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Vanishing wells of Marathwada: Farmers report water table dropped to 300 metres in 30 years

As trips to fetch water from tankers get longer, expert says dire situation result of poor water management

Published: Wednesday 10 April 2024,

Years of scanty rain and drought-like conditions are now catching up with Maharashtra’s Marathwada, as lands are slowly turning arid much to farmers’ despair. For generations, farmers have depended on the steady flow of water to nurture their fields and sustain their families. The once-abundant water sources have now dwindled to mere remnants of their former selves.

When Dhananjay Gundekar was born in 1994 in Ambesavali village of Beed district, Maharashtra, his family constructed a bore well to celebrate his birth. At that time, water was found at a depth of around 60 metres. In addition, there was a dug well with water around 14 metres.

However, today, both groundwater sources are running dry, as water levels have depleted by close to 245 metres in just 30 years. Many villagers, like Gundekar, are now left with no alternative but to procure water from tankers for their daily sustenance.

The villagers first started noticing water troubles in 2008, Gundekar told Down To Earth. “The water table started declining; the bore well had to be dug deeper to reach water at around 90 metres. Post-2016, the water levels dipped further to 120 metres and by 2018, they were down to 245 metres,” he said. 

This year, a neighbour decided to dig a bore well to get water and had to dig over 300 metres to reach water, according to Gundekar.

Krishna Tawar, a 32-year-old from Paithan taluka, reflected on the past decade when water levels were over 90 metres. “Today, we're facing a harsh reality where there is not a drop even at a depth of over 150 metres. Despite planning to dig a bore well to sustain our sweet lime orchard this year, financial constraints and the uncertainty of the required depth forced us to abandon the project,” he said.

Across Jalna, Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar, Beed, and other districts, villagers paint a grim picture of their dwindling water reserves. With each passing day, the trips to fetch water from distant sources grow longer, stretching up to 18-20 kilometres each way.

According to data from the water resources department, the major dams in the Aurangabad region have 19.38 per cent water storage left this year, compared to 40.79 per cent in the corresponding period in 2023.

At present, medium-sized dams have 17.78 per cent water storage, while small dams have 14.52 per cent. Last year, these figures were much higher at 54.74 per cent and 46.57 per cent, respectively.

Kishor Jadhav, another farmer from Ambejogai, sells water to tankers. “For the time being, my village has access to water. However, it would last until the end of the month. "As summer approaches, our trips to fetch water will become longer,” he explained. 

Jadhav stated that his trips to find water can stretch for 18-20 kilometres on each side.

Aside from Marathwada, the situation is deteriorating across the state. Nashik district has 466 water tanker operations, the most of which are in Nashik (238) and Ahmednagar (145).

Mahadev Nawale, a 72-year-old farmer from Ghatbori village in Buldhana district, recalls finding water about 25 metres underground when he was a child. “But now residents must drill bores deeper than over 100 metres to access the water,” he said. 

Nawale stated that residents have experienced acute water scarcity for the past two years, and the situation is only getting worse.

According to the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, the region’s water levels dropped from one to three to four metres between 2014 and 2019. 

Pandit Wasare, an agriculture engineer from Jalna, stated that the region’s situation is dire as a result of poor water management. 

“While it's acknowledged that the region is prone to drought and water scarcity, there was a positive shift in weather patterns from 2019 to 2022 following a string of drought years between 2012 and 2018,” he said.

In 2021, the region received a record rainfall of 1,200 millimetres, significantly higher than an average of 770 mm, he highlighted.

“The people of the region should have learned from previous experiences and taken steps to conduct water budgeting planning and other measures to ensure water availability through groundwater recharge,” he said. 

The current water crisis demonstrates that the region has failed to meet its water-supply requirements, Wasare said. Furthermore, growing water-intensive crops like sugarcane and sweet lime has only exacerbated the problem, he pointed out.

Regional farmers have resorted to unsustainable water use in agriculture, according to an analysis by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People

According to reports from the Aurangabad divisional Commissionerate, in 2019, approximately 313,000 hectares of sugarcane were cultivated in the Marathwada region, compared to a cultivable area of 5.45 million ha. 

According to estimates, the area required approximately 6.159 billion cubic metres of water just for sugarcane. The amount of water used is nearly double the total water storage available in the region’s reservoirs at the end of the monsoon.

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