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Water resource management for sustainable crop

production in India
Rajan Bhatt
Assistant Professor (Soil Scinece)
Krishi Vigyan Kendra,Kapurthala

The life of mankind and almost all the flora and fauna on the earth depends on the
availability of fresh water resources. Water is used by every one every day. The three
major users of the water are domestic water supply, industry including power generation
and agriculture. About 2/3rd of water withdrawn world wide from rivers and ground water
is used for irrigated agriculture. It is a renewable natural resource but total volume in
hydrological cycle in the globe is constant and very small. Of the earth’s total water
volume of about 1400 Mkm3, about 97% is saline ocean water that is unsuitable for
human as well as for plant use. About 30 Mkm3 of remaining fresh water exists in the ice
caps and glaciers and 4-6 Mkm3 of the ground water remains essentially inaccessible.
Thus only the resources consisting of one percent of the earth’s water is cycled in the
hydrological cycle. Nations of the world particularly the developing countries have made
huge investments for developing their water resources to increase their agricultural
production. But there is an upper limit to the availability of water resources in each
We have entered the third millennium in the history of man kind. The population of the
world which was 2.5 billon 50 years ago has become 6 billons and is likely to cross the 8
billon mark in the next quarter of the century. In India, it has almost crossed 1 billon
mark and is expected to reach 1.4 billion in the next 25 years. Because of the increasing
population and consequently the requirement for food grain and other agricultural
commodities, it is feared that in future water may become the major limiting factor for
producing enough food, fiber and fuel for the projected population.
The sources of all water is precipitation and we are concerned with that part of it
which falls on the surface of the earth and becomes useable. Water reaching the earth’s
ssurface partially infiltrates into it and partly moves as surface runoff. The infiltrated
water is partly retained in the upper surface of the earth constituting the rot zone of the
vegetation and partly lost as deep seepage which adds to the ground water. Soil stored
water is lost through direct evaporation or evapo-transpiration. Efficient management of
water envisages that the maximum portion of water be used by vegetation and minimum
lost as runoff and deep seepage.
As water is becoming scarce, it is becoming increasingly important to conserve
the available water. A number off-farm and on-farm measures need to be imposed to use
the water more efficiently. As water cannot be stretched further for agriculture, it is faced
with challenges to use water more beneficially and efficiently. Questions are being asked
whether the available water resources will be able to sustain the future population. Can
we achieve the sustainable use of water through improved management?
Need for sustainability:
India has achieved spectacular increase in the agricultural production during the past few
decades from . The success of the green revolution is largely attributed to the expansion
of irrigation net work, that existed in the country. Canals in the initial stages and tube
wells immediately thereafter have played a crucial role in the quantum jump in
production. This development of irrigation has been a mixed blessing. While it has
helped increase production, It has caused water logging and salinization in many areas.
Similarly over-exploitation of ground water has resulted in declining water levels in some
area. Soil erosion and siltation in reservoirs and flood damage are the result of the
management of rain water. All these effects are threatening the sustainability of the
system and call for special efforts to achieve sustainable use of water.
According to food and agricultural organization (Pereira et al, 1996).
Sustainable development is the management and conservation of natural resource base
and the technological change to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of the
human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development including
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries conserves genetic resources and is environmentally
non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.
Therefore the objectives of sustainability in the present context is to use water
resources to achieve increased production to meet the needs of ever increasing population
and aspiration of the people without compromising the productivity of land and water.
Major problems and issues related to sustainable water development:
Agricultural production can only be sustained on a large scale basis, if the land, water
and forests on which it is based are not degraded. Many interrelated issues and problems
can be identified in this regard:
• Inefficient use of water at farm level.
• Depletion of ground water.
• Salinity and water logging
• Erosion and sediment ion
• Deforestation
• Inadequate control of agro chemicals
• Improper attention to health considerations.

