Traditional water conservation techniques of India

Traditional water wisdom and systems of RajasthanNews Cusp | News Cusp
A jhalara in Rajasthan

1. Jhalaras

Jhalaras are typically rectangular-shaped stepwells that have tiered steps on three or four sides. These stepwells collect the subterranean seepage of an upstream reservoir or a lake. Jhalaras were built to ensure easy and regular supply of water for religious rites, royal ceremonies and community use. The city of Jodhpur has eight jhalaras, the oldest being the Mahamandir Jhalara that dates back to 1660 AD.

2. Talab /Bandhi

Talabs are reservoirs that store water for household consumption and drinking purposes. They may be natural, such as the pokhariyan ponds at Tikamgarh in the Bundelkhand region or man made, such as the lakes of Udaipur. A reservoir with an area less than five bighas is called a talai, a medium sized lake is called a bandhi and bigger lakes are called sagar or samand.

3. Bawari

Bawari | Hindi Water | Flickr

Bawaris are unique stepwells that were once a part of the ancient networks of water storage in the cities of Rajasthan. The little rain that the region received would be diverted to man-made tanks through canals built on the hilly outskirts of cities. The water would then percolate into the ground, raising the water table and recharging a deep and  intricate network of aquifers. To minimise water loss through evaporation, a series of layered steps were built around the reservoirs to narrow and deepen the wells.

4. Taanka

Taanka is a traditional rainwater harvesting technique indigenous to the Thar desert region of Rajasthan. A Taanka is a cylindrical paved underground pit into which rainwater from rooftops, courtyards or artificially prepared catchments flows. Once completely filled, the water stored in a taanka can last throughout the dry season and is sufficient for a family of 5-6 members. An important element of water security in these arid regions, taankas can save families from the everyday drudgery of fetching water from distant sources.

5. Ahar Pynes

Ahar Pynes are traditional floodwater harvesting systems indigenous to South Bihar. Ahars are reservoirs with embankments on three sides that are built at the end of diversion channels like pynes. Pynes are artificial rivulets led off from rivers to collect water in the ahars for irrigation in the dry months.  Paddy cultivation in this relatively low rainfall area depends mostly on ahar pynes.

6. Johads

Water Johads: A Low-Tech Alternative to Mega-Dams in India

Johads, one of the oldest systems used to conserve and recharge ground water, are small earthen check dams that capture and store rainwater. Constructed in an area with naturally high elevation on three sides, a storage pit is made by excavating the area, and excavated soil is used to create a wall on the fourth side. Sometimes, several johads are interconnected through deep channels, with a single outlet opening into a river or stream nearby. This prevents structural damage to the water pits that are also called madakas in Karnataka and pemghara in Odisha.

7. Panam Keni

The Kuruma tribe (a native tribe of Wayanad) uses a special type of well, called the panam keni, to store water. Wooden cylinders are made by soaking the stems of toddy palms in water for a long time so that the core rots away until only the hard outer layer remains. These cylinders, four feet in diameter as well as depth, are then immersed in groundwater springs located in fields and forests. This is the secret behind how these wells have abundant water even in the hottest summer months.

8. Bamboo Drip Irrigation

Bamboo Drip Irrigation

Bamboo Drip irrigation System is an ingenious system of efficient water management that has been practised for over two centuries in northeast India. The tribal farmers of the region have developed a system for irrigation in which water from perennial springs is diverted to the terrace fields using varying sizes and shapes of bamboo pipes. Best suited for crops requiring less water, the system ensures that small drops of water are delivered directly to the roots of the plants. This ancient system is used by the farmers of Khasi and Jaintia hills to drip-irrigate their black pepper cultivation.

9. Eri

The Eri (tank) system of Tamil Nadu is one of the oldest water management systems in India. Still widely used in the state, eris act as flood-control systems, prevent soil erosion and wastage of runoff during periods of heavy rainfall, and also recharge the groundwater. Eris can either be a system eri, which is fed by channels that divert river water, or a non-system eri, that is fed solely by rain. The tanks are interconnected in order to enable access to the farthest village and to balance the water level in case of excess supply. The eri system enables the complete use of  river water for irrigation and without them, paddy cultivation would have been impossible in Tamil Nadu.

Pat System

The Pat system, in which the peculiarities of the terrain are used to divert water from hill streams into irrigation channels, was developed in the Bhitada village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. Diversion bunds are made across a stream near the village by piling up stones and then lining them with teak leaves and mud to make them leak-proof. The Pat channel then passes through deep ditches and stone aqueducts that are skilfully cut info stone cliffs to create an irrigation system that the villagers use in turn.