Clean Tech

Tackling water in the time of climate change, floods and drought

Preeti Mehra | Updated on November 05, 2019

Towards water security: The Prakasam barrage across the Krishna river in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.

Pilot projects help Vijayawada and Solapur transition to an integrated approach to water management

Water transcends boundaries and so does its management. It is this belief that is driving two pilot projects — in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh and Solapur in Maharashtra — that aim to help conserve water, improve its quality and ensure its security at a time when rapid urbanisation and climate change are playing havoc with the environment and natural resources.

Poor water management can result in flooding, water shortages and drought, and can have serious consequences on the health of citizens and economic development. The scarcity of water resources, in turn, also effects a change in cropping patterns and land use, variable rainfall patterns, risk to biodiversity, and industry. It is also often a source of conflict between States and even countries.

ICLEI South Asia, an arm of the global network ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, which focuses on sustainable urban development, has, along with its partners, chosen the two cities to showcase how an integrated approach to water management can lead to better decision-making by local government bodies and bring better water security to a region.

Vijayawada, on the banks of the Krishna, was chosen as it is prone to natural disasters such as flooding, cyclones and high rainfall variability, and has several polluted water bodies. Solapur, in contrast, is water-deficient and vulnerable to drought. Among its four water resources, only the Ujjani dam, located about 100 km from the city, is a perennial source. Water availability in the city is low, and supply strained due to high demand from industry and irrigation. Additionally, the water resources are polluted.

ICLEI tied up with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Athena Infonomics India Pvt Ltd and IIT-Madras for the three-year-long city projects which started in 2017 and will close early next year. Supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, the first step was to delineate one micro-catchment area in each city and develop a rural-urban joint governance platform — RURBAN — that would bring all stakeholders together to discuss the problems at hand, and take joint decisions so that both urban and rural communities can participate and come up with solutions.

“The RURBAN platform, created under the IAdapt project, is a one-of-a-kind initiative, bringing together rural and urban stakeholders, including local authorities, to plan for and address challenges to their shared resources,” says Emani Kumar, Executive Director, ICLEI, South Asia. “I believe formalising this initiative in the country would go a long way to avoid water conflicts.”

Bringing stakeholders on board

The IAdapt (Integrated rural urban water management for Climate-based Adaptations in Indian cities) project brings on board a larger geography than the appointed jurisdictions of the local governments. The RURBAN platform, in order to be effective and take quick decisions, comprises a wide spectrum of stakeholders including the local mayor, commissioner, municipal councillors, district authorities, and the departments of health, engineering, planning, irrigation, water supply and sanitation. They, along with block development officers, ground water board, water resource department, citizens, NGOs and self-help groups, form the decision-making body on the usage, treatment, recharge, recycling and supply of water, a resource now more precious than perhaps at any other time in history. In short, the approach encourages a participatory model for managing water sources and resources.

“Traditional water management by local governments in India has involved looking at water supply, waste water and storm water as three separate tasks that need execution. These are also restricted to the appointed areas of governance, leading to non-optimisation of water as a resource with water management taking place in silos,” explains Senior Project Coordinator, Bedoshruti Sadhukhan.

Micro-catchment areas

One of the initial steps was to chalk out the micro catchment areas in the Bhima river basin for Solapur city and Krishna river basin for Vijayawada. In Vijayawada, the pilot catchment comprises a 284 sq km area spread across three mandals (Vijayawada Urban, Vijayawada Rural and Gannavaram, covering 12 wards and eight villages). Flow accumulation, drainage and slope, among others, were studied through digital elevation models and hydrological models. Hydrological modelling for the micro-catchments showed the potential impact of climate change on water resources and the linkages therein.

Anupama VS, Associate Consultant, Athena Infonomics, says: “It is time we looked at water resources through a catchment boundary lens and not just through the administrative boundary one.”

Decision support tool

Apart from this, a decision support tool (DST) was developed and is now being piloted. “This tells us if a particular decision is going to support the objectives of the project and also indicate its impact,” explains Monalisa Sen, Programme Coordinator at ICLEI, South Asia. “The DST also works out a plan of action to be carried out by the RURBAN platform, which includes a catchment management plan, capacity building for platform members and informing them of alternate sources of financing.”

With the projects coming to an end early next year, the evaluation of their impact is still to be done. But some positive results are already showing. For instance, in Vijayawada, where the project has taken off very successfully thanks to a proactive district collector in Krishna district, a district-level RURBAN steering committee has been formed. “There are efforts being made to establish it at the State government level as well. Water issues are all interlinked and there is need to create a sense of urgency about them,” says Sairam M, Associate Director, Athena Infonomics, who is part of a three-member team working at the ground level in Vijayawada.

Published on November 05, 2019

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