A River Basin Perspective of Water Resources and Challenges

A River Basin Perspective of Water Resources and Challenges

Authors: Anju Gaur (World Bank) and Priyanie Amerasinghe (International Water Management Institute)

The surface water resources potential in India is estimated to be around 1,869 km3. Due to topographical constraints and spatio-temporal variations in resources, it is estimated that only about 1,123 km3, (690 km3from surface water and 433 km3from groundwater) (Central Water Commission [CWC] 2010), can be used. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations, the per capita availability of less than 2,000 m3/year is defined as a water-stressed condition, and the per capita availability below 1,000 m3/year is termed as a water-scarce condition. Due to a 3-fold increase in population during 1951–2010, the per capita availability of water in the country as a whole decreased from 5,177 m3/year in 1951 to 1,588 m3/year in 2010 (CWC 2010). This suggests that at a macro level, India is in a water-stressed state. The story at the local/regional level is far starker. Increasing shortages are felt at local levels which can spread to the regional level as the population continues to grow. India is divided into 20 river basins. Out of these, 14 basins are in a water-stressed condition (of which 10 are water-stressed, Table 1.1). The disparity among river basins is wide. The Brahmaputra-Barak basin has a total water availability of 11,782 m3/per person. On the other hand in river basins, such as Sabarmati and east flowing rivers (Pennar and Kanyakumari), the availability of water is as low as 260 m3per person per year (Table 1.1).

The stress on water resources (both surface and groundwater) is increasing rapidly due to rising demands of various users and the deteriorating quality of water. In many regions in India the extraction of groundwater is more than the recharge (Chapter 7). The pollution of water resources caused by discharge of untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents in rivers and the sea, and agro-chemicals penetration in groundwater has further exacerbated the availability of good quality water.

In short, the country’s fragile resources are stressed and are depleting fast, both in quantity and quality.

Preserving the quality of water and managing multiple demands on it require an integrated water management strategy. The problem, however, is that water is a state subject and its management is spread across multiple organizations with hardly any coordination. This has posed difficulties in streamlining management issues. Another challenge in the management of water is that state boundaries do not coincide with the geographical boundary of the resource. Though the National Water Policy, 2002 recognizes that river basins should be the basic hydrological unit for integrated planning and development of water resources, this has not happened so far. This chapter presents an overview of the state of water resources in India. Though the strategies and policies to address various issues affecting the sector are discussed in later chapters, key strategic issues to bridge the gap between increasing demand and supply at the basin level are presented in this chapter.