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Rainwater Harvesting in India

Ancient peoples collected and stored rainwater in wet seasons to sustain themselves in dryer days. Today, the practice is being revived through community systems that provide not only water, but local control over the sometimes-contentious distribution of this precious resource.

Water is scarce in India’s arid locales, in mountain regions, where runoff losses are high and in communities with only brackish, undrinkable water. In rural areas, pump and well systems or extensive piped supply systems are often nonexistent or simply unable to meet local demand.

In addition to long periods of drought and low average rainfall, most regions of India experience an annual monsoon season which typically occurs between June and September. Rainwater harvesting programs seek to capture this monsoon rain and make it last the whole year.

The state of Rajasthan, located in northwest India, is a mostly dry, desert region with very low annual rainfall (estimated less than 400mm). The Barefoot College of Tilonia has led an extensive rainwater harvesting effort in India for the past 20 years. The College’s efforts at local empowerment have helped to provide easier access to clean drinking water and have benefited some 200,000 people in nearly 500 villages.

The Barefoot College promotes inexpensive rooftop collection systems. Some 550 of them have been created at schools, community centers, and other central locales. Overhead water tanks may have a capacity of 100,000 liters, and roofs are linked together with pipes that deliver collected water to a central cistern.

These collection and distribution systems are designed and constructed with local labor and skill and provide significant employment opportunities. They result in affordable water that is available to all, regardless of caste, creed, or economic status.

Since 1996, the College has been further addressing the variable precipitation cycles of the Indian monsoon by promoting conjunctive management of surface and groundwater. That is, during the wet season, excess runoff is channeled into over 1000 dry wells, where it can be stored underground for use in drier months.

The College also educates volunteers and promotes efforts to clear silt and clay from local ponds. Once cleaned out, these ponds, maintained by local people, can function as rainy season recharging sources for underground aquifers. This is important because in many areas the groundwater has been over-exploited, particularly for agricultural use.

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