be done. Furthermore, various rainwater conservation practices can be adopted in such a way, so that it is most effective in a particular ecological region.”

Sujit Kumar Sinha from Central Groundwater Board opined that the cyclone has severely affected many areas but for regions like Saurashtra and Kutch, it was a boon. He added that hydro fracturing technology can be used to explode /open hard rock fractures in the region and improve groundwater recharge and improve groundwater levels. 

“One extreme event in water shadow area should not define planning of watershed. It should be based on temporal data of previous years and comparison should be drawn,” said Shashank Shekar, professor, geology department, Delhi University.

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