Water-stressed in India: Ground water mostly neglected in rain-surplus South Goa

The district, which receives surplus rainfall, has repaired traditional mud bunds, desiltation of rivers and reviving old canals

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Thursday 19 March 2020
 The Kuskond check dam, built under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan using fibre reinforced gates, helps irrigate nearby fields where farmers grow rice, different pulses and water melons. Photo: Akshit Sangomla
 The Kuskond check dam, built under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan using fibre reinforced gates, helps irrigate nearby fields where farmers grow rice, different pulses and water melons. Photo: Akshit Sangomla The Kuskond check dam, built under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan using fibre reinforced gates, helps irrigate nearby fields where farmers grow rice, different pulses and water melons. Photo: Akshit Sangomla

South Goa, a water-surplus region is trying to conserve surface water under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) between July and September in 2019.

“It is indeed difficult to believe that south Goa, with all the heavy monsoon rainfall it receives, is a water stressed district,” Ankush Gaonkar, executive engineer of Goa's water resources department (WRD), the nodal department for the JSA, said.

He explained that the monsoon season was also the reason for the ranking of the district under JSA being at the bottom. South Goa was ranked 204 in India among 256 water-stressed districts across 36 states and Union territories for the work done to conserve water, scoring 2.05 percentage.

“We could not have done any work during the JSA as it coincided with the monsoon season here in Goa. No construction or repair work can be carried out during that time,” Gaonkar told DTE.

But after the monsoon ended, WRD has carried out all its regular works, though everything was related to surface water and its distribution, rather than ground water and its recharge.

“There is so much surface water here in Goa that ground water is mostly neglected,” Gangesh Salgaonkar, junior engineer, Salcete division, WRD, said. The rivers, canals, lakes and water tanks of south Goa are all full with water for irrigation and household purposes while the drinking water comes from the Salaulim dam on the Salaulim river, a tributary of the Zuari river.

The WRD has a subsidy scheme for the construction of rooftop rainwater harvesting systems but few people apply for it. “People will give more importance to ground water and its recharge when the supply of surface water declines,” Salgaonkar said.

The reduced number of intervention activities under JSA was also because the interventions are usually big and small in number, not small structures like rain water harvesting systems and recharge pits.

“More can be done by the government in this regard,” Armando Gonsalves from the non-profit ‘Goa for Giving’ based in Panjim, said. “It is because of the mismanagement of the state government and its machinery that funds are not being utilised where they should be,” he added.

The Salcete region is mostly irrigated with water from the Sal river. The flow of water is controlled with small check dams, known locally as bandharas. These bandharas are closed in September-October depending on the rainfall and then opened again in the dry season in May when water is required.

There are around 200 bandharas in south Goa for the purpose. A new one known as Kuskond was constructed in Nuvem village using fibre re-enforced gates at a total cost of 80 lakh last year in March. Only local labour was used for the construction purpose.

Some of the older bandharas are made of mud. There is seepage from mud bandharas which becomes risky during heavy rains and floods. If the mud bandhara breaks, the nearby areas will suffer from flash floods when it rains heavily.

For instance, the nearby Rumda bandhara had to be urgently opened during the floods in November, 2019. “It had rained continuously for four days which does not usually happen at that time,” Diwakar Gauns, junior engineer, WRD, said.

“The Goa government has also approved a project for the de-siltation of the entire Sal river at a total cost of Rs 15 crore. This will increase water available in the river in general and also bring down the pollution in the water which has increased because of the nearby hotels and resorts,” Gauns said.

Currently, water from the Kuskond and Rumda bandharas provides benefits to a total area of 135 hectares where pulses, water melons and rice are grown. One of the benefitting farmers is Jose Paulo Abranchez who belongs to the Gauda tribal community and lives in Verna village.

Abranchez is a tenant farmer who has been involved in agriculture for the past 30 years and cultivates different crops during different seasons. In the current season, he has grown pulses, green chillies and water melons which he sells in the local market. The 15-hectare area where he works is owned by a landlord and is being shared for agriculture by 14 other tenant farmers.

“Earlier a lot of the tenant farmers had abandoned farming because of high labour costs, disputes with landlords over ownership claims and some non-governmental organisations not allowing farming in fields close to mangrove areas,” Salgaonkar said.

The scenario is now changing as agriculture is witnessing a revival in the region with increased water availability, overshadowing all the other factors.

For instance, on February 29, 2020, two farmers visited Salgaonkar in his office and asked him to look into the repair of an old water canal, dating back to Portuguese times (around 400 years old), that flowed into the Naya Bandh tank in the Cuncolim area.

The revival of the five km-long water canal that was cut into the rock would help irrigate their agricultural fields, which they are cultivating after a gap of a few years.

“Around 20-30 farmers will get benefitted from the revival of the canal,” Salgaonkar said. There are also some ongoing problems on water sharing between neighbouring farmers, where a lot of local politics is involved. “Usually the WRD stays away from the politics but sometimes you just cannot avoid it,” Gauns said. 

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