How a professor and his band of students are helping a village save water

A J Vinayak Mangaluru | Updated on January 26, 2018 Published on January 26, 2018

Together, we can: Students at work on a check dam in Madanthyar, Dakshina Kannada district.

Joseph NM, professor of economics at Sacred Heart College in Madanthyar   -  AJ VINAYAK

With check dams, percolation pits and roofwater harvesting, this team has rejuvenated Madanthyar’s water table

Barely 15 years ago, Madanthyar village, around 50 km from Mangaluru, used to get water from the Kukkala and Artilahalla rivulets till March. Now the rivulets are dry by November.

Back then, people could hit water at a depth of 65-135 ft in borewells, though these were a rare sight. Today, there are around 50-60 borewells within 1 sq km of Madanthyar. Most draw water from a depth of 400-plus ft. This, in a region that gets average annual rainfall of 4,000-4,500 mm.

Joseph NM, a professor of economics from Sacred Heart College in Madanthyar, with a band of students, and the full support of his institution, has been rejuvenating traditional water conservation methods at Madanthyar. The team has been using traditional check dams, water percolation pits, and roofwater harvesting.

Around 100 students from the Jala Kranti (water revolution) team from his college and from another one in neighbouring Belthangady have worked to revive six check dams across the Artilahalla rivulet over an 8-km stretch. Farmers in the nearby areas are now enjoying the benefits of their hard work.

Joseph, who did his doctoral thesis on water resource management in Belthangady taluk, told BusinessLine that the region suffers water scarcity not because of less rainfall or the increase in population but due to the sheer negligence in water resource management. Though Belthangady taluk has around 2,000 check dams, barely 10 per cent of them are functional.

Mud bunds, he explains, were a vital part of farming in the olden days. There was community participation in building bunds as many farmers had vast holdings of paddy fields.

What went wrong

Over the years, the paddy fields were converted to arecanut plantations. With fragmented landholdings, community participation took a backseat and individual-centric borewellsbegan to pop up in the village. These borewells are responsible for the drying of springs, streams and rivulets in Belthangady taluk, he said.

The students use local resources such as sand bags and the mud available in the region to construct check dams.

Each such dam now holds water to an extent of 1-1.5 km.

Melwyn D’Souza, one of the farmers who benefited from these check dams, said water scarcity affected his arecanut plantation last year. However, the check dam near his plantation has helped increase the water table in open wells and ponds in his locality this year.

Vivek Pais, coordinator of the Sacred Heart Watershed Committee, said that the sub-surface water flow has helped irrigate around 125 acres of farmland of 300 farmers. This was not the case last year.

Walking the talk

Construction of check dams should become an integral part of a farmer’s work, feels Joseph, who harvests around 10 lakh litres of rainwater from his house in Madanthyar. Around half of the harvested water is used by his family, and the rest goes to recharge the open well.

Rainwater harvesting is not just about digging percolation pits or roofwater harvesting, says Joseph. Rejuvenation of open wells, ponds, and check dams should be a part of such an exercise, he insists. This will help recharge the water table.

To celebrate its 125th year, Sacred Heart Church has now taken up water conservation as its main theme. Around 300 water-percolation pits have been dug on five acres of land in the campus. With trees dotting the landscape, this land is also a home to many birds.

The college building alone sees 30 lakh litres of rainwater harvested. Plans are now being drawn up to harvest another 1.28 crore litres of rainwater from three more institutions in the campus.

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Published on January 26, 2018
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