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Towards a desirable future

self-motivated People of Naroor in Uttara Kannada clean the village tank. Photos by author

Things seem to have come in full circle regarding water crisis in and around Naroor, a village near Banavasi in Uttara Kannada district. The once-parched lands are now gradually coming back to life because of sustained community efforts.

On average, Naroor records an annual rainfall of 1300-1400 mm. The village has two tanks, Savatikere and Agasibagilu Kere, which are the major water sources. Savatikere is spread over 16-hectare land, while Agasibagilu Kere over five acres. The total catchment area of the two lakes is 40 square kilometres. In the past, these two tanks along with 10 small ponds and trenches used to meet the water requirements of the village and neighbouring places.

These water sources would be brimming soon after the monsoons, meeting the household and agricultural needs of the people of Naroor and two other neighbouring villages. The village also had more open wells and a limited number of borewells. Through the sluice gates, water would be discharged scientifically to the cultivating lands during the rabi season. As the cropping pattern changed, the water-storing capacity of the tanks could not align with the growing needs of the region. 

Shift in action

In the recent two decades, the situation in the area has undergone a sea change. During monsoons, the water did not remain in the tanks but flowed out at a quicker pace. And without proper water conservation methods, the water didn’t percolate. This subsequently left the tanks with hardly any water. A few villagers anticipated if the waters flow slowed down, they could engage in fishing to earn their livelihood but their hopes were in vain as they found water receded fast due to large amounts of silt deposits in the tank. 

In the past few decades, there was a transition in the water-use pattern. Till then, farming was carried out in only one catchment area. But later, it expanded to the command area. Areca nut, ginger, banana and maize replaced the traditional paddy crop. Due to uncontrolled human intervention and shifts in the weather pattern, open wells in Naroor dried up. The village started digging more borewells to source water for cultivation. Thus the focus shifted from surface water extraction to groundwater extraction. 

As the tanks continued to remain dry, villagers felt the need for efforts to rejuvenate them, else the survival would be difficult. In 2009, under the Jala Samvardhana Yojana scheme, the World Bank funded the rejuvenation efforts of the two tanks. Moreover, a tank users association was also formed to oversee the maintenance of tanks and to manage water. Beneficiaries of the lakes paid a prescribed fee and initiated efforts to revive them.

Within a span of two years, bunds, sluice gates and other crucial spots were repaired and restored. About 10,000 cubic metres of silt was removed from Agasebagilu tank.

However, Savatikere continued to face challenges. Encroachment of lands on Savatikere catchment area was a major hurdle. The district administration did not have valid documents to determine boundaries of the lake, making it difficult to take up a desilting project without conducting a survey to identify the boundaries.

Persistent efforts of the association yielded results and a survey was conducted in 2014 to fix the boundaries. With the help of local elected representatives and association members, the lake was fenced. There was not much resistance for encroachment clearances.

The region faced a severe drought in 2015. The association members dug up trenches on the tank bed so that a little water was available for animals. They continued desilting the tank.

Efforts are paying off

In 2018, some NGOs came forward to support the cause and Rs 6 lakh was raised for the purpose. Local residents voluntarily shifted the silt. Collaborative efforts gave a new lease of life to Agasebagilu tank. Within weeks, it rained heavily and the tank was brimming with water. The people in the region heaved a sigh of relief when the rains filled the parched tanks and water bodies with water following a series of droughts. Huge investments and participatory efforts of villagers had finally paid off.

People who once used water resources unsustainably are now active in water conservation efforts. They highlight judicious utilisation of water and request against unscientific and over-extraction of water. This year, rainwater harvesting methods have been implemented to augment the process of water restoration. One can see a fleet of birds, both native and migratory, arriving at the tank indicating the improved situation. Interestingly, over 40 youths who had migrated to urban areas have come back and are engaged in farming and related activities.

(Translated by Jagadish Angadi)

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