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Checkdams alone are of no help in Saurashtra

The contention that small dams and checkdams can solve the current acute water shortage in drought-prone Saurashtra and North Gujarat and the belief that the present drought could have been avoided only through checkdams ignores the ecoctimate and physiognomic patterns of Saurashtra.

MAJOR parts of Saurashtra come under the arid to semi-arid ecoclimate (except Gir forest) with irregular and scattered rains of up to 500 mm for a fortnight. Physiognomically, the entire area is like an inverted saucer with a basaltic rock formation up to 100 meters. The soil is mostly clayey loam and extends up to a depth of a meter depth or so. These patterns do not permit percolation of rain-water to the deeper soil zone and hence the water table cannot be recharged. (In North Gujarat, the soil is alluvial, sandy-silty loan and up to 100 meter and more, and therefore faster percolation and water table recharge is possible). Therefore the run-off of water is faster than the percolation.

Further, higher air temperature through the year evaporate about half the stored water. It is not just the number of small dams and checkdams that count but the fact that there should be enough rains at the sites of such dams. Aji Dam of Rajkot overflowed only twice in the last three decades. Thus, all the dams and checkdams in Saurashtra do not retain water to their full capacity.

Another significant climatic rhythm is the ten-year cyclic rainfall pattern: three years of average rainfall, four years of lean and three consecutive years of scanty rains resulting in severe drought in many parts of the Saurashtra. Over the years, silting has also decreased the water-storage capacity of the dams. Dragging of silt is not a common practice.

Checkdams are not totally ruled out, but they alone cannot solve Saurashtra's water shortage. We also need a series of checkdams in the coastal areas to prevent sea ingress which has been extended inland from five km to 25 km in recent years, owing to the over-use of ground water for irrigation in coastal areas.

Further, the human population and the cattle population has doubled and there has been a four-fold increase in industries in the region over the last 50 years. Improvements in agronomic technology, irrigation of crops - all these demand water and hence the need for water has escalated in the last decade.

Even if enough checkdams are made, they can solve the water problem only in the first year of three consecutive drought years, the remaining two years then would be severe as we have felt such situations during similar situations in 1972-73-74 and again in 1985-86-87. Years with good rainfall in the last decade made the politicians and decision-makers forget that a critical situation arose in 1999 due to poor rainfall.

There are many alternatives to meet the acute water shortage problem in Saurashtra. Looking to the discussed ecoclimatic and physiognonic conditions, making arrangements to bring water from outside Saurashtra through canals and pipelines from a perennial source of water like the Narmada, Mahi and Tapti, is ideal.

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