Water Stewardship Initiative (WSI) in semi arid regions of Rural Agrarian Maharashtra, India

Watershed Organization Trust
Published: 09 November 2021
Last edited: 09 November 2021
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With climate change events posing new threats to Water Ecosystem, Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR) realized that water management and agriculture production needed focus. Moreover, it was observed that the post-project period increased groundwater levels benefitted few who could dig open wells and bore wells. This led WOTR to initiate the Climate Change Adaptation project, having an important component- ‘Water Stewardship’ along with groundwater governance and climate-resilient agriculture overlaying Watershed Development. For establishment of an effective, efficient, and transparent governance mechanism, WOTR and WOTR’s Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS) launched the ‘Water Stewardship Initiative’ (WSI) and piloted it in 100 rain-fed villages of Maharashtra. The initiative helped to sensitize communities about the causes of their fragile ‘water health’ status, develop pedagogy to nudge them towards more efficient harvesting and use of water, and evolve a set of norms and regulations to manage water sustainably.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Land management
Legal & policy frameworks
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Traditional knowledge
Watershed management
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 4: Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030


Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India
Dhule, Maharashtra, India
Jalna, Maharashtra, India


Maharashtra state is facing repeated droughts over the years, resulting in crop failure and farmer suicides. All this is despite the extensive and successful water harvesting models implemented through watershed development projects. With groundwater has become the mainstay of survival and progress of farmers, there is drastic depletion of groundwater which has led to an increase in tanker dependency of numerous villages for drinking water and livestock needs. Although the Maharashtra Groundwater (development and management) Act is in place since 2014, there is an overall absence of local governance, particularly as groundwater is considered private property. Of particular concern is that, if groundwater management is not practised, land degradation will expand leading to poverty and loss of the natural resource base. Livelihoods are disturbed and outward migration increases in search of income. These issues need comprehensive ecosystem-based solutions to balance human and environmental development.


The main beneficiaries of this solution are rural agrarian communities (primary water users and neighbouring stakeholders that influence and/or are affected by primary users) of Maharashtra, particularly from semi-arid climatic regions.

How do the building blocks interact?

The active community engagement in Water Stewardship starts with thorough understanding of Village water health chart that underlines the need for local water governance. In view of this, the Village Water Management Team (VWMT) is formed as village representation to take responsibilities to establish the governance. Water caretakers who monitor overall processes involved in WSI and look after if VWMT is taking efforts in right direction, provide guidance in technical as well as social components. VWMT and Water caretakers also conduct water budgeting seasonally for total planning of the resource. Depending on the outcome of the Water budget, water harvesting structures and water-saving techniques on farm level are designed and implemented. This has certainly incurred fruitful outcomes to achieve demand-side management. 

Further the action plans, ShE workshops, continuous follow up, capacity building and training are key components to keep villagers in active participation and bring about personal behavioural and perception changes. The Maharashtra Groundwater Act, 2009 which is a very comprehensive state-level regulation finds its way of meaningful implementation in appropriate course through Water Stewardship.


The village water health chart is a summary of water availability, its quality, types of uses and resource management set up, etc. which played an important role in mobilizing and motivating the community to design and implement interventions like water budgeting and water efficiency measures. The year 2018 was a drought year that posed serious water scarcity issues on local communities. However, 78 out of 100 project villages had water available within villages for domestic use in January 2019 due to planning and management through water budget. Repairs, maintenance and new constructions through volunteer work and convergence with government programmes during 2016 and 2017 have contributed to a total harvest of 61.44 billion litres in the project villages. The irrigation water demands were met using efficient micro-irrigation techniques resulting in saving 3.24 billion litres of water by 2000 farmers between October 2015 and March 2018. Total 78 project villages set rules for water use and crop management and have these rules ratified in their records of the local general body. The Stakeholder Engagement (ShE) events brought various stakeholders together on a common platform. These workshops provided them with an opportunity to deliberate and discuss ‘water’ as a ‘shared problem’. The activity also helped them to develop a common understanding of the ‘unseen’ sub-surface water i.e. an aquifer.


The district of Jalna in Maharashtra state experiences dry and tropical climatic conditions. In the past 5 to 7 years, local communities faced severe droughts due to low and erratic rainfall with gradual temperature rise in the region. This climatic pressure has led communities to become more dependent on local groundwater systems which given the natural hydro-geological setting is very limited. Moreover, farmers switching from rain-fed to cash crops to increase their household income have resulted in the over-exploitation of groundwater. Irrigation water is given priority over domestic water requirements; also the access across various community classes or parts of villages (hamlets, settlements, etc) has become inequitable.


To address these social and behavioral challenges deliberately under WSI, intensive awareness programs and stakeholder engagement workshops were conducted. With rigorous thought sharing, scientific and traditional knowledge exchange, people started realizing the importance of a participatory approach and behavioral changes in order to sustain available water resources.


Participants shared that they now understand water as a common property and that everyone has a right over it; therefore water should be used judiciously. Mrs. Meera Shinde, from Lingewadi village, Jalna, describes how the situation has changed in her village -“Earlier, for fetching drinking water, no private well owners allowed others to draw water from their wells. After exposure and learning about this in stakeholder engagement workshops and discussions of the same within the village, some well owners allow others to take water from their private wells for domestic use.”

She further quotes “As water is needed for all, even for the animals and birds, we have made special water troughs for the animals in a remote hilly area where monkeys, wild boar and deer face difficulties in finding water in summer. They now frequently come and drink water from these troughs”.


The exercises of Water budgeting, Village Water Health chart and village level stakeholder engagement workshops indirectly helped more women like Mrs. Shinde who are now able to secure the water share for domestic need which has greatly reduced their stress for fetching water from long distance and rather have some additional personal and family time.

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Ankita Yadav Watershed Organization Trust - Centre for Resilience Studies