Water Management Water Use in Rainfed Regions of India1

YS Ramakrishna3, GGSN Rao, VUM Rao, AVMS Rao and KV Rao2

Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad


Large investments of about Rs.800 billion since Independence has gone into development of surface irrigation projects and the gross irrigated area increased from 22.56 m ha to 75.14 m ha by 2000-01 in India. In spite of large-scale developments in irrigation sector, the agricultural production remains static at 212 mt, a cause of great concern, which is mainly attributed to the inefficient water management practices, poor maintenance of structures and water conveyance systems. In this review article, various issues, perspectives and strategies in water management research programs were highlighted, tte impact of climate change on water resources at global level and at national level has also been discussed. A few case studies on improving the water use efficiencies through watershed programs carried out at CRIDA, Hyderabad are mentioned. Social problems in implementing water management strategies have been indicated.



Huge investments amount to Rs.790.55 billions have gone in development of surface waters by the Government of India during the period 1947-2001 (Parthasara-thy, 2006). As a result, the gross irrigated area increased from 22.56 m ha in 195051 to 75.14 m ha in 2000-01, thus creating largest irrigated area in the world. It is reported that about 4400 (large, medium and small) dams have been constructed

1 Paper presented at International Workshop on Agro meteorological Risk Management, New Delhi during 25-27 October 2006

2 Director, Project Coordinator (Ag. Met.), Principal Scientist (Ag. Met.) and Scientist Senior Scale (Ag. Met.) and Senior Scientist

3 Corresponding author - Y.S.Ramakrishna, Director, CRIDA, Santosh nagar, Hyderabad

- 500059.AP. India. E mail: [email protected], Phone: 91-040-24530177, FAX: 91-04024531802

Table 15.1 Crop wise status of irrigation facility across the country - India


Irrigated area

(1000 ha)













































Rape seed


































All irrigated crops





Equipped for irrigation





Cropping intensity





so far in India, tte expansion in irrigated area in the country is mainly due to developments in ground water exploitation and nearly 60 percent of the irrigation in the country is met from ground water resources, ttese have contributed to the increased agricultural production from 50 mt to 212 mt, thus becoming self-sufficient in meeting the foodgrian requirements of the increased population to above 1.1 billion, tte status of cropwise irrigation facilities across the country is given in the Table 1.

It is inferred from the table that the irrigated area is high under rice in north, south, west and eastern India followed by wheat in north, west and eastern India. Sugarcane, cotton and pulses occupy the third place. In recent years, the agricultural food production remains static, which is hovering around 210 mt, a cause of great worry to the administration in meeting the future food requirements. Per-

Table 15.2 Estimates of Water Need for India (M ha m)





























haps, the expected agricultural production levels could not be achieved due to mismanagement and over-exploitation of irrigated waters and little has been done to improve the rainwater use efficiency in the rainfed regions of the country. Stagnation or fall in agricultural production was also noticed especially in Indo-Gangetic Plains due to practicing of mono-cropping system (Rice-Wheat), tte future total water need estimated for India by 2025 is shown in Table 2. • tte entire water potential of 1122 BCM need to be developed by all means by 2025 through surface and ground water development.

It is seen from this table that irrigation water requirement is increasing drastically along with Industry requirement. It is hard task to achieve this unless better water management practices are adopted to enhance efficient use of water. Lack of understanding of the importance of the cost involved in providing the irrigation water absolutely free of charge among the farmers, non-practicing of modern irrigation techniques in saving water, faulty structures and water transport system, absence of strict legislation in controlling the abuse of water are some of the important reasons in recording low water use efficiency of water resources in the country, ttis paper is aimed at reviewing the different water management practices for improving and sustaining the food grain productivity from rainfed regions (61% of net sown area) which contribute to about 44 percent of the total food production in the country.


