Green is the New Gold – 2

Managing Water

In India, everyone knows what ‘Ram Rajya’ is. Ram Rajya is an ideal state, an ideal society, where everyone lives in peace and tranquility brought about by abundant wealth. All had equal opportunities and enough work to live a prosperous life under a benign state. Interestingly Ram Rajya under king Rama was predominantly an agrarian state around 3500 BC and prosperity came about due to abundant rains, good agricultural practices and a thriving green economy.

Here’s where the story of India or Bharat as a most powerful agricultural economy in the world starts when people in most parts of the world were still aboriginals.

The first ever treatise on Agriculture in the world was written by the Sage Parashara. The sages called rishis in India were the original Vedic scientists who lived in small isolated communities in the forest and used nature as their live laboratory. They observed nature closely and evolved the principles of scientific living for the community. One such Rishi is the Rishi Parashara who evolved the entire agricultural science including water management. His work is called ‘Krishi Parashara’. Incidentally, Parashara is the grandson of Maha Rishi Vashishta who was the Kulaguru of Dasaratha and teacher of Rama. He has dealt at length about rains, rain forecasting, rain measurement and using the rain propitiously for raising crops. His work comprises of the entire theory of agriculture beginning with the astronomy and meteorology of rains, treatment of seeds, preparation of the field, ploughing and sowing, harvesting and proper storage of the grains. His treatise begins in the traditional salutations to Prajapati, the creator and protector of the Universe, and ends with thanksgiving to goddess Lakshmi for bestowing prosperity and wealth.

Do you make the connection with Ram Rajya and prosperity through agriculture!

Now back to the 21st century, what is the learning that we can derive from the extensive knowledge base left to us from ancient times? And to re-emphasise this is an extensive knowledge base that can create wealth for the individual as well as the country. What are the important resources that we need to manage and extract the highest value out of agriculture? How do we produce economically that would leave a substantial surplus after the basic cost of farming any crop?

To start with, for a sustainable low-cost agricultural produce, we need to manage three important resources – Sun, Water and Land. Two of these, the Sun and Water comes to us free or can be made totally free with a little planning and management. Land though a limited resource is enough to produce and feed the 1 billion population provided sustainable agricultural practices are adopted. Of the three, the major concern of all agriculturists is that of water. When you travel across India, the scenario is of a vast barren terrain and uncultivated land. Everywhere the refrain is that there is not enough water for agriculture.

Where does all the water go from the melting snows and a good amount of rains that generally we have? What happened to an abundant reservoir of water available which flowed perennially through a network of interconnected fractures in the rocks underground?

To save the river waters that get lost in the sea is mainly dependent on the govt policy and investments made by the government. As an individual we have little control over the huge loss of water due to poor planning. But also as individuals we have a fair opportunity to harness the rains and use it judiciously for all our farming needs. For centuries, we have been taking and consuming the abundant water reservoirs underground, without putting back much except what little nature is able to do on its own. Imagine what would happen, if without earning money, we continue to spend what is left to us by our forefathers. One day the bank would go bust and we would be left as paupers. This is the story of our ground water. We have taken extravagantly from the huge bank of water underground without putting back any and now we are left with little to sustain us for future. We cannot stop the extraction of water, but we can definitely replenish it.

Water is depleting fast. The rivers, the borewells, the ground water are all drying up fast. If we as a society do not take sufficient steps, the future generations, indeed the very human civilization is under threat of extinction.

There are very simple ways each farmer can make water available for his needs in plenty. Recharging our ground water is possible by using simple techniques that can help overcome water shortages to a great extent. Although a little knowledge of geographical and hydrological factors may help, but it is not a limiting factor for improving groundwater by any farmer.

While water conservation is a very vast subject and matter of scientific development, it is still possible for the average person to contribute effectively to replenish water all around him. There are several methods of recharging ground water, capturing the rain run-offs, building bunds and creating massive natural storage tanks and manmade structures.

For the average farmer without much of technical knowledge there are four methods to artificially recharge the ground water without any outside support.

1. Recharging abandoned and low yielding wells
2. Putting up recharge pits near hand pumps and bores
3. Multiple small recharge pits & trenches through the farm
4. Recharge Ponds

Let’s see how each one is designed.

