Sustainable Water Resources Management

water resources

Global warming and Climate change has become global talk now. The impacts have already been realized in the water resources sector. But the authorities already working in the water management are failed to adopt holistic approaches. Either they do not understand or failed to implement in the field.

Rivers, streams, lakes and ponds are our life line. For improving the livelihood of people, every state is voicing for their rights for water resources.

Except few states, all states are struggling lot for the better water supply. Other side even the good old lake system have disappeared due to mismanagement. After closing thousands of lakes for urban and industrial development now crying for water when crisis arises is common scenario in many states.

For better water resources management, central, state and local governments are launching many schemes in all nations across the globe. But still the situation becomes worse due to poor strategy. The water resources management insists the integrated approach because the various stake holders are utilizing the water.

Irrigation, domestic, individual, fisheries, environment and ecology are the major uses of the water bodies. One way or the other, the water resources is over utilized or polluted in each sector.

Water resources management generally insists the physical improvement but those activities also planned independently. The meaning of water resources management is to utilize the every drop of water for the production. For growing population more food grains are needed and so more food production depends on the water resources management.

For population growth employment is necessary for which more industries are needed which requires more water resources. Entertainment also become essential for the machine life human being and so entertainment also requires more water. At last ecology is a fundamental for future sustainable management and so water resources required for good environment and ecology.

So water resources management insists the integrated approach from all stake holders. In addition water quality is also important along with water quantity. Sufficient water quantity is available but could not be used due to poor quality is a new situation arises every corner. Integrated approach is needed for increase of quantity and improvement of quality.

Lastly, all management activities taken to improve the water resources is lies with the utility. At present in all the sectors, water scarcity increases. Even though, the people tend to use more water for their production purpose. So the stake holders like farmers, industrialists,
public, and administrators shall acquire a new modern knowledge in economic use of water resources.

This paper highlights the need of sustainable water resources management and environmental action plan with respect to stake holders, quality and quantity and also economic utilization.


Rivers, streams, ponds, lakes reservoirs, dams and ground water aquifer are the essential eco system of the earth’s landscape. They are not just storage of water and flow of water, but are habitats differ greatly in their hydrological, physical, chemical and biological characteristics and are accordingly recognized as different eco systems.

Water resources development had started from Old Stone Age itself when people started their agriculture activities near the banks of the rivers. From then, the water resources development attained in the form of Anicuts, ponds, lakes tanks, channels, reservoirs and over head tanks and distribution system network etc.

Even at the 21st century, many thousands of villages yet to get treated potable water is the reality not a dream. For past few decades water resources development has become top of the priority list. One area of the nation is flooding and rain water flow to sea and other side severe drought and water scarcity are the common scenario in many nations.

All the stake holders viz, agriculture, industry, domestic, and environment (Flora and Fauna) face water crisis in many river basins. Intra basin transfer of water has been implemented in many states to solve the drinking water problems. Untapped surface water potential is being harvested in the surplus basins by constructions of small, medium and major dam and other side environmentalist are launching demonstration against the construction of large dams. But water demand is increasing day by day due to rapid population growth and urbanization. The various steps and action plan taken by the National and International level to solve the crisis of water resources is highly appreciated.

But still the policy makers and administrators found difficult to manage the water issues in all sector. Conflict of water issues from country to country, state to state, district to district and head sluice to tail end also increasing everywhere. The increase of water pollution makes the water bodies unfit even for agriculture and tourism. Urbanization and industrialization leads to more pollution of water bodies which increase the fresh water scarcity. Though the governments can claim themselves that integrated water resources management is being implemented, the real core of the issues are ignored and not addressed even in many World Bank projects. This paper attempts that integrated water resources management is the only solution to reduce the water crisis in the river basins.

Water resources development Then and Now
Definition of Development

In case of house hold products such as utensils, soaps, and addition to the supply capacity are made to meet future demand by analogy the same approach is extended to water. Water resources development means conversion of available water into usable water to meet the demand of various sectors. By ‘available’ water resources they mean the annual flows as measured in rivers and streams. Usable water resources mean the utilizable surface water and water stored in lakes, reservoirs and ground water aquifers. Development of water resources means bringing more available water into usable water category.