The problem and issue differ from country to country and often from one project another
project within the same country. The most wide spread and perhaps most serious
environment problem that contributes to unsustainable water resources development in
agriculture is caused by water logging, salinization and sodification. It is reported that out
of 270 m ha of presently irrigated area worldwide, 60-80 m ha are affected to some
extent by water logging ,salinity and 20- 30 m ha are severely affected (UNEP,
1989).Improving irrigation efficiency will not only reduce the hazards of water logging
and salinization , but also provide additional water for irrigating more land.
Deforestation, erosion and sedimentation problems are often related to the water
development projects. FAO (1989) reported that current rate of deforestation
unsustainable. Deforestation can cause soil erosion rates10 to 100 times greater than the
natural levels. Ground water management is causing serious concern in many arid and
semi arid countries. The rate of pumping withdrawal exceeds the rate of recharge of
aquifer resulting in decline of the ground water level. Irrigated agriculture with its
associated intensive cultural practices, such as high levels of fertilizers and agrochemicals
use and deep percolation of water contributes to water pollution .Nitrate contamination of
ground water is likely to be of importance where rural water supplies are concerned.
Requisite of sustainable resource management
Before initiating steps for sustainable management of a resource, it is essential to know
the availability of the resources. Availability of water resources is not static. It varies in
the time and space. The water interacts with the soil in as much as it is first stored in the
soil and then utilized by the plants. Only that part of it is used as evapo-transportation
(ET) which is retained in the root zone. The management of water for sustainable use
would require

1. A fair assessment of the availability of the resources, its distribution in time and
space together with land characters with which it interacts.
2. Conservation of the resources to increase its availability for the useful purposes.
3. Efficient manage for optimizing returns from the source and avoid any adverse
effect on environment in general and quality of the resources in particular.

Assessment of water resources

Precipitation is the main sources of the water resources. It is partitioned into surface
runoff, deep seepage and soil water. The runoff stored in reservoirs and transported
through canal net work comprises the surface water resources. The seepage water joining
the groundwater table becomes the ground water resource. The water retained in the soil
is used by vegetation and is called effective rainfall.
Currently water resources are reported as potential surface and developed surface
water and potential and developed ground water. While the surface water can be
measured as flow or surface storage, the ground water is usually estimated from
fluctuations of the ground water level and specific yield from aquifers Only limited data
for specific yield is available. Similarly precise data on water table fluctuations and also
not available. Information on available water resources in India is collected and reported
by Ministry of Water Resources. The country receives on annual average rainfall of 1200
mm which when multiplied by the geographical area works out to be 400 M ha m. It is
estimated that 188 M ha m of this water constitutes runoff. Because of the nature of
terrain and distribution of rainfall, it is estimated that 69 M ha m runoff can be harnessed
for irrigation. One hundred and seventy five M ha m water enters the soil of which 130 M
ha m is retained in the soil and 45 M ha m is estimated to be added to the ground water
every year. The water retention in the soil is available for the use of vegetation. It must be
conserved against loss by direct evaporation and use by unwanted vegetation.
Unfortunately this has not received adequate attention of planners.
Irrigation potential development and utilization
The ultimate irrigation potential of the country has been estimated to be 113.2 M ha. It
comprises 58.3 M ha from major and medium irrigation schemes; 15.3 M ha from surface
minor irrigation schemes and 39.6 M ha from ground water development.
Out of an average surface runoff flow of 188 M ha m, a live storage of 16.55 M
ha m has been developed so far. Dams to create additional live storage of 7.67 M ha m
are under construction. and 13.10 M ha m are under consideration. Thus it appears that
total live storage capacity as per the present programmed will be around 37 M ha m while
the utilizable surface water is estimated as 69 M ha m. The total replenishable ground
water resources are 45.3 M ha m. Assuming 6.83 M ha m required for drinking, industrial
and other uses, the ground water resumes and irrigation are 38.5 M ha m. The net draft so
far is estimated as 11.57 M ha m which is about 30 percent of the potential available for
irrigation. However ground water development varies from states to states. For example,
ground water development in Punjab stands at 98.2% while in Orrisa it is about 7.13%
Management of water resources
Water is the most precious commodity and its rational development, conservation,
distribution, use and management need special consideration for improving productivity
of land, better efficiency and economic return, and preserving the ecological balance.
Some important management issues for better available water resources are:
1. Exploitation of water resources
2. Crop planning in relation to water availability
3. Increasing water use efficiency.
4. Safe use of saline/sodic ground water for agriculture.
Exploitation of water resources:
During the post independence era, much efforts has been made by the state and central
government to harness the maximum amount of potential water resources in the country.
However, due to a number of factors, including high cost, the gap in potential, planed and
realized water resources have been increasing. Various commissions and committees have
indicated the need for reducing this gap through command area development approach for
optimizing benefits from the investments made in the irrigation projects.
There is strong evidence indicating higher productivity and efficiency of ground water.
However, ground water is liable to over exploitation thereby failing to sustain the long term
growth process and also creating inequity as resource poor farmers will be at a disadvantage.
Ground water resource development should receive the highest priority in our water resource
development planning but to avoid over exploitation and to ensure equitable distribution of
water on a watershed basis, a legal framework should be provided.