Water Resources of the Country tte total surface water resource of the country is estimated at 1869 km3 at 50 percent dependability and approximately 1500 km3 at 75 percent dependability. It has been estimated that due to extreme variability in precipitation which disallows storage of flash and peak flows, and due to non-availability of suitable storage sites in hills and plains, only about 690 km3 of surface water can be stored for beneficial use. In addition, on yearly recharge basis, about 430 km3 of ground water is available for different uses, ttus the total estimated utilizable water from surface and ground water sources becomes 1120 km3

Ministry of Water Resources of Government of India has estimated the per capita annual availability of water for the population based on 1991 census as 2208 m3. It has been estimated that per capita withdrawal of water in India during 1990 was 611 m3 as against 1870 and 665 m3 in the USA and France, respectively (Seckler, 1999). tterefore, there is a dire necessity for adopting efficient water management practices in all sectors of its use and for agriculture, in particular.


Rainwater Management

Rainwater, a crucial natural resource, is the key input in Indian agriculture. It is the prime mover in agricultural development in general and in rainfed agriculture in particular. In India, 65 percent of the total cropped land is rain dependent and hence subjected to vagaries of monsoon. In view of the fact that about 40 percent of total annual precipitation goes as runoff, efforts should be made to capture this precious rainwater for crop production. Storage of water in the soil and in natural or man-made structures and efficient utilization of given quantity of water are important aspects of water conservation (Singh, R.P., 2000).

In situ water conservation is a more feasible and practical proposition under most situations, tte strategy for in situ moisture conservation lies in soil management, which aims to maximizing the use of rainfall by increasing infiltration and storage. Soil cover management (mulching / Canopy), tillage and land configurations (ridge and furrow, BBF, etc.) are practices aimed at increasing infiltration and soil moisture storage.


Issues and Perspective in Water Management

Some of issues, perspectives and strategies in water management under various systems as envisaged by the National Commission for Farmers (Swaminathan, 2006) are reported below.

a) Creation of new infrastructure

• Conflicting interests of participating States

• Land acquisition a long process

• Relief and rehabilitation process is very slow

• River linking has raised political and hydrological concerns.

b) Constraints in existing infrastructure

• Wide disparity between design and delivery

• Inadequate command area development

• Water logging and salinity at head reach and deficit water at tail end

• Heavy conveyance losses and the irrigation efficiency is only 40 percent

• Poor water delivery and reliability

• Budgetary constraints adversely affect the maintenance

• Under pricing of water led to cultivation of water intensive crops

• Decline in irrigation by tanks in the southern peninsular region due to decrease in carrying capacity

• Less inflows into the rivers with increased watershed activities.

c) Ground Water Exploitation

• Abundant and timely supply of ground water improved agricultural production

• Ground water utilization reduced water logging and salinity

• Over-exploitation of ground water recorded at many locations, results in deepening of water table and reduced recharge capacity of dug wells in hard rock regions

• Least attention given to ground water recharge.

d) Problems in Rainfed Areas

• Extreme variability in rainfall both in spatial and quantum dimension

• Evaporative demand higher than rainfall during greater part of the year

• Expansion of deep tube wells in hard rock regions aggravated water crisis

• Poor ground water quality (saline / brakish water)

• Deterioration in soil health in the intensively cropped rice systems

• Low input farming practices and low fertility status and drought conditions at different crop growth stages

• Less adaptation of in situ water conservation techniques by the farmers

• Implementation ofWatershed Development Programs by various agencies

• Poor maintenance of watersheds and community involvement after development has been negligible

• Limited availability of drought tolerant crop species.


Strategies for Improving the Water Management and Water Use Efficiencies a) Surface Irrigation (Major Irrigation):

• Priority to allocate resources across the projects on the basis of additional irrigation from a given investment and time

• Quick disposal of inter-state river water disputes by the Government through River Board Authority

• Assured supply of required budget grants

• Water availability in the new projects should be assessed properly in view ofWatershed Development Programs

• tte National Water Policy of 2002 proposed should be implemented to avoid financial burden on the State Governments

• For long-term sustainability of irrigation system pricing water should be encouraged

• Capacity building of water users as well the staff managing irrigation system needs to be taken up for improving the water use efficiency

• Proper repairing and maintenance of canals to be taken up for effective implementation of participatory irrigation management

• Water release into the command area should be remotely regulated based on the demand from various sectors.

b) Minor Irrigation (Tanks and Small Reservoirs)

• Community surface water storage facilities be strengthened in supplementing the drinking water needs supplied by PHED.

