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Effective management of water resources for sustainable agriculture.

Rajan Bhatt and Sanjay Arora

Department of Soils, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana-141 004 The life of mankind and almost all the flora and fauna on the earth depends on the availability of fresh water resources. Water is used by every one every day. The three major users of the water are domestic water supply, industry including power generation and agriculture. About 2/3rd of water withdrawn world wide from rivers and ground water is used for irrigated agriculture. It is a renewable natural resource but total volume in hydrological cycle in the globe is constant and very small. Of the earths total water volume of about 1400 Mkm3, about 97% is saline ocean water that is unsuitable for human as well as for plant use. About 30 Mkm3 of remaining fresh water exists in the ice caps and glaciers and 4-6 Mkm3 of the ground water remains essentially inaccessible. Thus only the resources consisting of one percent of the earths water is cycled in the hydrological cycle. Nations of the world particularly the developing countries have made huge investments for developing their water resources to increase their agricultural production. But there is an upper limit to the availability of water resources in each country. We have entered the third millennium in the history of man kind. The population of the world which was 2.5 billon 50 years ago has become 6 billons and is likely to cross the 8 billon mark in the next quarter of the century. In India, it has almost crossed 1 billon mark and is expected to reach 1.4 billion in the next 25 years. Because of the increasing population and consequently the requirement for food grain and other agricultural commodities, it is feared that in future water may become the major limiting factor for producing enough food, fiber and fuel for the projected population. The sources of all water is precipitation and we are concerned with that part of it which falls on the surface of the earth and becomes useable. Water reaching the earths ssurface partially infiltrates into it and partly moves as surface runoff. The infiltrated water is partly retained in the upper surface of the earth constituting the rot zone of the vegetation and partly lost as deep seepage which adds to the ground water. Soil stored water is lost through direct evaporation or evapo-transpiration. Efficient management of water envisages that the maximum portion of water be used by vegetation and minimum lost as runoff and deep seepage. As water is becoming scarce, it is becoming increasingly important to conserve the available water. A number off-farm and on-farm measures need to be imposed to use the water more efficiently. As water cannot be stretched further for agriculture, it is faced with challenges to use water more beneficially and efficiently. Questions are being asked whether the available water resources will be able to sustain the future population. Can we achieve the sustainable use of water through improved management?

Need for sustainability:

India has achieved spectacular increase in the agricultural production during the past few decades from . The success of the green revolution is largely attributed to the expansion of irrigation net work, that existed in the country. Canals in the initial stages and tube wells immediately thereafter have played a crucial role in the quantum jump in production. This development of irrigation has been a mixed blessing. While it has helped increase production, It has caused water logging and salinization in many areas. Similarly overexploitation of ground water has resulted in declining water levels in some area. Soil erosion and siltation in reservoirs and flood damage are the result of the management of rain water. All these effects are threatening the sustainability of the system and call for special efforts to achieve sustainable use of water. According to food and agricultural organization (Pereira et al, 1996). Sustainable development is the management and conservation of natural resource base and the technological change to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of the human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development including Agriculture, forestry and fisheries conserves genetic resources and is environmentally nondegrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable. Therefore the objectives of sustainability in the present context is to use water resources to achieve increased production to meet the needs of ever increasing population and aspiration of the people without compromising the productivity of land and water.

Major problems and issues related to sustainable water development:

Agricultural production can only be sustained on a large scale basis, if the land, water and forests on which it is based are not degraded. Many interrelated issues and problems can be identified in this regard: Inefficient use of water at farm level. Depletion of ground water. Salinity and water logging Erosion and sediment ion Deforestation Inadequate control of agro chemicals Improper attention to health considerations. The problem and issue differ from country to country and often from one project another project within the same country. The most wide spread and perhaps most serious environment problem that contributes to unsustainable water resources development in agriculture is caused by water logging, salinization and sodification. It is reported that out of 270 m ha of presently irrigated area worldwide, 60-80 m ha are affected to some extent by water logging ,salinity and 20- 30 m ha are severely affected (UNEP, 1989).Improving irrigation efficiency will not only reduce the hazards of water logging and salinization , but also provide additional water for irrigating more land. Deforestation, erosion and sedimentation problems are often related to the water development projects. FAO (1989) reported that current rate of deforestation unsustainable. Deforestation can cause soil erosion rates10 to 100 times greater than the natural levels. Ground water management is causing serious concern in many arid and semi arid countries.

