Watershed Management, Day 2: Some Basics

During the second day of my visit to WASSAN’s Parigi, Telangana field office with 5 American students from the School for International Training Study Abroad India Program in October 2015, we had the opportunity to meet with the Parigi field office director, who took us to view several of WASSAN’s watershed management structures in the area. Through this trip, I gained a helpful, basic, on-the-ground overview on these civil engineering initiatives and the local community’s involvement. We covered the following areas, discussed in further detail below.

WASSAN's Pargi field office director speaking with the group about WASSAN's dam projects.
WASSAN’s Parigi field office director speaking with the group about the watershed management structures WASSAN has implemented in the area.


Watersheds. According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT): “A watershed, also called a drainage basin or catchment area, is defined as an area in which all water flowing in moves to a common outlet. People and livestock are the integral part of a watershed and their activities affect the productive status of watersheds and vice versa. From the hydrological point of view, the different phases of hydrological cycle in a watershed are dependent on the various natural features and human activities. A watershed is not simply the hydrological unit but also the sociopolitical-ecological entity which plays crucial role in determining food, social, and economical security and provides life support services to rural people[1].”

The Parigi field office director who led us to view the structures provided an overview of the types of watersheds on which WASSAN works in the area. These include:

Mega-watersheds: Approximately 5000 hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 m2)

Micro-watersheds: Approximately 500-1000 hectares

Nano-watersheds: Approximately 250 hectares


Dams. We also learned about some of the types of dams WASSAN builds for these communities.

Check dams: Check dams constitute small barriers built across the direction of water flow on shallow rivers and streams to facilitate water harvesting. They can be constructed in a range of sizes and using a variety of materials[1]. For the 22 villages in the area we visited, over 50 check dams have been constructed. We also learned check dams incur more costs to construct than other types.

Rock check dams: Rock check dams – check dams comprising rocks – are constructed in cases where runoff gathers in a drainage way, road ditch, or swale (a low tract of land, especially moist or marshy[2]) that, due to fire, has lost its natural protection due or experienced increased flow. Rock check dams reduce erosion and water velocity, trap sediment[3], and store/percolate water for cattle to drink and to use for fisheries. They typically take 1 month to construct, cost approximately 3.5 lakhs, and last 20-40 years.

A check dam constructed with WASSAN's oversight.
A check dam constructed with WASSAN’s oversight.
A rock check dam constructed with WASSAN's oversight.
A rock check dam constructed with WASSAN’s oversight.


Government Initiatives.

Integrated Watershed Management Program: The Government of India’s flagship watershed management initiative is the Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP), financed by the central and state governments. The program seeks to restore India’s ecological balance by channeling, conserving, and fostering the development of degraded natural resources such as soil, water, and vegetative cover. The ultimate goals to prevent soil runoff, regenerate natural vegetation, harvest rainwater, and recharge the groundwater table would result in multi-cropping and diversification of agricultural activities to result in providing sustainable livelihoods to people residing in the watershed area. Through its additional Scheme of Technology, Development, and Extension Training, the IWMP promotes cost-effective and proven technologies to support watershed management[1].

Neeranchal National Watershed Project: The Neeranchal National Watershed Project, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in 2015 with a total outlay of Rs 2142.30 Crore (at Rs 60 = $1) and also supported by a 50% (Rs 1071.15) loan World Bank loan[2], assists the IWMP by utilizing technical assistance to advance conservation and selected communities’ agricultural yields. Neeranchal also helps the IWMP as a whole adopt more effective processes and technologies for the following 9 participating states: Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana [3]. Its four major components include: improved planning approaches, capacity-building, coordination and convergence, and providing supporting research and development[4].


Financing. To finance these dams, WASSAN assisted 2 community leaders – also farmers – in opening a bank account, through which all farmers using water from the dams submit payments through a “Watershed Development Fund” established by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development’s Department of Land Resources[1]. WASSAN helps facilitate this fund in coordination with the government. The budget for a particular dam is allocated by its area. A project officer oversees finance and administration for the project, and a village committee maintains the programs/quality and sanctions the work to farmers.


Basic Implementation Process. The following outlines WASSAN’s basic process in implementing these watershed management structure projects:

  1. Working with the government, WASSAN’s civil engineering team identifies the site on which to construct the structure and takes its GPS coordinates.
  2. The civil engineering team sends this information to the project director.
  3. The project director sends this information forward to obtain approval for the project.
  4. If the project obtains approval, construction on the structure commenced. Local farmers also participate in construction.
  5. A quality monitoring team oversees the project as it moves forward.
  6. After project completion, in cases of dam misuse, the project officer pays the government through software designed to manage these payments.


Challenges. Challenges faced in constructing the dams include: politics, conducting quality checks, timely completion, and conflicts among farmers.


Farmers’ Perspective. We spoke with turmeric, cotton, and red gram farmers Khasim Khan and Ibrahim Khan about their experience with the dams. They helped construct the dams and told us the most difficult part of construction was digging for the wall. They use the water from the dam to feed cattle. They can also access and track information on their crops through climate information center established by in the area by WASSAN.

The group speaking with one of the farmers involved in the area's watershed management projects.
The group speaking with one of the farmers involved in WASSAN’s watershed management projects in the area.
A water buffalo that feeds on the water stored by the dams.
A water buffalo that feeds on the water stored by the dams.


Overall Impact. Before construction of the dams and implementation of the financing and oversight process, the local community had not been as involved in these initiatives. With these production-related interventions implemented with WASSAN’s help, a budget is now in place for constructing these structures, promoting agriculture in the area, and institutional capacity-building.


[1] http://dolr.nic.in/dolr/guidewd.asp

[1] http://dolr.nic.in/iwmp_main.htm

[2] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=128501

[3] http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P132739/neeranchal-national-watershed-project?lang=en

[4] http://neeranchal.gov.in/?q=content/neeranchal-watershed-program-0

[1] http://www.devalt.org/newsletter/apr01/of_3.htm

[2] https://www.google.co.in/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=what%20is%20a%20swale

[3] https://www.larimer.org/highparkfire/2012_Rock_Check_Fact_Sheet.pdf

[1] http://oar.icrisat.org/3914/1/1._Watershed_Management_Concept.pdf

Benita comes to the AIF Clinton Fellowship from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., where she served in the Office of Planning, Analysis, and Accountability beginning in 2011. Among other areas at EPA, she has contributed to advancement of partnerships; development of internal Agency program guidance reflecting Congressional budgetary decisions; analysis of performance in water, Tribal affairs, and children's health and performance information in EPA's Congressional budget request; and creation of EPA's Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Report. Benita began pursuing her interest in environmental and social issues in 2009, when she traveled to Ecuador as a volunteer on environmental projects and teaching English with the Yachana Training Center in the Napo province of the country. Later that year, she also began developing her interest in serving India while volunteering at Auxilium Snehalaya, a homeless children's shelter in Guwahati, Assam, India.

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