• Water harvesting storage structures without any sluice gates such as kohlis in Maharashtra, tanka, nadis, khadings in Rajasthan need to be improved and strengthened through local voluntary organizations.

• Promotion of ground water recharge through construction of low cost check dams in drought prone areas be given priority.

• Renovation of local community based irrigation system for increasing the carrying capacity, which may improve the rural employment.

c) Excessive Ground Water Utilization

• Assured power supply would reduce the risk of over irrigation.

• Water supplied through field channels must continue for sufficient time to reduce loses due to absorption.

• Ground water recharge should be encouraged through well-planned and maintained Watershed Program.

• A water literacy movement among the stakeholders should launch and regulations be developed for long-term use of ground water on a sustainable basis.

• Constitution of Pani Panchayat at each village for maintaining equity distribution of water.

• tte farmers should be encouraged to tap good ground water resources within the irrigation schemes.

• Allocation of surface irrigation waters should be based on good quality ground water.

• Sub-surface drainage system and efficient irrigation methods be planned to prevent further salinization.

• Wherever possible, surface irrigation systems should be used for ground water recharge.

d) Rainfed Areas

• In situ water conservation techniques such as compartment bunding, ridges and furrows, tide ridges, double cropping, strip cropping, mulching and vegetative barriers for improving soil moisture needs to be further strengthened for the benefit of small and marginal farmers.

• Watershed development is the key to success for sustainable and improved agricultural output from rainfed areas. Hence, liberal funding is essential for Watershed Programs.

• Integrated Development of Watershed at macro-level "Watershed Plus" which not only focuses on soil and water conservation but should deal and integrates measures that increases productivity and provide value addition to the community living.

• tte proposed National Rainfed Area Authority should be given responsibility to manage entire Watershed Program, thus enabling the farming community to achieve "Jal Swaraj" in relation to drinking and irrigation water.

Rainwater harvesting through farm ponds for supplemental irrigations and recharging dead open dug wells be given top priority for enabling ground water recharge as well as enhancing productivity.

• A Million Well Recharge Program proposed by NCF indicated that to create awareness among the farmers about the importance of ground water recharge for achieving future foodgrian demands by providing a rebate in the ratio of internet under enhanced Agricultural Credit Program on prioritybasis.

• Getting more crops per drop through efficient irrigation methods such as drip, sprinkler, need to be promoted vigorously to conserve the water resources, food security and enhance income.

• To improve the soil moisture in the black cotton soils, chiseling at 1 m interval should be undertaken at few selected watershed areas on a pilot scale to assess the economic viability and its impact on environment.


Water Management through Watershed Program

To overcome the uncertainty in production from rainfed regions due to frequent failure of monsoon rains, the solution lies with the development of watersheds on a large scale to achieve the second green revolution, tte Watershed Programs taken up by agencies that were funded through different Ministries of Government via its various developmental programs are given in the following Table-3.

a) Crop Diversification for Efficient Water Use tte most farmers' choice is paddy when water is available and many farmers keep their land fallow both in kharif and rabi in anticipation of good rains or ground water, but both are uncertain. Paddy is considered to be the poor water user and requires 1200mm compared to 300 to 400mm by other irrigated dry (ID) crops (Table 15.4). A two-pronged strategy (direct and indirect interventions) has been launched in Mahaboobnagar, a drought prone district of Andhra Pradesh in a cluster comprising of 4 villages in a project implemented by CRIDA and BAIF Institute of Rural Development, Karnataka (BIRD-K). Farmers have been convinced to move away from paddy particularly during rabi by educating them that some crops like chickpea, maize, ragi, etc., requires less water and hence can be cultivated in more area using the some quantity of water as required for paddy.

