Water Management needs a Hydro-Social approach

  • IASbaba
  • March 11, 2022
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Water
  • GS-2: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure

Water Management needs a Hydro-Social approach

Context: The freshwater resources are under stress, the principal driver being human activities in their various forms.

What approach is required for water management?

  • It is globally estimated that the gap between demand for and supply of fresh water may reach up to 40% by 2030 if present practices continue.
  • The latest UN World Water Development Report, 2021, titled ‘Valuing Water’, has called for proper valuation of water by considering five interrelated perspectives: 
    • water sources
    • water infrastructure 
    • water services 
    • water as an input to production and socio-economic development 
    • sociocultural values of water

What are the anthropogenic factors that influence a freshwater system?

The anthropogenic factors directly influencing a freshwater system are

  • engineering of river channels
  • irrigation and other consumptive use of water
  • widespread land use/land cover change
  • change in an aquatic habitat
  • point and non-point source pollution affecting water quality
  • Inefficient use of water resources in all sectors
  • reduction in natural storage capacity
  • deterioration in catchment efficiency

What approach can be taken to rectify the water imbalance?

  • The intra- and inter-basin transfer (IBT) of water is a major hydrological intervention to rectify the imbalance in water availability due to naturally prevailing unequal distribution of water resources within a given territory.
  • There has been nearly 110 water transfer mega projects that have either been executed (34 projects) or being planned/under construction (76 projects) across the world.
  • The National River Linking Project of India (mooted in 1970 and revived in 1999) is one of those under construction. 

What are some of the issues with IBT of water approach?

  • Contestation of Surplus & Deficit basin: The basic premise of IBT is to export water from the surplus basin to a deficit basin. However, there is contestation on the concept of the surplus and deficit basin itself as the exercise is substantially hydrological. Population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and declining rainfall are raising concerns on the surplus character of a basin.
  • Lack of Grey water usage: It is estimated that 55% to 75% of domestic water use turns into grey water. This can be treated and used efficiently given the huge quantity involved.
  • Capacity utilisation of water infrastructure: By 2016, India created an irrigation potential for 112 million hectares, but the gross irrigated area was 93 million hectares. There is a 19% gap, which is more in the case of canal irrigation. 
    • In 1950-51, canal irrigation used to contribute 40% of net irrigated area, but by 2014-15, the net irrigated area under canal irrigation came down to less than 24%. 
    • Ground water irrigation now covers 62.8% of net irrigated area. 
    • The average water use efficiency of irrigation projects in India is only 38% against 50%-60% in the case of developed countries.
    • Rice and wheat, accounting for more than 75% of agricultural production use 2,850 m3/tonnes and 1,654 m3/tonnes of water, respectively. Global average is 2,291m3/tonnes & 1,334m3/ tonnes in the same order.
    • The agriculture sector uses a little over 90% of total water use in India.
    • In industrial plants, consumption is 2 times to 3.5 times higher per unit of production of similar plants in other countries. 
    • Similarly, the domestic sector experiences a 30% to 40% loss of water due to leakage.
  • Sensitive Nature of the issue: Water projects are politically charged and manifest an interplay of social relations, social power, and technology.

Way Ahead

The need of the hour is

  • Source sustainability
  • Renovation and maintenance of traditional water harvesting structures
  • Strengthening grey water management infrastructure
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Increasing water use efficiency and reuse of water.
  • Involve non-state actors in decision-making processes


  • A hybrid water management system is necessary, where (along with professionals and policy makers) the individual, a community and society have definite roles in the value chain. The challenge is not to be techno-centric but anthropogenic.

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Do you think river interlinking is the most suitable way forward for water management in India? Critically examine. 
  2. The idea of interlinking the rivers to fight droughts and floods in various parts of the country might be economically prudent but its ecological fallouts outweigh the other benefits. Critically comment

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