During kingdom period water resources development had made with the constriction of thousands of Anicut, lakes and tanks. The water resources always supported the mankind towards the overall development. The productivity in the agriculture sector was good since the people and rulers realized the values of every drop of water. That’s why without any much mechanical equipment they were able to construct thousand of water bodies for the benefit of society.

There is one proverb in Tamil “Do not abuse water even if you abuse your Mother”. Our fore fathers respected the water as god and lived with Nature’s harmony.

During British period construction of dams, and reservoirs started to store more water. Though the benefit cost ratio component did not meet the norms, many multi purpose projects were implemented even after post independence. This water resources development only helped India to achieve the green revolution is the universal truth but not recognized in the Green Revolution context.

Construction of reservoirs and dams bring water supply to agriculture, industries, and domestic purposes both for urban and rural areas. The tremendous growth of population and urbanization demand more water for usable purposes. But the availability of water is limited and many river basins are deficit river basins could not have potential to tap the water. The surplus basins have its own political constraints, with great difficult, transferring some quantity of water from surplus basin to deficit basin that too only for drinking purposes. Urbanization always associated with industrial development. Both these factors demand more water for the existence. Water resources development during kingdom period was made with low cost and sustainable technology. That is the reason even after 600 years and 1000, 2000 years old, these storage structures still existing and supporting to the mankind.

Water resources development such as dams, reservoirs constructed during 19th and 20th century has life span of average 400 years only. These structures solved the growing population water need to an extent can not be denied, but damaged many river basins eco systems and environment is also the truth on other side, not only considered seriously other than the core environmentalists. Now the water resources development has become complicated and the conventional approach shall not hold good for the present and future water resources management context.

Here the technology ‘Integrated’ or holistic Water Resources Management comes to help the policy makers. They shall understand the broad aspects of integrated approach with respect to quantity and quality of water.

For example, water quality is important for usable water. But today one way or the other, water quality is deteriorated due to so many reasons. One cannot ignore the water resources due to its poor quality because of severe scarcity. The water quality shall be seen with respect to its use, because less polluted water is also useful for many purposes. So the water quality parameters play a crucial role in determining the usage of water. So the policy makers shall come forward to understand the integrated water resources development, with new construction of dams, transfer of inter basin water and reuse and recycle of waste water.

The chain of tanks or system tanks constructed during kingdom period has the function of recycling concept. Water from the Anicut diverted to first tank and from the surplus of first tank goes to other tank, then the surplus water transferred and recycled again to rivers. This type of system tanks still existing and useful in many ways in Tamilnadu But the reservoirs and dams water passing through agriculture field created new problems such as water logging and salinity, because of lack in recycle concept. The people who had visualized the recycle concepts 1000, 2000 years back, but could not be seen by some 50, 100 years back.

By bearing all these facts in mind, the future water crisis could be reduced by adopting the Integrated Water Resources Management. Hereafter the integrated water resources Management, could be looked not only with the construction of reservoirs, dams and Anicut but shall be linked with the uses, reuse, recycling components, environmental management plan, catchments management plan, economic utilization and increase of productivity of each unit of water in all sectors.

How the Integrated Water Resources Management could be implemented in all sectors for sustainable water resources management shall be discussed in detail.

River basins and Function

All land area lies within the boundary of any one river basin. The river basins have the major functions as below:

  1. Irrigation purpose
  2. Industry use
  3. Domestic use
  4. Tourism and Entertainment
  5. Environment and Ecology

In each sector, they use the water for better productivity. Water is the basic resources for all the development. The water resources Management has been looked so far independently. Now the water obtained from the river basins for domestic, industry will discharge with the same river as waste water, which affects the down stream side water quality of the River basins. So water and waste water management could not t be dealt separately. Similarly the water quality required for the agriculture may not be same as we need for domestic or industry purposes. So the water quality is a relative word shall be under stand with respect to its functions.

Moreover, the water requirement for the process of each sector could be reduced by implementing the water conservation techniques. In agriculture sector by adopting ‘Bio diversity’ concept of cultivation practice one can save more than 30% of water instead of mono culture or intensive chemical based agriculture.

