Socio-hydrology of the Thippagondanahalli catchment in India - from common property to open-access.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:15 PM
Veena Srinivasan, Bejoy Thomas and Sharachchandra Lele, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, India
Developing countries face difficult challenge as they must adapt to an uncertain climate future even as land use, demography and the composition of their economies are rapidly changing. Achieving a secure water future requires making reliable predictions of water cycle dynamics in future years. This necessitates understanding societal feedbacks and predicting how these will change in the future.

We explore this “Predictions Under Change” problem in the Thippagondanahalli (TG Halli) catchment of the Arkavathy Basin in South India. Here, river flows have declined sharply over the last thirty years. The TG Halli Reservoir that once supplied 148 MLD to Bangalore city only yields 30 MLD today. Our analyses suggest that these declines cannot be attributed to climatic factors; groundwater depletion is probably the major cause.

We analysed the interlinked human and hydrologic factors and feedbacks between them that have resulted in the present situation using extensive primary data, including weather stations, stream gaging, soil moisture sensing, household surveys, oral histories, interviews, and secondary data including census data, crop reports, satellite imagery and historical hydro-climatic data.

Our analysis suggests that several factors have contributed to a continuous shift from surface to groundwater in the TG Halli catchment. First, cheap borewell technology has made groundwater more accessible. Second, as demand for high-value produce from the city and wealth increased, farmers became increasingly willing to invest in risky borewell drilling. Third, differences in governance in groundwater (open access) versus surface water (community managed tanks) hastened the break-down of community managed water systems allowing unchecked exploitation of groundwater. Finally, the political economy of water spurred groundwater development through provision of free electricity and “watershed development” programmes.