Alternatively crops namely chickpea, maize and ragi which are essentially dryland crops but are able to produce substantially high yields with limited irrigation have been introduced in the cultivators fields through supply of seed, ttese crops could give substantially higher returns to the cultivators because of their higher water use efficiency (Table 5).

Table 15.3 Watershed programs details since inception on area coverage and expenditure

Scheme name

Area treated (million ha.)

Expenditure (Rs. in billion)

Agriculture Ministry

National Watershed Development Program for Rainfed Areas



River Valley Project & Flood Prone area



Watershed Development Program for Shifting cultivation Areas



Reclamation of Alkali Soils



Watershed Development Fund



Externally Aided programs






Rural DevelopmentMinistry

Drought Prone Area Program



Drought Development Program



Integrated Watershed Development Program



Externally Aided programs






Environment and Forests Ministry

National Afforstation Eco-development Program



Grand Total



b) Other Rainfed technologies developed / tested by Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture for efficient rainwater management

1. In-situ measures for rainwater management in rainfall areas.

• Offseason land treatment:

- Reduces weed growth and retains more moisture

- Summer tillage for alluvial, red and other light soils

- Compartment bund for heavy black soils for assured rabi crops.

• Conservationfurrows

- Retains about 37% additional soil moisture compared to farmer's practice.

- Better crop growth and higher yields by about 17%

• Ridges andfurrows system in cotton

- Additional yield over farmer's practice

Table 15.4 Water requirement of paddy and ID crops


Water requirement (mm)

Area equivalent of paddy (ha)
















Table 15.5 Net returns and water use efficiency of different cropping systems based on water requirements during kharif and rabi for a 3 acre farm.

Practice /Intervention

Cropping system

Total net returns (Rs)

Water use efficiency Rs. permm

Farmers' practice 1*

Paddy (3) - Paddy (3)



Farmers' practice 2**

Paddy (3) - Paddy (1)



Farmers' practice 3**

Paddy (3) - fallow (3)



Intervention 1

Paddy (3) - groundwater (3)



Intervention 2

Paddy (3) - Maize(3)



Intervention 3

Paddy (3) - Chickpea (3)



Intervention 4

Paddy (3) - Paddy (1), Chickpea (2)



Intervention 5

Paddy (3) - Paddy (1), Maize (2)



Note: Figures in parenthesis indicate acreage

* When sufficient water is available for cultivating all the area in both the seasons.

** When water is available for cultivating all area in kharif season and less area in rabi season

• Cover cropping

- Improves soil quality with on farm generation of organic matter in off-season.

• Micro catchments

- Improves the perennial plant establishment even on steep slopes.

2. Medium term measures rain water management in rainfed areas.

- Stone and vegetative field bunds for soil and water conservation

- Graded line bund helps in efficient drainage.

- Trench cum bund for soil and water conservation.

3. Long term measures for rain water management in rainfed areas

• Water harvesting

- Contour trenching for runoff collection.

- On-farm reservoirs

- CRIDA developed low-cost water harvesting structures

- Ground water recharge structure (percolation tanks).

- Recharge through defunct wells.

4. Strategies for improving water use efficiencies

• Irrigation -furrows improves the efficiency of stored water

• Micro irrigation techniques

- Drip irrigation

- Sprinkler irrigation

- Supplemented irrigation with harvested runoff.

- Crop diversification.

5. Alternate land use system

- Bush farming in arable and non-arable lands

- Agric silviculture

- Agric horticulture

- Participating ground water evaluation for efficient alternate land use pattern.

Fig. 15.1 Off-season land treatment.
Fig. 15.2 Conservation furrow in castor and groundnut.