So the integrative water resources development warrants the following components;

  1. Construction of new small, mini reservoirs.
  2. Inter basin and intra basin transfer of water
  3. Reused and recycle of waste water
  4. Catchments management programme.
  5. Reducing Man and Animal conflicts.
  6. Water conservation technique.
  7. Environment management plan for the river basin
  8. Limitation of private partnership role.
  9. Need of change in our life style and culture.

In the first two components many complicated issues such as political and linguistic boundaries, state and district boundaries, various stake holders’ riparian rights are involved which will be sought out with practical purposes and humanity consideration forgetting all kind of short sighted issues. After the technical feasibility studies and environmental impact Assessment study, these projects shall be discussed across the table bearing in mind of the nature and future generation.

Implementation of all other components is easy and feasible by proper planning concepts. The native agriculture practices, culture, social impacts and other ground level factors shall be considered while implementing the integrated Water Resources Management. The involvement of privatization and MNC role in the water resources development change the objectives from service nature to profitability nature. Since the above factors influence the Water Resources Management, the Integrated Water Resources Management shall be incorporated with the following concepts.

Construction of New Reservoirs

From the past experiences, construction of dams and reservoirs at present did not meet the possible benefit cost ratio. Nowadays in developing country like India all the projects are planning as multi purpose projects. The cost required fro multipurpose projects is always huge could not be possible with own source and many country seeks World Bank, IMF help for the construction.

From the eco system point of view, the multipurpose projects will made impacts on environment. The three gorges dams in china also facing the same problems and the new message is that the authorities have accepted the facts about the Environment degradation.

Another important data is that many mega dams constructed in few decade back have not filled full for many years. The world’s top most priority to curtail the environment problem is global warning. There are multi numbers of studies proved that construction of mega dams have considerable influence on global warning. Since the dams construction has destroyed thousands of acres of forest land which could not be replaced. So the engineering society shall think twice about the construction of mega dams by destroying the environment and forest. Our fore fathers adopted the sustainable technology in the construction of lakes and tanks, but in the dam construction negative impacts are also equal to positive impacts.

So the mini, and medium reservoir projects shall only be formulated for the Water Resources Management, since the habitats disturbance, environment degradation due to mega dams have severe impacts on man kind shall be realized.

Inter linking and intra linking of Rivers

Interlinking and intra linking of the river basins are current topic discussed in many forums. The inter linking of rivers is the linking of different basins. Intra linking is the linking of sub basins with in one state .For the inter linking of rivers huge number of constrained shall be solved for which we need years together. But intra linking of rivers in sub basin level is possible for which planning is essential at local level.

Reuse and recycle of waste water

From the municipalities and industrial sector, 80% of the consumed quantity is discharged as waste water in to the down stream of river basins which polluted the fresh water also. Setting of treatment plant is a mandatory for running any industry, but due to the unethical, social, political reasons, they discharge the untreated, semi treated and partial treated waste water into the water bodies.

The Dyeing and Tanning industrial owners have willingly started ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) and CETP (Common Effluent Treatment Plant) during 2000 period by getting 25% subsidiary from state government and 25% from central government and balance 50% from own source. But these treatment plants have not solved the problems after spending crores of rupees. One liter of treated water is still not used for irrigation or any other purposes, because of high TDS. The ETP and CETP were designed for primary treatment only. These plants had not addressed the TDS part. Without addressing the TDS, the purpose of spending more than 100 crores in Palar and Noyyal Rives have become waste. Now after serious debate between various stake holders the matter went to court and court has directed to change the present technology in ETP and CETP and accordingly the 10 years old treatment plants demolished. The technology given to the dyers and Tanners have not long lasted for the decade is the pity of highly educated society.

In Tamilnadu, Palar river basin severely affected by tannery industries and Noyyal river basin is by textile industry. Apart from industry, the municipal waste water also discharges into the river basins without any treatment in many cities. The conventional treatment plants did not solve pollution problems, because of partial treatment methods, which were recommended and designed by the concerned regulating authorities and popular educational institutions

So treatment of waste water is important in two aspects mentioned below:

  1. To control the pollution of fresh water bodies, full level waste water treatment plant shall be implemented in all industries and municipalities.
  2. If effective waste water treatment plant will be implemented, the waste water could be reused and recycled for the process after treatment which will reduce the water scarcity for irrigation and industrial sector.