Crop planning in relation to water availability

The command area water management includes crop planning on the basis of availability of
water at different times of the season. In practice, crop plans are prepared by the farmers
themselves on the basis of their preference for certain crops, social and economic
considerations and availability of water. Since the issue involved in crop planning are
complex, the cropping pattern for the year should be fixed by the project authorities in
consultation with the agricultural university, credit agencies, irrigation engineers,
organization dealing with supply of inputs, and farmers representatives. The evaluation of
cropping pattern should be a gradual process of adjustment of the factors responsible for
deciding the cropping plan in a command area.
Canal irrigation in India was mostly designed for stabilizing agriculture and for extensive
rather intensive/productive agriculture. Our major and medium irrigation project can hardly
meet the needs of the changing scenario of high yielding varieties and new cropping systems
that are more exacting and demand time supply of irrigation water at critical stages of the
growth. In the wheat belt of Punjab and Haryana, the dwarf high yielding varieties of wheat
requires irrigation at crown root initiation stage or in the first three weeks after sowing,
whereas the previously grown tall varieties could withstand water stress in the first two
months after sowing. The introduction of the new varieties necessitated changes in the
irrigation at the most critical stages of crop growth. Thanks to water management research
over the last 2 to 3 decades, specific information has been available for increasing the
efficiency of water use as enhancing returns to the irrigation. Of late, irrigation schedule can
be calculated with computer model based on formation on climate, soil, crop and
management factors.

Increasing water use efficiency

The ultimate aim in the area of water management is to use water more efficiently by keeping
productivity at a high level. Water-use efficiency being a ratio is influenced by changes in
both the numerator (dry matter production) and denominator (evaporation). Water use
efficiency can be increased by genetic and environment manipulations of the crop. It can also
be increased by decreasing the evapotraspiration and other losses of water. Crop yields can
be increased without significant increase in water used by selecting suitable crop varieties
adopted to climatic conditions of the locality and through agronomic management, such as
using good quality seed, sowing at appropriate time and depth, placing balanced fertilizers in
the soil in adequate quantity and at right time, as well as protecting crops from infestation
from weeds, insect pest and diseases. The use of anti-transpirants, growth retardants,
mulches, shelterbelts, etc. have been reported to increase the water use efficiency to various
extant through reduction in evapotranspiration losses.

Increasing irrigation efficiency and improving drainage

Irrigation water is subject to three kind of loses, viz, conveyance, application and
distribution/deep percolation. In the chain of delivery system it has been proved that as much
as 70% of water is lost in these three kinds of ways. No doubt some of the progressive states
have taken up the work of lining the canals and distributaries but lining of field channels with
good quality material is equally important.
Experimental evidence is available that deep percolation losses of water which ranges from
60-70%, or even more in case of rice, can be reduced considerably with a change in the
concept of keeping standing water to scheduling irrigation at the point of disappearance of
tillage operation. It has been proved beyond doubt that furrow irrigation in wide-spread crops
is the best, followed by border method of irrigation whereas check basin irrigation has
proved to be the best most efficient method of irrigation in term of water economy. However,
a lot of extension effort is required to educate the farmers to adopt the right method and
schedule of irrigation in relation to type of crop sown, volume of discharge, and soil type. In
water deficit areas adaptation of efficient irrigation methods like drip irrigation

Thus, it is a greater emphasis fact that the most important fact that the importance of
the water is of great thus to conserve the conserve that the conservation of the water is of
great importance .