Programme  OS5g Human rights and local participation  abstract 491

Drawing Water for Thirsty Lands: Stories of the Closing Krishna River Basin in South India

Author(s): Jean Philippe Venot

Keyword(s): Water Resources Development, River Basin, South India, Krishna, Water Accounting, Waterscape, Historical Trends, Allocation

Article: abs491_article.pdf
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Session: OS5g Human rights and local participation
AbstractSince the 1850s, progressive agricultural

and water development in the Krishna basin in south India has led to a rising over-commitment of water resources.

This over-commitment and signs of basin closure are apparent during dry periods: surface water resources are

almost entirely committed to human consumptive uses; increasing groundwater abstraction negatively affects the

surface water balance by decreasing base flows; and the discharge to the ocean continues to decrease. The

observed runoff to the ocean fell from a pre-irrigation development average of 57 km3 a year in 1901-1960, to less

than 21 km3/yr in 1990-2000 and even more strikingly to 0.75 km3 in 2001-2004 during an extended period of low

rainfall. Based on basin-wide historical water accounting, this paper quantitatively describes the process of closure of

the Krishna basin over the last fifty years. In the early 2000s, and without accounting for any environmental flows,

total committed volumes accounted for more than 99.4% of the renewable blue water of the basin. Based on this

quantitative assessment, the paper attempts to unpack the forces that drove the overbuilding and closure of the

Krishna basin. It argues that is not only the availability of the physical resource that is crucial in explaining water use

dynamics but that current social, economic and political forces have contributed greatly to the mostly ad-hoc

reconfiguration of the Krishna basin waterscape. Capturing the process of basin closure requires understanding of

the political dimension of access to water and the scope for change. Despite rising inter-sectoral and inter-regional

tension and reduced investments in rural development, the three states that share the Krishna waters continue to

promote their agriculture and irrigation sectors but when a river basin closes, adjustments and management decisions

are tantamount to a spatial re-distribution of water among sectors and regions. This development path can no longer

be sustained without impinging on existing water use; leading to further water shortage downstream; severely

degrading the resource base; further damaging the environment and; creating conflicts. To overcome the difficulties

that such adaptive mechanisms may create, there is a clear need for a basin-wide strategy for water management and

development that would start with the definition and the implementation of water allocation mechanisms to ensure a

balance between equity, sustainability and efficient uses of scarce water resources for both human benefit and

environment preservation.

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