So, by implementing proper effective waste water treatment plant, the treated water could be converted as resources and could be used for storage in lakes and tanks for irrigation, industry and aqua culture purposes. So in the integrated water resource development and management insists the need of reuse and recycle of waste water. This is possible by adopting stringent control over the polluters and also transferring the required technology to the industries.

Catchment Protective Programme

All the major rivers are originating form the hilly areas and forests called as forest catchment area. Though the plain catchment area also fetches good water resources to the river basins, major contribution is from the forest area. For example Narmadha, Tapti, Krishna, Gothavari, Cauvery and its tributaries, Vaigai and Thamiraparani and some west flowing rivers are originating from Western Ghats only. The thick forest and high altitude landscape play an important role in streaming the water in the rivers. If the forest eco system is wealthy and healthy, the rivers will get good flow of water is the direct formulae one can observed from the field. So flora and funna and biological resources of the river basins are so important in converting the rain water into stream water. The forest wealth depends on the wild life population and diversity. In short bio diversity of forest is important in the water resources development and management. But today all the hilly area and forest area are treated as tourist centers and based on the tourism activities, resorts, buildings, are coming up rapidly. The other development activities such as intensive agriculture activities, industry development, formation of spiritual centers, and educational institutions also affect the forest eco system and bio diversity.

From the 1972 first ever summit on environment at Stockholm to the 2002 summit at Jogannesperk in South Africa the agenda insisted to stop the degradation of forest, bio diversity and action plan for the protection with the support of people and stake holders. At the same time development for the hilly area people are also felt important. Ultimately the social and livelihood commitment succeed the environmental commitment in all the catchment area and deforestation, destruction of bio diversity, threats to wild animal are increasing day by day which have strong influence on water resource development. Siltation is more due to the catchment degradation which reduce the storage capacity in the reservoirs.

Hence the catchment management programme is a must for the water resource development and management not only with respect to construction of check dams, silt arrestors but also protecting the biological resources. Eco tourisms, Environment conservation development, and Resources Conservation development programme are the essential components of the catchment management programme are the need of the hour.

Water For (Environment) Flora & Fauna

The water resources are needed for environment and flora and fauna. Even at Estuaries certain minimum quantity of water is required for fish breeding. The Entire world is witnessing the degradation of the Aral Sea is the best example because of the changing flows of the SyrDarya and AmuDarya Rivers in Soviet Russia. The sea has shrunk to 50 km and many new diseases were spread in the catchment area of two Supply Rivers basins are the lessons for the development activities.

Each state wants to utilize up to last drop of water and do not want to release the water to down stream. But the healthy river eco system the water is required for wild animals and flora. Many thousands of organisms depend on the river system has been affected. Even at the origin area animals started to come out to village seeking food and water which increases man animal conflicts.

Reducing Man and Animal Conflicts

Man animal conflicts are increasing day by day along the boundary of forest area because of man occupied the animal’s home in the name of development. Animals especially elephants invade the villages and agriculture land near are quite common every where near forest area. Many elephants died in man animal conflicts in the past. Elephants are the giant mammals, which do greater role in protecting the forest. Our late prime minister Thirumathi Indira Gandhi had specially formulated the wild life sanctuaries after attending the 1972 world summit, aiming for the protection of forest area.

But man is always clever. All the wild life sanctuary has converted as Tourist centre. Forest department is allowing thousands of people daily to go round the sanctuaries in four wheelers, for the sake of meager income to the sanctuaries.

The cultivation practices, construction activities for any purposes shall be regulated and stopped near the forest zone and animal corridor zones.

In my opinion for five years all the wild life sanctuaries shall be closed for the public. Then the flora and fauna species will be flourished freely without any disturbance. Even in eco tourism, the fundamental objective of wild life sanctuaries has missing and all the area are converted for entertainment.