Recharging Abandoned and low yielding wells

Dry or unused wells are a good place to start the recharge process in a farm. The contour mapping of the farm has to be done to assess the gradient of the farm and the maximum water accumulation point needs to be assessed. From this point to the well a trench can be built or water can be directed through a pipe to the well. As the water would be flowing carrying the top soil a small filtration pit can be built near the well to retain the soil and water discharged into the well. This would help the aquifers in and around the well to get recharged through the porous walls of the well.

The bottom of the Well should be cleared of the fine silt deposits once annually before the rains.
If there is a building adjacent to the well, the rooftop should be used to drain the water through a pipe to the well. Water collected in the roof would be much cleaner and help avoid the silt formation in the well. Direct rainwater harvesting can also improve the quality of water. The rooftop needs to be cleaned before the rains to have clean water flowing into the well.

Recharge Pits near a Hand Pump and Bore Wells

This is perhaps one of the best methods for recharge around dry hand pumps or dry bore wells. A pit is dug around the bore well of 10x10x10 with the casing of the bore at the centre. A larger casing which can be slid over the existing casing is then perforated uniformly with holes of 8-10 mm at 3 inches gap. This is now wrapped with multiple layers of fine aqua and nylon mesh to filter any dirt and silt. This pipe is slid over the existing bore casing and firmly cemented at the base of the pit. 6 to 8 feet of casing pipe can effectively percolate 10000 litres of water per hour in good rains. Around pit first large stones are packed firmly for 2-3 feet height. Over these 2 feet granites are filled for 3-4 feet. Over this a 40 mm granite jelly is filled for 1-2 feet. For good measure charcoal can be filled before packing in the top layer with 20 mm granite jelly. Over this one foot of sand is filled as a first layer of filtration of fine silt and dirt. With this, the pit around the bore well is completely packed. This would not only ensure better availability of water but also high quality clean sweet water that is also potable and can be used for drinking purposes. The top layer of sand would get covered with silt which needs to be cleaned every year before the rains and fresh sand needs to be filled up over the pit.
Multiple Small Recharge Pits & Trenches through the Farm

For constructing recharge pits, it is essential to have a high degree of permeability or rocky substrate. Generally at around 10 feet, the soil turns loose and permeable. There are also underlying rocky substrate which have its fractures through which the water reaches aquifers and ground water storage increases. Once the permeability of the soil is established, it is best to dig 10x10x10 feet trenches as described above. At the bottom, large granite stone may be thrown in. Over this, we can pour granites of 10-15 mm and over this we may fill up sand up to the surface, all at 3-4 feet intervals. Depending on the size of the farm, several such recharge pits on the farm can help effectively recharge the ground water. For smaller farms, these trenches may be of small size of 5 x 5 x 5 feet which would help recharge the groundwater over a period of time.
These recharge pits should be built to capture the runoff water of the farm. A contour mapping of the farm may be undertaken to assess the gradient through which the runoff water flows over the farm or a moderate gradient can be created to capture water at one end of the farm.

Regularly the silt over the sand can be cleaned and fresh sand filled before the rains to help improve the water soaking to the base of the pit and further into the fractures and aquifers.

Recharge Ponds

Recharge ponds or infiltration ponds are the favoured medium for rainwater harvesting in mid sized and large farms. They effectively store rainwater and infiltrate the water to aquifers which can be extracted through bore wells, and wells. These recharge ponds are generally built in permeable soil which can effectively capture it into the aquifers. They are normally built between 1 – 4 meters deep and at points in a farm which can capture the runoff water. They are shallow but deep enough to prevent algae and water hyacinths. These recharge ponds help improve the soil moisture and improve agriculture production even in dry conditions. These ponds also help in reducing the salinity in the ground water. These recharge ponds used to be the favourites in traditional farms but slowly disappeared from most farms in the greed to use all available area for cultivation and ultimately bringing down the crop cycles and yields from the farm.

Conclusion

It is much cheaper to recharge ground water than to build large storage structures above the ground. These storage structures could be reservoirs or large individual storage tanks. They all occupy scarce and expensive land which could be productively used for cultivation.

Underground storage is environment-friendly and helps reduce soil erosion and maintains the ecological balance in times of drought conditions. Every farmer must put in efforts to improve the water table for a sustainable future as well abundant produce and prosperity.
True wealth is to live happily. Living with nature, listening to the symphony of the birds, breathing oxygen-rich clean air, living healthy and fulfilling lives is richness. Chemical poisoning, pollution and sickness are not the wealth that we should seek. We need to redefine our belief and re-invent the value systems of our past where Green was the real Gold.