The rate of pumping withdrawal exceeds the rate of recharge of aquifer resulting in decline of the ground water level. Irrigated agriculture with its associated intensive cultural practices, such as high levels of fertilizers and agrochemicals use and deep percolation of water contributes to water pollution .Nitrate contamination of ground water is likely to be of importance where rural water supplies are concerned.

Requisite of sustainable resource management

Before initiating steps for sustainable management of a resource, it is essential to know the availability of the resources. Availability of water resources is not static. It varies in the time and space. The water interacts with the soil in as much as it is first stored in the soil and then utilized by the plants. Only that part of it is used as evapo-transportation (ET) which is retained in the root zone. The management of water for sustainable use would require 1. 2. 3. A fair assessment of the availability of the resources, its distribution in time and space together with land characters with which it interacts. Conservation of the resources to increase its availability for the useful purposes. Efficient manage for optimizing returns from the source and avoid any adverse effect on environment in general and quality of the resources in particular.

Assessment of water resources

Precipitation is the main sources of the water resources. It is partitioned into surface runoff, deep seepage and soil water. The runoff stored in reservoirs and transported through canal net work comprises the surface water resources. The seepage water joining the groundwater table becomes the ground water resource. The water retained in the soil is used by vegetation and is called effective rainfall. Currently water resources are reported as potential surface and developed surface water and potential and developed ground water. While the surface water can be measured as flow or surface storage, the ground water is usually estimated from fluctuations of the ground water level and specific yield from aquifers Only limited data for specific yield is available. Similarly precise data on water table fluctuations and also not available. Information on available water resources in India is collected and reported by Ministry of Water Resources. The country receives on annual average rainfall of 1200 mm which when multiplied by the geographical area works out to be 400 M ha m. It is estimated that 188 M ha m of this water constitutes runoff. Because of the nature of terrain and distribution of rainfall, it is estimated that 69 M ha m runoff can be harnessed for irrigation. One hundred and seventy five M ha m water enters the soil of which 130 M ha m is retained in the soil and 45 M ha m is estimated to be added to the ground water every year. The water retention in the soil is available for the use of vegetation. It must be conserved against loss by direct evaporation and use by unwanted vegetation. Unfortunately this has not received adequate attention of planners.

Irrigation potential development and utilization

The ultimate irrigation potential of the country has been estimated to be 113.2 M ha. It comprises 58.3 M ha from major and medium irrigation schemes; 15.3 M ha from surface minor irrigation schemes and 39.6 M ha from ground water development. Out of an average surface runoff flow of 188 M ha m, a live storage of 16.55 M ha m has been developed so far. Dams to create additional live storage of 7.67 M ha m are under construction. and 13.10 M ha m are under consideration. Thus it appears that total live storage capacity as per the present programmed will be around 37 M ha m while the utilizable surface water is estimated as 69 M ha m. The total replenishable ground water resources are 45.3 M ha m. Assuming 6.83 M ha m required for drinking, industrial and other uses, the ground water resumes and irrigation are 38.5 M ha m. The net draft so far is estimated as 11.57 M ha m which is about 30 percent of the potential available for irrigation. However ground water development varies from states to states. For example, ground water development in Punjab stands at 98.2% while in Orrisa it is about 7.13% only.

Management of water resources

Water is the most precious commodity and its rational development, conservation, distribution, use and management need special consideration for improving productivity of land, better efficiency and economic return, and preserving the ecological balance. Some important management issues for better available water resources are: 1. Exploitation of water resources 2. Crop planning in relation to water availability 3. Increasing water use efficiency. 4. Safe use of saline/sodic ground water for agriculture.