Water Conservation concept

Normally people tend to use more water when it is available plenty. If the water supply is limited they reduce the wastages. Economic usage of water is the one of the timely needed concept in water resources management It is like “a penny saving is equal to a penny earning”. So the water conservation measures in all sector is essential by adopting suitable measures.
In agricultural sector use of sprinkler system and drip systems had come to field as water conservation apparatus some thirty years back itself. This is very much essential for all types of crops. The only problem of implementing the drip and sprinkler system needs more investment. So the government has given a portion as grant and subsidy. But the social farm holding systems not transfer the technologies to majority of the lands. So water utility efficiency in canal irrigation is 30% only when compared with advanced developed countries. So economic utility of water in agriculture sector is essential for which drip and sprinkler irrigation systems help to the farmers.

But this is one part only. But water could be conserved more by adopting the diversity crop concepts and organic farming concept and do nothing farming concepts.

The farmers are now leaving the lands and in many places committed suicide because of heavy loss incurred in the agriculture. Even though, many governmental departments such as Irrigation Department, Agriculture Department, Agriculture Engineering Department, Horticulture Department, Animal Husbandry Department, Agriculture marketing department and various agricultural universities are working for the development of farmers. In spite of the effort, they cannot stop the farmers from selling of lands to industrial sector, urbanization and to bricks kiln etc. because of the heavy loss and no guarantee of fixed prizes of the products produced by the farmers. So the economical utilization of water concepts using drip and sprinkler methods can reach only the rich farmers and not the poor. By providing the drip and sprinkler irrigation with subsidy cannot solve the farmers’ problem. So the mechanical parts shall be linked with the livelihood components.

The monoculture practice also demands more water. Some thirty, forty years back farmers adopted the bio diversity cropping patterns since they know the importance of the bio diversity in agriculture sector. The green revolution insisted the mono culture practice and more rich farmers expanded the ground water uses by digging deeper bore wells. The bio diversity pattern always insisted the variety of crops so that rain fed crops, less water required crops and more water needed crops. More over the arid and semi arid countries like India food grains such as maize,bazra, ragi, millets and other oil grains were cultivated which were most suitable to hot climate. Even now in the rain fed agriculture this is being practiced by the farmers in many part of India. So, the entire bio diversity system has collapsed by the monoculture practice which demanded more water. More over the application of more pesticides, chemical salts and fertilizers demanded more water since the soil moisture evaporated quickly.

So the organic farming, bio diversity farming helps the farmers for less water, less input, and reasonable profit. When a farmer do 100% organic farming entire soil of the land become soft in nature and during rainy season it allows more water percolation to land and ground and reduces the soil erosion is not realized by the highly educated society. So the policy makers suggest only the mechanical system of sprinkler and drip to benefit for the drip company’s and miserably failed to direct for native indigenous farming concepts and organic farming concepts, where as developed countries are marching towards 100% organic farming. So vision is needed not only for the reduction in quantity of water use, but the direction are needed towards sustainable agriculture practice so that farmers can lead loan less life.

In industries also reuse and recycle of waste water shall be implemented without any partialities. The cleaner production technology shall be included in the process itself, so that the pollution load will be reduced at source. The treatment plant implemented in many river basins did not treat the waste water to the norms. The partial treatment removes the colors, BOD, COD and TSS. The treatment system did not address the TDS part which is crucial one in waste water treatment. So the integrated water resources development insists complete treatment system where the water could be reused for many purposes.

Need of Change in attitude and culture

In urban area people need more water because of their life style. Some unwanted life styles are also sticking with the urban mass as like western style. For example some years back in all the hotels they served the food in one plate and dishes even if we order many items. But today it has become a fashion that each item they supply with separate plates and dishes. What is the need of this culture? Other side it demands three times the water for cleaning, which is taken from ground water. The electricity is also increased triple and the nation’s resources are wasted. If the bearers use only one plate, enormous energy and water could be saved.

