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Rainwater Harvesting: An Effective Method of Water Management for Horticulture

Water is the most precious natural resource and basis of our life. The major part of every
living cell consists of water. The uses of water are unlimited and importance of water cannot
be underestimated. Without water, organisms cannot survive and this is the specialty of our
blue planet. In India, around 60 per cent of the country’s population depends on agriculture as
a principal income source and large quantity of water is used for irrigation that helps to
improve food security, reduce dependence on monsoon, and improve agricultural
productivity. On the other hand, we use water for drinking, industry, transport and for the
production of hydro-electricity.
In the present scenario, rapid urbanization, industrialization coupled with limited and
uncertain rainfall is resulting in a reduction in water levels, indicating depletion in storage in
the surface reservoirs which results on the dependence on ground water from the past two
decades. Hence, day by day we face problems with ground water availability in terms of
quantity as well as quality of water. There is an urgent need to take steps for water
management and water conservation methods in urban and rural areas on a large scale which
helps to recharge and maintain ground water balance.

Rainwater harvesting is one of the most effective method of water management and water
conservation. If the rainwater is saved, it can provide enough water to irrigate a farmer's land
throughout the dry season. Collecting rainwater water and storing it as surface water is called
rainwater harvesting. By conserving the rain water, farmers can increase the area they
irrigate, grow crops in the dry season and recharge groundwater. This means better food
provision for their families and higher incomes which ultimately prevents the suicides. Stored
rainwater also fulfills their household needs. In fact, by this method rainwater received from
the limited and uncertain rainfall in India can be conserved, stored & used as per
convenience, either directly or for recharging groundwater if practiced by every citizen in
India.
Broadly, rainwater harvesting involves two techniques, i.e. i) Storage of rain water on surface
for direct use in the future – this can be achieved by storing the rainwater in lakes/tanks/
ponds/check dams/weirs/ underground sumps/on the ground tanks and overhead tanks etc.
ii) By recharging groundwater - this can be achieved by recharging ground through ponds,
water bodies, recharge pits, recharge wells, bore wells and recharge trenches etc. Further, by
this method, ground water can be recharged in urban areas through roof top rainwater
harvesting by using recharge pits, recharge trench, a recharge well and tube well whereas in
rural areas the same can be achieved through percolation tanks, ponds/check dams/weirs/
underground sumps etc. Besides all these, some other important and indirect benefits of this
method include improvement of both the quantity as well as the quality of the groundwater,
reduction in storm water runoff and non-point source pollution, reduction in soil erosion and
floods in urban areas. In addition, by conserving the rainwater through this technique will
reduce the consumption of potable water which, consequently reduces the volume of
generated wastewater.
Further, some important factors which are to be considered while planning water
conservation through rainwater harvesting systems includes a) for domestic use: size of
catchment area, local rainfall data and its pattern, size of the family, length of the drought
period, cost of the rainwater harvesting system and alternative water sources b) for irrigation
purpose: amount of rainfall and its intensity, rate of evapotranspiration, rate of soil
infiltration, water holding capacity, depth of soil, fertility of soil, crop characteristics,
hydrogeology of that area, population density, labour and cost of materials. However, some
limitations of this method include: limited supply and uncertainty of rainfall, contamination
of the rainwater from animal wastes and organic matter and limited storage capacity of the
rainwater. But, these limitations can be overcome by the proper maintenance and cleanliness
of the rainwater harvesting systems.

By considering all these aspects, rainwater harvesting is one of the most promising
alternatives for supplying water in the face of increasing water scarcity and escalating
demand. It presents an opportunity for the conservation of water and increase in water
supplies, allowing the same time for self-reliance and sustainability. However, the feasibility
of this method in a particular locality is highly depended on the amount and intensity of
rainfall. In India, rainfall is usually unevenly distributed throughout the year and therefore,
rainwater harvesting can usually only serve as a supplementary source of household water.
Further, the viability of rainwater harvesting systems is also a function of the quantity and
quality of water available from other sources, household size, per capita water demand and
budget availability. In addition, cases pertaining to serious illness linked with rainwater
supplies are few, suggesting that rainwater harvesting technology is an effective source of
water supply. Also, it appears that the potential for slight contamination of roof runoff from
occasional bird droppings does not represent a major health risk. But, effective rainwater
harvesting requires community participation which can be enhanced by sensitivity to people’s
need, inherent knowledge and local expertise, full participation and taking consideration of
prevailing farming systems as well as national policies and community bylaws.

Hence, it is important to create awareness among all citizens to implement this traditional
method of water conservation at the individual level. For this, the Government of India and
most of the states have already made policies to implement the technology of rainwater
harvesting by law. The National Water Mission is one of the major initiatives by the
Government of India towards management of water resources helping to conserve water,
minimize wastage and to ensure equitable distribution of water resources both across and
within states, it also aims to review the National Water Policy to enhance water storage both
above and below ground, rainwater harvesting, coupled with equitable and efficient
management structures.

Further, several state governments are accepting legislations to make rainwater harvesting
compulsory in all housing societies, residential, commercial, industrial and other complexes.
Like, Tamil Nadu government has implemented this method by law to have rainwater
harvesting structures in all buildings including the government or office buildings. This has
saved most of the drought prone rain shadow regions of Tamil Nadu from severe water
scarcity during hot summer months. Similarly, other states, i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra,
Karnataka and Telangana etc. have also made policies and implementing this method of
water conservation. But to implement this concept as a real success, every citizen of India has
to follow the laws and policies made by the government as their fundamental duty which
ultimately not prevent the farmer suicides in India, but also automatically improves the
storage of surface water and recharge the ground water in the entire country naturally without
huge expenditures on planning and execution big irrigation projects and other artificial
methods to conserve water resources.

Finally, we all have to create awareness among ourselves and implement this at an individual
level because today if we do not start, then tomorrow we all and our future generation will
face the consequences and chances are also high that the next world war will be on water
only.

By:
Dr. J Shankaraswamy