Many colors of groundwater in a tiny Western Ghats village

“Konkan” is the narrow strip of land encompassing coastlines, estuaries, lateritic plateaus, foothills of Western Ghats and dense forests, which runs from Maharashtra to Goa. It is bound by the Arabian Sea to its west and the mighty Sahyadri ranges (Western Ghats) to its east. The isolated region has a distinct and rich culture of folklore, performing arts, music, literature, culinary art, with subtle changes from north to south. The region receives heavy rainfall of about 2500-3500 mm in summer monsoons, with the lofty Sahyadri ranges blocking the moisture-laden clouds. 

The rivers in the region are as spectacular: gushing and gurgling over steep hilly paths and meeting the Arabian Sea in just about 100-150 kilometers from their origin in the Western Ghats. The steep and hilly terrain makes it difficult to build large dams, (though we keep trying unsuccessfully as can be seen here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/large-dams-in-konkan-western-ghats-costs-benefits-and-impacts/) and water resource managers never fail to point out that of the total yield of rivers in Maharashtra, 45% is from of the West-flowing rives of Konkan!

Having said that, the tempestuous nature of rives, rocky terrain and steep slopes mean that rives dry up as fast as they swell. The lifeline here is not surface water, but groundwater…Groundwater that emerges from springs as the predominant porous laterite rock meets a layer of clay..or dug wells…or unique water harvesting structures crafted by local communities. 

Here is a glimpse of some such structures…to appreciate not only the utility and appropriateness, but beauty of small, local structures and traditional wisdom. Also important to note is the diversity and independence of water management in Konkan: as in India..where communities own, maintain and manage their own water. There is a special kind of power and magic in this independence.

While conflicts are not unusual and do happen, they are also resolved soon. One of the looming threats to these systems today are the 10+ Coal based Thermal Power Plants planned in Konkan..which will take up the hill plateaus or Sadaa in local language..these lateritic plateaus are not only home for spectacular biodiversity, they are also major groundwater recharge zones of the region…a fact that project EIAs almost always omit!

Following pictures are from one small village called Gudaghe, nestled on the banks of Vashishthi Estuary in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra. According to Central Groundwater Board, the groundwater here is just 5-10 meters from the ground, and is generally stable. Draft is much less than recharge and at least for now, things are peaceful in this corner of the world.

Let us hope that it remains the same and the proposed 1200 MW Thermal power plant is not allowed to disturb this sanctuary!

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This well is the water source for not only a settlement, but a mango orchard too

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This small structure taps a mountain spring in Kolhewadi. In scorching May, the small well on the right had crystal water which is used by the settlement of about 50 households.

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Tapping a mountain spring at Kolhewadi

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Using spring water in May. The system is cleaned in Akshay Tritiya, and is maintained all round the year by the villagers.

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Slightly downhill from Kolhewadi, one more mountain settlement taps a mountain spring with a tank. Built completely out of local contribution. Maintained by locals. 

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An intricate spring harvesting system called “Daarche Paani” where spring water flows through seven tanks. Each tank has a stated purpose. The upper most tank is Sacred and is worshiped. Below is a drinking water tansk, followed by washing and bathing tank, then a tank for animals to drink, finally tanks for washing clothes and utensils. Surplus water then flows into an Arecanut Plantation. The system has intricate rules of use. See the picture below:

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Signboard at Daarche Paani water harvesting system stating that users will maintain the cleanliness and sanctity of the place at all times.

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An ancient well in laterite called “Ghod Baav”. This is said to be a well only for horses which came to Dabhol coasts from foreign lands in ships. This is a contested though 🙂

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A lady collecting water from a spring water tank in the settlement of Derde. The tank, distribution system and intricate rules of use are all devised by the villagers. 

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Spring water channeled to the tank.

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Villagers of Gudaghe protesting proposed GMR Combined Gas based Thermal Power Plant, planned on the lateritic plateau of Gudaghe. Here Dr. Madhav Gadgil is listening to the villagers, as a part of consultations of the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Report

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A tiny water harvesting structure made at the juncture of two rock layers. 

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Called “Umbaraache Paani” that is Water near the Fig Tree 🙂 Just below the well is a small tank..this is a feature found in many wells of the region. The story goes that water from “Umbaraache Paani” is the tastiest in the village. Situated next to the village goddess Saatmaai temple, the well has seen several village feasts

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Geeta, my friend and guide loves to talk about wells 🙂

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Celebrating Groundwater! The God’s Tank or “Devaache Taake” is worshiped on all auspicious days as well as marriages and new births in the village!

~Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

All Pictures by author

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