Groundwater crisis and participatory water accounting in an Indian village

How PP-GIS can help stakeholders understand true causes of their problems & solve them.


Several upland villages in India are suffering from acute groundwater depletion that has resulted in collapse of the agricultural economy and distress migration to urban areas. Farmer owners and workers believe that it is due to a lack of rainfall and that nothing can be done. A PM study of an affected village was conducted to enable stakeholders to identify the true causes of their groundwater crisis and to devise specific sustainable solutions to their problem. Participatory GIS (P-GIS) was used to map the evolution of wells and farms, and their water and crop yields, over time. The maps helped stakeholders visualize and understand water accounting issues better and helped them build models.



One of the authors of the present paper had settled down in this village and was the primary facilitator for the P-GIS effort. In total, 14 participatory water accounting and modeling exercises using GIS maps were carried out over two years. Initially, participatory mapping using a blackboard as representation medium was conducted with 30 stakeholders, selected using stratified sampling from each category of farm stakeholders. Rough maps of wells and farms and their water and crop yields were created for different decades using stakeholder recollections. Transect walks were then done with some of the stakeholders to collect data about each well and farm using a mobile based GPS/GIS application. Accurate location data, detailed questionnaire-based attribute data, audio interviews, and photographs were collected. Accurate GIS maps of wells and farms showing their evolution over time were prepared by some of the stakeholders using a custom Quantum GIS plug-in. These GIS maps were used during focus group discussions with stakeholders to carry out the participatory water accounting and modeling exercise. Recharge of groundwater aquifers due to rainfall, and discharge of water from wells to farms for crop irrigation, were calculated over time and a time-dependent model for groundwater use was built. Using this model, stakeholders planned, analyzed, and discussed alternative solutions, such as the linkage of well conduits into a village-wide grid for sharing/selling water, returning to traditional cropping patterns or traditions, etc. Various funding agencies were approached with some of these plans, and a few of them were implemented. Their implementation was regularly monitored by the stakeholders using P-GIS.



All farm owners and workers in the study village were invited to these exercises. Out of about 300 such households in the village, members from about 30 households participated in the exercises. Care was taken to ensure that households from all socio-economic strata participated. During transect walks for collecting data about wells and farms, farmers and farm workers provided information and guidance, while youth and school children from the households provided technical help in using mobile-based GPS/GIS application. High school children participated in preparing GIS maps of wells and farms using a custom Quantum GIS plug-in.



A simple numerical model was built, based on detailed calculations estimating groundwater recharge and well discharge, to help understand the causes responsible for the groundwater depletion (Kolagani 2014). The participatory modeling helped stakeholders understand that reduced rainfall, which they do not have control over, was just one of the causes, and that a more important cause was their own over-exploitation of groundwater reserves (Figure 4). This led to discussions about the need to limit water exploitation at sustainable levels, while seeking reasonable economic returns from agriculture. They used the model to analyze different scenarios such as linking well conduits into a village water network, and returning to traditional cropping patterns, with the objective of devising economically and ecologically sustainable plans. Some of these plans were implemented immediately, and others are being followed up with various funding agencies.

  • : Nagesh Kolagani