6. Climate Change and its Impact ofWater

Climate Change can affect the regional atmospheric circulation patterns, which is important for taking decisions about water and land use planning and management. tte information available from GCMs focuses on how climate changes will affect the water balance. Considerable efforts have gone into study the effect

Fig Rainfed Farming
Fig. 15.3 Ridges and furrows system.
Fig. 15.4 Cover cropping.
Crop Management Rainfed
Fig. 15.5 Medium term measures rain water management in rainfed areas.
Watershed Trenching Structure
Fig. 15.6 Contour trenching for runoff collection.

of global warming on water systems both space and in time, tte reports of IPCC, 1996a & b have indicated the following:

• GCMs indicate that there will be some changes in the timing and regional patterns of precipitation (very high confidence), but researchers have low confidence in projections for specific regions because different models produce different detailed regional changes.

Fig. 15.7. CRIDA developed low-cost water harvesting structures.

• GCMs consistently show that average precipitation will increase in higher latitudes, particularly in winter (high confidence). Models are inconsistent in other estimates ofhow the seasonality of precipitation will change.

• Research results consistently show that temperature increases in mountainous areas with seasonal snow pack will lead to increases in the ratio of rain to snow and decreases in the length of the snow storage season (very high confidence). It is likely that reductions in snowfall and earlier snowmelt and runoff would increase the probability of flooding early in the year and reduce the runoff of water during late spring and summer.

• Increases in annual average runoff in the high latitudes caused by higher precipitation are likely to occur (high confidence).

• Research results suggest that flood frequencies in some areas are likely to change. In northern latitudes and snowmelt-driven basins, research results suggest that flood frequencies will increase (medium confidence), although the amount of increase for any given climate scenario is uncertain and impacts will vary among basins.

• Models project that the frequency and severity of droughts in some areas could increase as a result of regional decreases in total rainfall, more frequent dry spells, and higher evaporation (medium confidence). Models suggest with equal confidence that the frequency and severity of droughts in some regions would decrease as a result of region increases in total rainfall and less frequent dry spells.

• Higher sea levels associated with thermal expansion of the oceans and increased melting of glaciers will push salt water further inland in rivers, deltas, and coastal aquifers (very high confidence). It is well understood that such advances would adversely affect the quality and quantity of freshwater supplies in many coastal areas.

• Water-quality problems will worsen where rising temperatures are the predominant climate change (high confidence). Where there are changes in flow, complex positive and negative changes in water quality will occur. Water quality may improve if higher flows are available for diluting contaminants. Specific regional projects are not well established at this time because of uncertainties in how regional flows will change.

• A large number of studies suggest that climate changes will increase the frequency and intensity of the heaviest precipitation events, but there is little agree-

Rainwater from farm pond utilized through sprinkler

Fig. 15.8 Micro irrigation techniques.
Fig. 15.9 Bush farming in arable and non-arable lands.
Table 15.6 Rainfall and fiver flows and their projections in two major river systems in India

River Basin

Baseline (1961-1990)

Future (2071-2100)

Annual Rainfall (cm)

Annual Flow (km2)

Annual Rainfall (cm)

Annual Flow (km2)
















Fig.15.10 Rainfall intensity at three major riverbasins.

Fig.15.10 Rainfall intensity at three major riverbasins.

ment on detailed regional changes in storminess that might occur in a warmed world. Contradictory results from models support the need for more research, especially to address the mismatch between the resolution of models and the scales at which extreme events can occur.

tte Indian water resources under climate change scenario studied by Indian Institute ofTropical Meteorologysuggest the following:

• tte hydrological cycle is predicted to be more intense, with higher annual average rainfall as well increased drought.

• ttere is a predicted increase in rainfall in all three river basins towards the end of the 21st Century (Fig.15.4). tte Godavari basin is projected to have higher precipitation than the other two given in the following Table 6.

• tte intensity of daily rainfall is also predicted to increase in these basins (Fig. 15.11).

• Changes in the number of rainy days when examined, with results indicating decreases in the western parts of the Ganga basin, but with increases over most parts of the Godavari and Krishna basins.

• ttus surface water availability showed a general increase over all 3 basins (though future populations projections would need to be considered to project per capital water availability).

8. Weather-based Agro-advisories and Crop Water Management Strategies

Fig. 15.11 Changes in annual number of rainy days (A2 scenario).

