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UPSCAPE: A scientific approach to better water management in the Cauvery River Basin

  • Prof. Pradeep. P. Mujumdar, Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering

Photo: Dennis C J

In an effort to make water resources sustainable, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, India and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK have funded a new project “Upscaling Catchment Processes for Sustainable Water Management in Peninsular India” (UPSCAPE). It is a 3-year £2 million research project that is one of the three projects in India initiated under the ambitious Newton-Bhabha Sustaining Water Resources Programme. Six institutes have come together as partners in this project, of which the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, is the lead Institute from India. “The motivating factor of the Newton-Bhabha project is to ensure science reaches the society and benefits it”, says Prof. Pradeep Mujumdar, Chairman at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Water Research, Indian Institute of Science. He also leads the team of Indian scientists working on the UPSCAPE project in the Cauvery river basin.

As water becomes a very scarce resource and the fear of droughts and floods loom, our hope for future lies in designing policies and making decisions that consider the scientific aspects of the water cycle. UPSCAPE is one such initiative that aims to solve water management challenges through innovative research on how localized, small-scale water management interventions like check-dams, bunds and boreholes, affect water availability at the wider basin-scale, and influence large-scale decision-making. “Cauvery basin has one of the largest growing urban areas and rapidly expanding agricultural fields. The idea here is to first understand the surface and ground water fluxes in the basin and probe the scientific aspects of these small-scale interventions”, explains Prof. Mujumdar.

The project aims to involve key insights from its partners - Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and IISc, on the Indian side and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the British Geological Survey (BGS), and the University of Dundee on the British side. “The project aims to leverage the insights all these partners have gained from their previous research on water management issues. For example, IISc has developed a fully instrumented watershed in the Kabini river basin and the team here has a sense of understanding of impacts of small-scale interventions; ATREE has conducted extensive studies on lakes in Bangalore and its surroundings; BGS has worked on resolving water related disputes in many developing countries, including India; and CEH has developed various hydrological models. “The project gives an opportunity to incorporate different parameters and localize them in the context of the Cauvery river basin”, opines Prof. Mujumdar.

The scientific community has a huge role to play in this project. Hydrological models that consider the local impacts of climate change, surface and ground water availability and effects of human interventions like building multiple small check dams through the length of the river, needs to be developed. Water demands for the next few years needs to be predicted based on the type of crops, amount of water used for agricultural purposes and the effects of climate change. “As a first step, we recently concluded a workshop with the different stakeholders – team members, representatives of the state and central governments and NGOs. We are now collecting the required data in the river basin”, shares Prof. Mujumdar. The project is into its seventh month now and multiple face-to-face interactions with the collaborating team, government officials from the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, field visits to understand the urban and agricultural catchments and exchange programs between institutes in the UK and India, are in the pipeline.

UPSCAPE is a first definitive step towards understanding the nuances of anthropogenic activities on water availability and promises to demonstrate how science and systems-level modelling can be encapsulated into water resource management. It also hopes to investigate the key hydrological processes that operate in the catchment areas of rural Peninsular India, explore how urban development impacts ground-water recharge and surface hydrology, and benefit local communities with policies based on these insights. This project also has academic importance with the ability to provide new perspective on upscaling key small-scale processes, offer improved hydrological modelling frameworks for large-scale Indian catchments and increase India-UK research collaboration and exchanges. “Upscaling is very tricky and uncommon. We want to contribute to this scientific effort and are definitely excited about this”, signs off Prof. Mujumdar, eager to take on the challenge.

About the scientist:

Prof. Pradeep. P. Mujumdar is a Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and Chairman, Interdisciplinary Centre for Water Research at the Indian Institute of Science 
Bangalore, He can be reached at +91 80 2360 0290 or pradeep@civil.iisc.ernet.in