Coupled Human And Natural Systems Environment (CHANSE) for water management under uncertainty in the Indo-Gangetic Plain

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


Managing water resources in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) is a tremendous challenge because of the basin's uniqueness in scale, biophysical complexity and the dynamics of its institutional and socio-economic characteristics. Agricultural intensification for food security, combined with unmanaged and inefficient water abstraction for irrigation, and poorly controlled waste management practices, has led to degradation of water resources both in terms of quantity and quality, endangering ecosystem services and human health. Extensive water use is directly linked to the energy sector, and contributes significantly to total carbon emissions. The hydrology of the basin is additionally affected by intensive urbanisation that reduces infiltration and recharge to groundwater. Ultimately, water management in the IGP is challenged by the imbalance between water demand and seasonal availability related to the monsoon cycle, and difficulties in coordinated planning of surface water and groundwater use strategies. Land use and land cover changes, which can modify evapotranspiration, may feed back to large-scale hydro-climatic processes and additionally, disturb the fragile human-natural system of the basin. Management of water resources in the IGP faces additional difficulties because of the local regulations and governance. Lack of cross-sectorial cooperation leads to competition for scarce water resources, while significant governmental subsidies for irrigation water and electricity potentially lead to significant wastage of resources. Finally, the basin's groundwater resources that are, to a large extent, a primary source for irrigation and rural and urban water supply, are independently managed by multiple agencies.

Considering expected population growth and impacts of climate change, it is clear that achieving water security in India and especially, the IGP, is a growing challenge that requires interdisciplinary collaboration across sectors, local communities, institutions and academia. This project brings together researchers from leading UK (Imperial College London, University of Exeter and British Geological Survey) and Indian (IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, IITM Pune, and ATREE Bangalore) institutions, in partnership with international (UNESCO) and local (CEEW) non-governmental organisations, to support water management in the IGP.

The overarching aim of the research is to improve mapping and quantification of dominant interactions and feedbacks between human activities and the hydro-meteorological system of the IGP. This project will provide information for improved decision-making on water allocation for agriculture, drinking water, ecosystems and other needs. The project builds on recent joint UK/India-funded research involving the partners, which has developed a series of highly relevant datasets, tools and models. Specifically, we will: (i) estimate surface and groundwater availability under current and future short-term weather predictions and anthropogenic activities within the IGP using a fully coupled, land surface-groundwater modelling setup; (ii) investigate the propagation, in space and time, of interactions of water uses and needs within the natural system by integrating novel consumer and ecological flow demand modules; (iii) provide regional predictions of decadal, seasonal and sub-seasonal monsoon rainfall and flood forecasting for the IGP, using the Weather Research and Forecasting model coupled with the Community Land Model version 4.0 to inform development of alternative water management strategies; (iv) translate the improved understanding of Human And Natural Systems into IGP's water management planning for water, food and ecological security. The project will use the River Gandak sub-basin, which has been impacted by these issues, as a case-study catchment for process-understanding. Water management strategies and feedbacks of water allocation to local climate will be analysed at the IGP basin level.

Planned Impact

The overarching goal of the project is to develop new science to support improved decision-making on water allocation to secure food, water and ecosystem services. We will do this by investigating the interactions and feedbacks between people and their environment - how do people impact natural hydrological systems, and how do these impacts constrain their activity? The new scientific decade of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences focuses on the urgent need to develop the new science that considers this dynamic interface between environment and society. This project directly addresses this crucial scientific challenge but importantly will also have significant benefits for people, and the quality of their lives. Specifically the project will benefit the following non-academic users:

Local communities: Through public engagement we will improve: 1) public understanding of the major drivers of water scarcity, and 2) people's capability to assess their impacts on water resources. Providing this information is crucial to empower citizens to make water-related choices that improve their quality of life. Our main target audience are the farmers along the Gandak floodplain, which will benefit through improved agricultural planning ensuring food security. Information on predicted inflows and desirable ecological flow regimes in different seasons can inform irrigation practices, such as adaptive water release from dams and barrages managed by the Forest Department. Other local actors include conservationists (e.g. WWF, Earthwatch), fresh-water ecologists, and the fishing community.

The private sector: Two key end-user groups have been identified, who are involved in the process of water management in the Gandak and Ganga basins: (i) the public water utility and (ii) the agricultural sector. The information generated will be transferred to two water and agricultural management institutes: the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) and the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI) at Bihar. TISS is involved in on-site water and agricultural management and the products generated from the project will be of direct use to them. WALMI, an autonomous body under the Water Resources Department of the Government of Bihar targets existing irrigation systems affected by water-related problems. In addition, our wider end-user group includes the relevant energy sector authorities (Council of Energy, Environment and Water). The CHANSE framework will provide stakeholders with information that will lead to improving their decision-making on conjunctive use of surface and ground water and water allocation.

Non-profit international and local organisations: UNESCO IHP and CEEW will gain a stronger foothold within the case study area and especially, an insight into the problems affecting the local community regarding water usage, as well as opportunities for relatively small interventions that may achieve large improvements in local outcomes.

Government departments: Governmental departments, both the Central and State governmental offices, have given water management in India under climate and demographic pressures a high priority. The CHANSE framework will provide policy-makers with improved integrated regional assessments of both water demand and availability enabling better planning for water security at governmental level. Targeted government departments who may be benefit from the proposed work are:
- Water Resources Department, Govt. of Bihar: Issues related to utilization of water resources, irrigation, and flood control.
- National Water Development Agency: Involved in augmentation of water availability in the existing Gandak Canal System.
- Public Health & Engineering Department, Govt. of Bihar: Provides improved portable water supply and sanitation facilities, towards improvement in public health.
- Department of Environment & Forest, Govt. of Bihar: Involved in conservation of aquatic wildlife in the Gandak.
Description The project is in its early stage, however, after the field visit to the case study region we have explored the spatial variability in crop types which include sugarcane production in the north of the region and tobacco in the south. This information, along with qualitative and quantitative information obtained will have an important impact on model setup.

