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Dead River Comes Alive

Naganadhi River in Tamil Nadu  was the life line of Vellore Villages. The river went dry and despite the effort of farmers to grow crops such as millet, tomato, groundnut and banana that require less water, returns from the barren land were not enough to sustain them.

A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an oceansealake or another river. In some cases a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features.

Rivers are part of the hydrological cycle. Water generally collects in a river from precipitation through a drainage basin from surface runoff and other sources such as groundwater rechargesprings, and the release of stored water in natural ice and snowpacks 

At a time when rivers are drying up and farmers are migrating to the cities for work, comes a heart-warming story of the revival of the Naganadhi river of Tamil Nadu. Fifteen years ago it used to flow through Vellore and Thiruvannamali districts in a pristine state and would merge with Palar in Kancheepuram district.

Women played an important role in the restoration of the river and in the process augmented their own income. Naganadhi rejuvenation needed cement rings that are placed at a depth of 20 feet in which the rainwater runoff collects. The requirement created an opportunity for employment. The women of Kammavaanpettai village decided to do the work themselves instead of procuring cement rings from outside. This was done by women self-help groups producing the cement rings under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Assurance).

They worked at all stages of the project — right from digging the wells, placing the cement rings, putting the stones to finally closing the well with a cement lid. Now they make around 2,000 rings per month and it brings them a profit of 40 per cent, which is equally shared among members. Amsaveni of Kammavaanpettai village says, “I don’t have to ask my husband for money to buy basic goods for the household. I can buy them on my own.”

In 2014, taking the guidance of geologist Lingaraju Yale, ex-director of Karnataka State Remote Sensing and Application Centre and now with the Art of Living River Rejuvenation project, Chandrasekaran, Director of the Naganadhi River Rejuvenation programme designed a model to revive the river.

Three important steps were taken simultaneously. While there was a campaign to boost the confidence of villagers, using remote sensing and satellite maps Chandrasekaran and his team prepared the plans for catchment area of the river. They built 600 recharge wells and 600 boulder checks. These structures ensured flow of the water into the aquifers. To hold the water, hundreds of hardy, drought-resistant saplings were planted around and across the river basin.

Yale’s studies had shown that deforestation was the main cause of rivers and wells drying up. Without trees to hold and store water, sediments were washed away by flowing rainwater leading to erosion. The silt accumulated on riverbeds and flattened the cavity that stored water. The water, spread thinly over a vast area, evaporated quickly.

For the revival of the river, GIS based thematic maps and long term rainfall patterns were analysed to estimate the availability of water for recharging aquifers and recharge structures were constructed at appropriate points.

When the rains came in 2015 and 2016, after the structures were constructed, water started flowing into them. “Their river was alive again after 15 years! Seeing the success of the revival effort, government support was assured,” says Chandrasekaran.

With work completed in 21 panchayats, 8,760 hectares of agricultural land has been reclaimed benefiting 60,000 people. With 340 recharge wells augmenting groundwater, there has been a six-metre increase in the groundwater level.

In Salamanthanam village, Vellore district, farmer Balaraman, is cultivating the crops that he wants to. “Now we have water in wells and groundwater is abundant, not only in our village but in the vicinity as well. And so we have started growing rice,” he says. “Next year we plan to cultivate wheat and sugarcane. This is a huge step forward.”

Chander Mohan

Krishi Jagran


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