1 1 n [ IT T 11 T Tl T JI I I IJ 1 M 1 ] T I M | 1 I I I

PRECIS Rainy days Changes 2080$

A2 'Baseline

1 1 n [ IT T 11 T Tl T JI I I IJ 1 M 1 ] T I M | 1 I I I

Fig. 15.11 Changes in annual number of rainy days (A2 scenario).

Efficient irrigation water management plays a key role in improving agricultural productivity and also protects the soil environment. Proper and timely dissemination of agro-advisories related to irrigation fertilizer and pesticide management helps the farmers for better planning of agricultural operations, tte present system of weather-based agro-advisories is issued by 107 Agro meteorological Field Units (AMFU) operating at State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Institutes. Using the information on latest crop condition at the region concerned and the medium range forecast issued by NCMRWF for that region, the agro-advisories are prepared by a group of experts and the same is disseminated to the farmers through different mass communication network systems such as Radio, TV, Newspapers, tte information that generally provided in Agro Advisory Services are status of crop condition, current and expected weather and the advisory, which consists of agronomic measures and plant protection measures to be followed for each crop in the next few days to come.

Fig. 15.12 Agro Advisory Network Group.

With the expansion of IT Network in the country, the information is also made available through website which is expected reach each village shortly through the efforts of Government of India and NGOs. tte agro-advisories issued by 25 centers of AICRP on Agrometeorology (AICRPAM) located in various agro-climatic zones spread across the country are made available through a website www. cropweatheroutlook.org. On a trail basis, the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University at Hyderabad in collaboration with various organizations such as NC-MRWF, IMD, CRIDA, JNTU AND ICRISAT is issuing agro-advisories on district basis based on input provided by agencies located in each district. Similarly, efforts are on at different States to promote more regional websites.

ttough the present websites are providing necessary advisories to the farming community, it is feared that it may not be reaching the needy farmers well in time, tterefore, All India Coordinated Research Project on Agrometeorology

Disease Birds Crida


National Agro-Advisory Network

Chattisgarh Gujarat


From research station:

1. Weather

2. Crap condition

3. Diseases & pssls

(AICRPAM) Unit at CRIDA has planned a National level Agro Advisory Network for efficient dissemination of information both to the stakeholders and to the planners. A sketch diagram of the proposal is shown below:

tte aim of such national network is to disseminate information upto village level and the farmers will be able to interact with the Agro Advisory Network Group located at district level.

Conclusions tte review suggests that there is scope to improve the water management efficiency for sustainable agricultural productivity by adopting Integrated Watershed Development Program through participatory approach method. A Million Well Recharge Program proposed by NCF by providing some incentives may be given priority to educate and create awareness about the importance of fresh water availability in the coming years, tte impacts of climate change on regional water resources need more attention. Expansion of the current Agro-advisory Network System at National level shall play an important role in improving the water use through efficient water management practices.


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FAO Statistics database (www.FAO.org)

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (1996a) Climate Change 1995: ^e Science of Climate Change: Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (1996b) Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses: Contribution of Working Group II to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, New York.

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Pant, GB., (2005) Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources in India. Key Sheet 5. Submitted to Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

Parthasarathy, S. (2006) From Hariyali to Neeranchal. A Report of the technical committee on watershed programmes in India submitted to Ministry of Rural Development, Government oflndia, pp 222.

Seckler, D., (1999) World Water Scarcity and the Challenge of Increasing Water Use Efficiency and Productivity. In "Sustainable Agricultural Solutions", ^e Sustainable Agricultural Initiative Action Report, Novello Press, Ltd., London, 116-126

Singh, RP., (2000) Rainwater Conservation, Recycling and Utilization. In Intl. Cong. On Managing Natural Resources for Sustainable Agricultural Prouduction in the 21st Century. Invited Papers, pp 202-208 Swaminathan MS., (2006) A draft national policy for farmers. Fourth report submitted to the Indian Union Minister of Agriculture on 13 April 2006. pp: 148-186.


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