In most semi-arid parts of India, farmers face significant water shortages and risk of crop failure even with a slightly abnormal decline or delay in monsoonal rains. With advances in pumping technology and its easy affordability, groundwater exploitation for irrigation by small-holder farmers across India has undergone massive expansion and has to some extent enabled farmers to manage deficiencies in monsoonal rainfall, and even allow dry-season irrigation, thus contributing to poverty alleviation. However, rapid population increases and groundwater use in the past three decades in many parts of India has resulted in the exploitation of groundwater at a rate far greater than the natural recharge of these systems. The presence of over 20 million wells has meant that groundwater is over extracted and groundwater levels are declining raising serious questions from a hydrological, ecological, agricultural and community point of view. The management of groundwater recharge by deliberately directing surface waters to aquifers is one means of reducing the over-exploitation of groundwater.
A range of on-ground works to recharge groundwater are being implemented at village scale throughout India as a part of the Government of India’s ‘National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ (NREGA) to enhance livelihood opportunities while developing a durable asset base. The investment through NREGA is significant (over $10 billion per year with no upper limit) involving and benefitting rural people directly through employment. More than half of this investment is for enhancing long-term, local water security by on-ground structures such as check dams, percolation tanks, surface spreading basins, pits, recharge shafts and sub-surface dykes. A key motivation of these works is to recharge local groundwater resources. The type, location and the level of investment in relation to the on-ground works is based on a range of considerations but often they are not implemented with adequate technical scrutiny. This need will be addressed by this project and there are great opportunities for adoption of research outputs by feeding into the implementation activities of NREGA.