Managing aquifer recharge and sustaining groundwater use in India

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The Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention (MARVI) project is engaging and empowering communities in India to monitor, use and manage groundwater at the village level.

With much of India subject to severe and widespread droughts, groundwater provides an important source of fresh water for growing crops. But groundwater levels across the country have been falling rapidly, affecting the livelihoods and wellbeing of village communities.

Western Sydney University (WSU) completed a successful project using the MARVI approach from 2011–2017 and, since May 2020, AWP has been supporting WSU to scale out the project across India, including in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The MARVI project enables villagers to better manage and share groundwater at the village level, predominantly through Managed Aquifer Recharge—the deliberate storage of water in aquifers for future human or environmental use.

Through the MARVI project, villages are being equipped with the skills and tools to monitor groundwater levels and rainfall, check dams and assess water quality. MARVI has trained 34 farmers to become local water experts, using the MyWell app to record rainfall measurements and water levels in wells. These farmers are in turn engaging with village communities to share groundwater knowledge and data.

COVID-19 further exacerbated the challenges in India, with village communities under enormous economic pressure and lockdowns causing an increase in water use. As groundwater in open dug wells is often contaminated with animal faecal matter and other pollutants with dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria, communities are left particularly vulnerable to infection. As part of a strategic response to COVID-19, MARVI partners initiated pilot field activities to improve access to safe drinking water and increase the availability of irrigation water for food production. On key pilot sites, selected wells were covered with shade cloth and, after being closely monitored, found to produce improved well water quality. New recharge pits for farm-level rainwater harvesting, storage and groundwater recharge were also installed and found to provide valuable additional recharge with little maintenance required.

Additional training through MARVI—such as regulating water use and alternating crops— has helped to fill knowledge gaps and empower decision making at the village level. The voices and active participation of women have been critical to the success of the MARVI project, as are those of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the communities. The new approach has increased local awareness for groundwater issues and enabled local farmers to share water and cooperate. As a result, farmers are now using 70 percent less water and villagers are able to facilitate a more consistent supply of groundwater to improve water security.

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