The research team visited the Sri Ram Sagar reservoir in Andrah Pradesh which supplies neighbouring areas with water for drinking and irrigation, as well as a hydroelectric power plant. The aim of the visit was to take a closer look at the basic criteria behind decision-making strategies linked to the allocation of water among the various sectors involved – both today, and in the light of imminent climate change.
The Building Block Methodology represents an integrated approach to water allocation which has generated great interest in India.. “To find so many people interested in BBM was a pleasant surprise for all of us working on the project”, says Atle Harby, a Senior Researcher at SINTEF Energy Research, and head of the CEDREN research centre.
The Sri Ram Sagar reservoir in Andrah Pradesh in India is a BBM pilot project. Photo: Julian Sauterleute
The Building Block Methodology
The Building Block Methodology was originally developed in South Africa to determine criteria for environmental flows in regulated rivers. Application of the method in India represents an advance in that it incorporates many more sectors and community objectives than the purely environmental. The method is straightforward in that it introduces a systematic approach which determines the water supply needs of the different sectors on a monthly basis. This in turn is linked to the water available in wet, normal and dry years, respectively, combined with the anticipated hydrological situation evolving from climate change. Water is thus distributed among the different sectors by means of a workshop-based process aimed at concluding in consensus.
“Water allocation is a political hot potato in India ¬– not only between the states, but also between the urban communities and the rural districts. The Building Block Methododology turned out to be a highly suitable tool which generated involvement and enthusiasm among those taking part from the various sectors. This is essential if we are to achieve sustainable development”, says Helene Egeland, a social science researcher at SINTEF Energy Research.
A multi-application reservoir
The Godavari river basin in central India has a catchment area extending over 343,000 km² – more than the entire land area of Norway. The Sri Ram Sagar project (SRSP) is located along the main course of the Godavari river. It was launched in 1964 and completed at the beginning of the 1980s.
Water from the reservoir is used for many different purposes, and it is thus termed a multi-purpose reservoir, as is the case for the majority of dam projects around the world. The Sri Ram Sagar reservoir is a source of drinking water, and it also supplies large areas of agricultural land with irrigation water. Industry extracts its share of process water and, during certain periods, water is also used to generate electricity via a hydro plant with an installed capacity of 36 MW. Agriculture is the biggest consumer and is supplied via three major irrigation channels, one of which is connected to the outflow from the power plant.
Sri Ram Sagar is a pilot for the BBM approach. The method was found to be so interesting that WALAMTARI, the land management training and capacity-building centre located in Andra Pradesh, intends to develop a series of courses based on the approach. The Norwegian research team will lend assistance in the form of guidelines via the CLIMHYD project.
Per Stålnacke at Bioforsk says that this project provides good evidence that research methods can also be applied to achieve water management objectives. It appears that independent research-based results, combined with a process headed by impartial research scientists, are key factors in relation to this type of water allocation issue.
Drinking water first
Domestic Indian policy regarding water distribution states that drinking water shall always have first priority. Drinking water needs are regarded as difficult to reduce by means of technical measures. Next on the priority list is water for irrigation. Areas of rice cultivation in particular demand enormous volumes of water. Rice represents the farmers’ preferred crop because the anticipated price per cultivated hectare is higher for this crop. However, there is great potential for improvements in water use efficiency in this sector. The distribution of water via one of the irrigation channels also permits the generation of electrical power. However, once the other sectors have received the water they require, this is regarded as a by-product. Inadequate consideration is given to the downstream environment and water is permitted to pass the dam only during periods when the capacity of the reservoir has been exceeded.
Climate change affects water resources
At the workshop in India, the research team also presented model calculations describing the anticipated future hydrological regime in the Godavari basin catchment area.
“The workshop demonstrated that the BBM is a useful tool for examining the impact of climate change on water resources and for generating ideas about possible adaptations we can make”, says Julian Sauterleute at SINTEF Energy Research. “Many of the participants had not discussed this issue before”, he says.
Dr. A.K. Gosain at IITD in Delhi concluded that less water will be available during the dry seasons, whereas the monsoon period is anticipated to be even wetter than at present. This situation will create new conflicts linked to water distribution among the different sectors. One possible consequence of this is losses of up to 30 per cent in maize and rice crop production.
“In the future, population growth, increases in standards of living, and climate change will lead to tense conflicts over water resources in many regions of the world. It is essential to carry out research to find effective, fair and peaceful ways of sharing these scarce resources,” maintains Tor Haakon Bakken, a research scientist at SINTEF Energy Research.
Julian Sauterleute, Helene Egeland, Per Stålnacke and their Indian colleagues discussing challenges linked to water distribution. Photo: Tor Haakon Bakken