Mapping lifelines, a step towards their revival

Mapping lifelines, a step towards their revival

Kasargod Swarga Thodu

A scene of residents of Vani Nagara and Badi in Padre village on the Kerala- Karnataka border waiting with a barrel outside their houses during last summer to collect water came as a wake up call to the villagers. Further, drying of the perennial 8-km-long Swarga Thodu, a rivulet, for the first time, forced the villagers to sink at least 100 to 150 borewells to meet the water requirements.

Shocked by these developments in Padre, hitherto a water-rich village, a few like-minded people decided to work towards improving the water table and create awareness about the judicious usage of water. 

Unprecedented drought

The thodu has been the lifeline of the village for generations. But this year, an unprecedented drought has led to the drying up of over 100 open wells, bore wells and rivulets. “Hence, we felt an urgent need to act before the condition worsens,” says water conservation expert Shree Padre, also a resident of the village.

In an attempt to understand the ground reality, the group studied the condition of the thodu for two weeks covering its entire course. They then realised that of 37 traditional kattas (earthen bunds) built across the thodu, many had disappeared over the years. Only eight kattas were present, says Shree Padre. This made them prepare a three-step action plan to revive the rivulet and its two-kilometre long tributary, Padpu-Poyye Thodu.

According to Shrinivasa Perikkana, a former Gram Panchayat member, plantations and paddy fields of about 100 farmers are situated along Swarga Thodu and  Padpu-Poyye Thodu. All these years, water from the two rivulets was being used to irrigate over 300 acres of farmland. The shift in crop pattern from paddy to arecanut and overdependency on water sources available in the farmland led to the neglect and gradual disappearence of kattas. This, in turn, reduced the groundwater table. “The rivulet was getting recharged within two summer showers in the past,” Shrinivasa noted.

Apart from those who own land, hundreds of people who work on the farms depend on the main rivulet. Kattas help hold water in summer which facilitates groundwater recharge. “Looking at the precarious situation during summer, we decided to reconstruct all the 17 kattas that existed in the past between Poyye and Padpu. The work will begin in November. The measure will surely help in reviving the Swarga Thodu,” said Sajangadde Srihari Bhat, another farmer. 

Sustainable approach

“I have been building kattas for the last 15 years to draw water from thodu and to irrigate my crops. They are a sustainable way of using water,” said Jagadish Kuthaje, a farmer.

On the action plan for revival of thodu, retired headmaster and farmer Subrahmanya Bhat KY says, In the next step, rainwater will be harvested by digging percolation pits in the hilly areas of the village by adopting site-specific harvesting techniques. This, in turn, will also prevent soil erosion during heavy rains and make the ‘shallow aquifer’ hold water. With this, clean water can flow into the rivulet during summer. Priority will also be given to recharging borewells and open wells in simple and cost-effective methods.

With the onset of monsoon, the team is providing guidance to people on how to recharge their water sources. Accordingly, rainwater harvesting by facilitating water percolation has been taken up on the farmlands of Badi Ramchandra Bhat and Swarga Hrushikesh.

Vignesh Shiranthadka, who has dug 150 percolation pits in his farmland, says, “Drought did not affect my plantation crops much. About 95% of the rainwater falling on my land percolates through the soil. I experienced water shortage only after mid-May, and depended on a borewell to draw water.” According to him, with proper water harvesting structures, on an average 1.40 crore litre of rainwater can be percolated in one acre of land.

To tide over impending water crisis and to improve the groundwater table, the villagers have developed a madaka, a traditional water harvesting structure, with a capacity to hold 30,000 litres of water at Appayya Moole, the birthplace of Swarga Thodu.

On activities of recharging the water table, Subrahmanya Bhat says, kalpane (laterite quarry) pits in Vani Nagara have been turned into water storage units. Rainwater that flows in the nearby areas is diverted to these pits, which then recharges the groundwater. “As a farmer, I have also laid trenches in my farmland to minimise the runoff,” he said.

“As a part of the action plan, we are planning to implement water conservation and water recharge methods that we adopted along the course of Swarga Thodu to the rest of the village. We are also planning to revive the traditional sources of water including springs and tanks. There are plans to create awareness among schoolchildren on the importance of water conservation. With community participation and judicious use of water, we hope that the thodu springs back to life in the next two monsoons,” says Shree Padre.