Upscaling Catchment Processes for Sustainable Water Management in Peninsular India

Lead Research Organisation: British Geological Survey
Department Name: Groundwater


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Planned Impact

Our research tackles one of the most pressing natural resource issues in Peninsular India: how rapid economic development and population growth impacts water security through widespread changes in land-use, water management and water demand. Currently our understanding of the impact of such changes on hydrological processes is limited despite water degradation and depletion being a major issue in many Peninsular India. The Cauvery River Basin form the focus of our research. Shared between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the river has long presented water management challenges at the local, regional and basin scale. Urbanization, deforestation, agricultural intensification and shift from rain fed crops to irrigated agriculture are all major influences in different parts of the Cauvery basin and small scale interventions such as the construction of farm-level bunds to conserve soil moisture continue to proliferate. Our research will take a multi-scale approach to understand the impact of anthropogenic changes in the hydrological system of Peninsular India.

The project will develop novel methods for upscaling the improved process understanding from rural and urban experimental catchments and will demonstrate the capability to assess the cumulative impact of abundant small scale changes across larger basins. Integrated process understanding will inform modelling from the field to basin scale to quantify interactions between different anthropogenic catchment modifications and their integrated impact on surface and groundwater resources at the basin scale.

There are a number of beneficiaries of the research:

Local water users. The field scale research of the impact of small scale interventions on the local hydrological conditions is of direct benefit to the farmers and communities using water and managing land. By building on ATREE's existing Water Literacy campaign we will ensure that the new knowledge and understanding is quickly and appropriately communicated. Within the urban environment of Bangalore we have support from both the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board and a local NGOs involved in water rejuvenation within the city. Both will directly benefit from the research by being given a better understanding of the feedbacks between groundwater, surface water and the built environment and forecasts of future trends.

Basin Authorities. A major outcome from this research is to upscale the key small scale processes to inform how the hydrological system functions at a basin scale. The beneficiaries from this research include the State Authorities such as the Cauvery River Authority and Karnatak Government's Watershed Development Department, both of which have offered support to our project.

National Institutes. At a national scale, a major impact from the project will be improved hydrological modelling frameworks for large-scale Indian catchments. Our project's whole systems approach will deliver methods which allow the representation of cumulative local scale interventions within larger catchment models. As such, the project outputs will be particularly useful to the Central Groundwater Board and the National Water Development Agency, both of whom have expressed their willingness to participate in the project.

Academic Community. The research will benefit researchers in hydrology, environmental modelling and the growing community investigating linkages between society and the water-food-energy nexus. It will provide an impetus and mechanism for increased India-UK academic collaboration, and benefit both communities through increased exchange. The research team has a strong international academic track record and are involved in academic and professional networks which will increase uptake of within the broader academic community, such as UNESCO supported networks GRAPHIC, G-WADI, HELP and the scientific communities of IAHS and IAH.


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Ofterdinger U (2019) Groundwater in fractured bedrock environments: managing catchment and subsurface resources - an introduction in Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Description The findings from BGS's component part of the larger grant are related to groundwater in southern India - which is used widely for irrigation and drinking water supplies. We were investigating how groundwater moves and is replenished in the crystalline rocks which underly most of southern India and how the very high abstraction rates mainly by farmers interact with rivers. Here are some of our main findings
(1) very high pumping rates from crystalline basement rocks has dramatically reduce lateral flows in the catchment, which in turn is reducing the baseflow to the rivers.
(2) because of the low storage and high permeability of these aquifers - they can deplete rapidly with high abstraction - but also replenish within one year if there is exceptional monsoon rainfall
(3) lakes and reservoirs in urban areas are causing widespread contamination of the shallow groundwater.
(4) There is little evidence to support that widely accepted view that the many small tanks on river channels have a significant role in increasing groiundwater recharge in the catchment
(5) In addition we found elevated uranium in groundwater in many of the study areas of the project. Alhtough this was not an original objective of the study, there are potential impacts on human health - and our emerging findings is that the uranium is mainly from natural sources due to the geology.
Exploitation Route The work could be used by the Bangalore Municipality to help protect groundwater resources, and also by the central groundwater board (CGWB) to help assess and monitor regional groundwater trends - and in particular th eimpact of the policy of developing tanks to artificially recharge groundwater. The large body of work created by the study is also of use to other reserchers in the area
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description The findings on elevated uranium in groundwaters was discussed with villages and district water offices to help find safe water sources for drinking. Others have since built on the fiundings to carry out further research to uncover the full extent of the issue. The research results on groundwater recharge from individual tanks and research structures is being discussed by engineers promoting the use of managed aquifer recharge structures and could feed into new guidance on hoe to increase groundwater recharge
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Briefing to FCDO on implications of World Water Day 2022
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description Citation in UN Water Report 2022
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact The document has submited recommendation to the UN Water Congress on howe to implment strategies for using groundwater sustainable to help acheive the SDGs
Description Geoscience for Sustainable Futures
Amount £5,891,200 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R000069/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 06/2020
Title A method for digitising 2D fracture networks and topographic lineaments in GIS 
Description Developed a methodology for easily generating digital datasets of fracture networks from photographs and also from remote sensed data. This enhanced method enables different fractures and fracture connectivity to be rapidly mapped for use in groundwater studies. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Research method is being used by other projects within BGS, and is soon to be published in open access format to enable other people to use the method more widely. 
Title A python package for analysing borehole dilution tests 
Description Single borehole dilution tests (SBDTs) are an inexpensive but effective technique for hydrogeological characterization of hard-rock aquifers. We present a freely available, easy-to-use, open-source Python package, DISOLV, for plotting, analyzing, and modelling SBDT data. DISOLV can significantly reduce the time spent interpreting field data by helping to identify flowing fractures intersecting the borehole and estimate the corresponding flow rates. DISOLV is successfully benchmarked against two analytical solutions. We also present an example application to real data collected in a borehole in a crystalline basement aquifer in southern India 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet - as published in MArch 2020 - but expect the software to be taken up by other research teams 
Description Collaboration between BGS and ATREE 
Organisation Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution ATREE are a project partner in this grant funded directly from the Indian MOES. We have helped collect and interpret data from field sites, and worked on joint publications. We have extended the relationship beyond the project seeking ways to work with ATREE in regional and global groundwater mangement initiatives.
Collaborator Contribution Joint data collection and discussions.
Impact Sceintific papers Joint conference sessions
Start Year 2018
Description ACWADAm webinar - reimagining groundwater governance 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk to water practitioners followed by discussion on groundwater development in India organised by the NGO ACWADAM. Teh subject was how to characterise Groundwater
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Farmer discussions in the Milli Catchment 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Events in our experimental catchments, the Milli and Barambadi, to share the results of the groundwater chemistry surveys with local farmers were arranged by ATREE in Bangalore. The farmers could see the quality of the water and the potential problem of elevated Uranium in the groundwater could be discussed freely. As a consequence we circulated personal letters to feedback all the results to those affected and drafted a response to anyone else concerned about the elevated Uranium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description IAH India: Public lecture on Groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited talk to the Indian Association of Hydrogeologists. THis was an online "popular talk" followed by 20 minutes of discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description News article: Sustainable groundwater management underpins food security in South Asia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A BGS blog written on how groundwater has contributed to the green revolution in south Asia, drawong on different aspects of BGS work in India
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Stakeholder workshops Tamil Nadu 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A meeting with diverse stakeholders with an inter5st in water in Tamil Nadu. Two meetings were held in Trichy and Chennai with farmers, local government officials, water resource planners and researchers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017