Capturing Rain Where it Falls: Building Sand Dams Across Dry River Beds in the Thar Desert, India

05 Nov 2018

Given this background, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) a non-profit organization was established in 2002 in response to the burgeoning water crises and the vast potential for participatory water management. Working through community-led institutions, JBF creates an enabling environment for desert communities to improve their quality of life through sustainable water resource management, reviving rich and ingenious traditions of rainwater harvesting that have the potential to address grassroots water issues.

Monsoon in the desert is short but during this time a number of seasonal rivulets flow, often for just 7-10 days. With no effective way of channelizing or storing, this water gets washed away. To harness this water, a sand dam, which is a low cost rainwater harvesting solution was constructed on a sharp bend in a dry river traversing through a small village called Thumbo ka Goliya in 2014.

A sand dam is distinctive with the spillway being constructed at the centre; the structure is designed to withhold sand from the flowing water. Taming the flow of water during the monsoons, it slows down the river so as to allow water to gradually percolate recharging sub-soil water.

The dam was implemented following a community based approach; a Jal Sabha (water user association) was formed with 30 members from the community, their capacities built for planning, construction and future maintenance of the dam. A collaborative and unique system of financing was followed in implementation; the dam like all JBF projects was part funded by community, 20% cost was borne by them; financial contribution fosters ownership and sustainability.

The project has made a significant impact on the availability of water developing a reliable, local source. As the seasonal rains fill the dam, the sand stores the water and prevents contamination and evaporation.

In a short span of time, 103 wells located as far as 4 kms downstream have been recharged, with dry wells beginning to yield water and salinity levels dropping. Besides creating availability of drinking water, due to the increase in sub-soil water, communities have started engaging in small-scale agriculture, the main livelihood activity.

Capturing water where it falls is vital for people in drylands, sand dams are an effective way of doing this. They are unique, rarely dry out even during the worst droughts, developing a perennial source of water in parched lands.

Written and Submitted by Kanupriya Harish, Executive Director Jal Bhagirathi Foundation.