We have now set up the integrated model for the study region (Gandak basin). The results have showed the strong groundwater-surface water interactions, and the model was updated accordingly. We have also discovered a link between the irrigation water use and ecological flows, which will be further quantified using the modelling framework.

Finally, up-to-date results indicate that the impact of human behaviour with respect to irrigation water use and in particular canal operation has much stronger impact on the system compared to the climate change scenarios.
Exploitation Route This finding will have a significant impact on farmer livelihood and water use for agriculture.

We are also in the process of organising a stakeholder workshop to disseminate our findings to local decision makers in the Gandak basin.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description At this stage of the project the findings have not yet been used. However, on Friday 3 March 2017 we held a stakeholders workshop in India with a range of governmental, industry and water utility participants. They have expressed a great interest in the project, in particular in the datasets that will be the outcome of the work. They believe that the data will provide them with information for improved decision making on water allocation, and possibilities for small scale interventions for water efficiency. In addition, water level monitoring equipment has been installed in a number of locations within the study area. This was done in conjunction with stakeholders and the collected data will be made available to water users to improve future water use and agricultural planning.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Democratizing access to water resources usage through a high-performance approach to efficient modelling using cloud-based custom hardware
Amount £1,763 (GBP)
Organisation Imperial College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 08/2019
Title Recorded groundwater levels 
Description Dochartaigh, B., O'Keeffe, J., Nair, T., Jackson, C., Krishnaswamy, J., Chaudhary, S., MacDonald, A, 2020, Recorded groundwater levels taken from locations within the Gandak River Basin, Bihar, India, 2017-2019 [Deposited with EIDC] 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A 
Title Surface and groundwater stable isotope analysis 
Description Dochartaigh, B., O'Keeffe, J., Nair, T., Jackson, C., Krishnaswamy, J., Chaudhary, S., MacDonald, A, 2020, Surface and groundwater stable isotope analysis using water samples taken from the Gandak River Basin, Bihar, India, 2017-2019 [Deposited with EIDC] 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A 
Description IIT Bombay and UK Partners 
Organisation Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of a groundwater and irrigator behavioural componant within the VIC modelling framework
Collaborator Contribution Development of a groundwater and irrigator behavioural componant within the VIC modelling framework
Impact Publications in preperation for submission
Start Year 2012
Title The CHANSE modelling framework 
Description The CHANSE modelling framework This coupled socio-hydrological modelling framework is based on the model developed by O'Keeffe et al. (2018) but formalised and updated to represent the needs of this project, stakeholders, researchers and the need to manage and understand water resources through a systems approach. The modelling tool incorporates environmental and socio-economic variables including groundwater and surface water and climate, crop production and the decisions of water users. It is envisaged that the tool will be packaged and made available for distribution following publication. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The model is currently being applied in the CHANSE study area and results will be published upon completion 
Description Engagement with stakeholders in the study area 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We have conducted focus groups and interviews with water users in the Gandak basin, during which we have described the aims and objectives of the CHANSE project. In addition, we have worked with stakeholders to install water level monitoring equipment. Upon project completion this information will be fed back to water users who expressed an interest in seeing how their water levels vary over time and believed it could help them better manage water resources.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Influential Voices in Meteorology and Climate event, Reading, 8 March 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The event was aimed at promoting women in science. The main impact so far is increase in the follower in the social media (Twitter).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description International conference poster presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the Water Futures Conference in India, Sustainable Water Resources programme had a side event. From the CHANSE project we have presented the following posters:
1) Alexandra Nicolopoulos, Simon Moulds, Ana Mijic, and Jimmy O'Keeffe. Water Future Conference, Bengaluru, India, 2019. Analysing the impact of groundwater abstraction on base flows of the Gandak River in India
2) Jimmy O'Keeffe, Simon Moulds, Christopher Jackson, Johanna Scheidegger, Wouter Buytaert, Tarun Nair, and Ana Mijic, Water Future Conference, Bengaluru, India, 2019. Investigating the influence of human water use practices on the hydrological cycle using a sociohydrological modelling framework with a case study in north India
3) Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, Alan MacDonald, Christopher Jackson, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Sunil Chaudhary, Tarun Nair, Jimmy O'Keeffe, Girish Varma, Mohsneen Khan, Gopal Krishan. Water Future Conference, Bengaluru, India, 2019. Groundwater recharge sources in the Gandak alluvial aquifer, NE India: how important is leakage from irrigation canals?
4) Johanna Scheidegger, Jisha Joseph, Christopher Jackson, Subimal Gosh, Sekhar Muddu, Sat Kumar Tomer, Jimmy O'Keeffe, and Simon Moulds.
Water Future Conference, Bengaluru, India, 2019. Towards modelling the effects of groundwater-fed irrigation on the Ganges basin: incorporating 2D lateral groundwater flow and groundwater and surface water-fed irrigation in the VIC macroscale hydrological model
5) L. Wignall, S.Djordjevic, A. Chen. Water Future Conference, Bengaluru, India, 2019. Application of an Artificial Neural Network to Predict Flooding in the Gandak River Catchment
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019