  • Similarly in the social festivals, offices, houses, huge quantity of water is being wasted due to carelessness. Similarly for all development activities if they feel that trees are obstacle they cut it down which increases the soil erosion and evaporation loss.
  • The bribe culture other side make to use the poor quality of water pipe lines and often bursting of pipes occur and through which water is wasted.
  • Because of the poor quality of pipelines the wastages are more in the urban area.
  • Even the farmers not realizing the real water storage in the reservoirs and hence even during drought period, they tend to cultivate more water intensive crops.
  • The head sluice farmers are unhappy in releasing water to tail end farmers. So the narrow minded approach increases the water crisis.
  • The uncared culture on the degradation of water bodies leads to severe pollution due to dumping of solid wastes, discharge of waste water and encroachments. The material driven and mechanical life are the causes of this attitudinal change.
  • The private sectors interest to control the water resources, for their benefit, brain wash the people and so they are not realizing the dangers ahead them on water resources.

Sector wise Action Plan for the Integrated Water Resources Management is listed below.

Agriculture Sector

  • All the tank irrigation regulation shall be modified according to the water availability.
  • Promote conjunctive use of ground water and surface water.
  • Promote water conservation technique by selecting diversity crop pattern, crop rotation concepts followed by our fore fathers and also with drip and sprinkler concepts.
  • Promote organic farming and do nothing farming for sustainable agriculture practice.
  • Motivate farmers to produce vermin compost and bio compost at farm itself so that input cost will be reduced.
  • Promote all modernization equipments suitable to native condition.
  • Fix the prize for the farmer’s products.
  • Provide linkages to marketing and value added products.
  • Motivate to increase the cattle population to avoid chemical fertilizers.

Industrial Sector

  • Implement effective ETP / CETP in all industries.
  • Implement stringent action and punish the polluters and the law breakers.
  • Motivate the workers and staff for cleaner production in the process which will reduce the pollution load at source itself.
  • Adopt reuse and recycle concept of waste water.
  • Regulate all the industries functioning near by the river banks.
  • Form cleaner production and clean mechanism development circles and provide continuous education for all staff and workers.
  • Motivate to adopt some villages for implementing environmental action plan.
  • Motivate to plant more tree saplings where ever possible.

Domestic sector

  • Supply protected water supply to all people.
  • Reduce the wastages through pipe leaks.
  • Motivate the public for economic utilization of water.
  • Motivate the educational institute for reuse and recycle of waste water.
  • Motivate the hotel industry for economic utilization and reuse and recycle of waste water.
  • Motivate people to use the treated water only for domestic use only and not for other uses like gardening and bathing etc.
  • Local bodies shall implement STP and municipal solid waste management programme.
  • Motivate the public to support and follow the environmental action plan implemented by the local bodies and government departments.
  • Motivate all public to plant tree saplings as a festival.
  • Celebrate all the festivals with eco friendly manner.

Environment and General

  • Promote inland fishing using lakes and tanks and treated waste water.
  • Implement eco friendly tourism in water bodies.
  • Protect catchment area by increasing the vegetative measures rather than engineering measures.
  • Close the wild life sanctuaries and other sensitive protected area for public visit for at least three years in rotation.
  • Care about the wild life population especially about tiger, lion, elephant, leopard etc.,
  • Educate all the people for caring environment, nature, water bodies and forest.
  • Promote eco tourism where ever suitable.
  • Promote people towards basic consumerism and not for crazy consumerism.
  • Encourage private, public partnership with proper limitations.

The above action programme has to be implemented as war footing basis with short term and long term planning, for achieving effective water resources management to reduce the water scarcity.


In short the integrated water resources development and management insists the following components.

  1. Interlinking of rivers
  2. Construction of new small dams and reservoirs
  3. Reuse and recycle of waste water in all sectors.
  4. Water conservation methods in all sectors,
  5. Any change of habits towards eco friendly concepts.
  6. Opening for new R & D activities of water conservation methods.

By bearing this in mind the water resources management could be implemented with the stake holder’s involvement and public awareness. Continuous environmental and resources conservation education is also needed for industries, agriculture, and domestic sector. Omitting one sector will increase the complication. So an effective implementing wing is to be trained with environmental education for the water resources management. Giving data’s such as water requirement and pollution issues alone shall not solve the issues. What we need is micro level action plan with holistic approach.

“Rivers and Streams are our life line
Let us keep them clean.”

You can use the latest tooth paste,
Then Rinse your mouth with industrial waste water.

R. ILANGOVAN M.E., PhD, Vice Chairman, Tamil Nadu water Resource Management Cell Public Works Department, Chennai Tamilnadu.