Ambuja Cements, India: Integrated water harvesting.

Ambuja Cements, India: Integrated water harvesting

Per capita, the availability of fresh water is declining as India's population increases. Water use patterns have also changed. With erratic rainfall in drought-prone areas, farmers are facing a crisis in managing their subsistence-level productivity. The overexploitation of available water is further compounded by salt contamination, characterized by the mixing of fresh water in aquifers with saline water.

With the objective of conserving each drop of rainwater in the region, Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), a division of Ambuja Cements Ltd., addresses water and related issues through innovative and participatory activities as part of its approach to CSR.

In coastal areas of Gujarat, the villages within 15-20 kilometers of the coastline were severely affected by salinity. In Kodinar, in the Junagadh district, most small rivers are seasonal in nature and water in these rivers does not last beyond winter. Other water bodies, such as ponds which draw their water from these rivers, also dry up immediately after the monsoons, creating a water crisis in the region. The problem is largely man-made, due to the overexploitation of ground water for everyday use, and the cultivation of high water-intensive crops.

The Ambuja Cements team acquired a good understanding of the problems and solutions by conducting participatory appraisals in different villages. It was evident that large-scale water harvesting, and switching to less water-intensive cropping, in combination with adopting micro-irrigation devices, is the only answer. Ambuja Cements initiated various projects for the development of water resources with the active participation of the community. The major focus was on the construction of a series of check dams on all the region's rivers. Percolation wells were constructed in ponds and riverbeds to increase the recharge of water in the ground. Water bodies were all interlinked to divert surface run-off from upstream water bodies to ponds and structures in water-deficit or low-stream areas. The water storage capacity of traditional ponds was also increased by deepening them. The outcome was a series of structures constructed through public-private partnership:

  • Four regional rivers, 18 ponds and four tidal regulators have all been interlinked through a network of canals/channels totaling 55.5 kilometers
  • 122 check dams constructed
  • 791 wells recharged
  • 717 farm ponds constructed
  • 109 percolation tanks and wells constructed
  • 140 waste weirs and culverts constructed
  • Deepening and gully plugging of over 60 streams.

The network of interlinking water bodies, and the creation of several structures, has resulted in over 1,027 million cubic feet of water harvested, benefiting an area of 21,000 hectares containing over 8,000 wells and 10,000 farmers. The water bodies now contain water for much longer periods every year. Groundwater recharge has also increased tremendously and has resulted in improved water quality in the area, which otherwise would have turned saline. The water table has risen by over 29 feet and local residents report that it has reached a level last seen three decades ago. As a result, several farmers are now harvesting three crops per year instead of one, the availability of drinking water has increased, especially during summers, and labor for the women responsible for water storage has been significantly reduced.