Exploitation of water resources:

During the post independence era, much efforts has been made by the state and central government to harness the maximum amount of potential water resources in the country. However, due to a number of factors, including high cost, the gap in potential, planed and realized water resources have been increasing. Various commissions and committees have indicated the need for reducing this gap through command area development approach for optimizing benefits from the investments made in the irrigation projects. There is strong evidence indicating higher productivity and efficiency of ground water. However, ground water is liable to over exploitation thereby failing to sustain the long term growth process and also creating inequity as resource poor farmers will be at a disadvantage. Ground water resource development should receive the highest priority in our water resource development planning but to avoid over exploitation and to ensure equitable distribution of water on a watershed basis, a legal framework should be provided.

Crop planning in relation to water availability

The command area water management includes crop planning on the basis of availability of water at different times of the season. In practice, crop plans are prepared by the farmers themselves on the basis of their preference for certain crops, social and economic considerations and availability of water. Since the issue involved in crop planning are complex, the cropping pattern for the year should be fixed by the project authorities in consultation with the agricultural university, credit agencies, irrigation engineers, organization dealing with

supply of inputs, and farmers representatives. The evaluation of cropping pattern should be a gradual process of adjustment of the factors responsible for deciding the cropping plan in a command area. Canal irrigation in India was mostly designed for stabilizing agriculture and for extensive rather intensive/productive agriculture. Our major and medium irrigation project can hardly meet the needs of the changing scenario of high yielding varieties and new cropping systems that are more exacting and demand time supply of irrigation water at critical stages of the growth. In the wheat belt of Punjab and Haryana, the dwarf high yielding varieties of wheat requires irrigation at crown root initiation stage or in the first three weeks after sowing, whereas the previously grown tall varieties could withstand water stress in the first two months after sowing. The introduction of the new varieties necessitated changes in the irrigation at the most critical stages of crop growth. Thanks to water management research over the last 2 to 3 decades, specific information has been available for increasing the efficiency of water use as enhancing returns to the irrigation. Of late, irrigation schedule can be calculated with computer model based on formation on climate, soil, crop and management factors.

Increasing water use efficiency

The ultimate aim in the area of water management is to use water more efficiently by keeping productivity at a high level. Water-use efficiency being a ratio is influenced by changes in both the numerator (dry matter production) and denominator (evaporation). Water use efficiency can be increased by genetic and environment manipulations of the crop. It can also be increased by decreasing the evapotraspiration and other losses of water. Crop yields can be increased without significant increase in water used by selecting suitable crop varieties adopted to climatic conditions of the locality and through agronomic management, such as using good quality seed, sowing at appropriate time and depth, placing balanced fertilizers in the soil in adequate quantity and at right time, as well as protecting crops from infestation from weeds, insect pest and diseases. The use of anti-transpirants, growth retardants, mulches, shelterbelts, etc. have been reported to increase the water use efficiency to various extant through reduction in evapotranspiration losses.

Increasing irrigation efficiency and improving drainage

Irrigation water is subject to three kind of loses, viz, conveyance, application and distribution/deep percolation. In the chain of delivery system it has been proved that as much as 70% of water is lost in these three kinds of ways. No doubt some of the progressive states have taken up the work of lining the canals and distributaries but lining of field channels with good quality material is equally important. Experimental evidence is available that deep percolation losses of water which ranges from 6070%, or even more in case of rice, can be reduced considerably with a change in the concept of keeping standing water to scheduling irrigation at the point of disappearance of tillage operation. It has been proved beyond doubt that furrow irrigation in wide-spread crops is the best, followed by border method of irrigation whereas check basin irrigation has proved to be the best most efficient method of irrigation in term of water economy. However, a lot of extension effort is required to educate the farmers to adopt the right method and schedule of irrigation in relation to type of crop sown, volume of discharge, and soil type. In water deficit areas adaptation of efficient irrigation methods like drip irrigation

Thus, it is a greater emphasis fact that the most important fact that the importance of the water is of great thus to conserve the conserve that the conservation opf the water is of grtaet importance .water is of