Counting every single drop of the unseen water


By Chandrika Patnaik

17 December 2021

A cadre of community professionals from Adivasi communities learn about groundwater and mapping technology to map, assess and monitor water sources in Odisha to ensure source sustainability.

Lily Manonita, a trained cadre taking the measurement of the water source.

Photograph from Gram Vikas archive

Bhaskar Mandal, 28, of Tunderi village in the Nuagarh block of Gajapati district cycles daily to villages in the two Gram Panchayats of Luhanga and Khajuripada. He records the discharge measurement of water in springs during summer and rainy seasons, quantity of water in canals, ponds and dug wells, “Through GPS (Global Positioning System) we can pinpoint the location of a water source easily. In case of water springs, we measure the water discharged from springs during summers and rainy season. We check the area around the spring to see if trees have been felled close to the spring, whether the area around it is clean and if there are toilets located close by. For ponds and dug wells, we try to find out their depth, how much water they hold in summer and rainy season, and whether the water is being used for irrigation or any other purpose.”

Over the last several years, there are marked variations in the rainfall pattern, changes in land use and reduction in the forest cover in Odisha. As a result, some ground water sources in the villages have dried up, while some have become seasonal with low water discharge. In some others, visible changes in the quality of water across different water sources are noticed.

Gram Vikas is strengthening and building capacities of village level institutions and village cadres for better natural resource management by demystifying technologies to ensure the long-term water source sustainability.

Gram Vikas’ Water Source Sustainability (WSS) programme is creating new local capacities to understand both spring and groundwater aquifers by comprehensive mapping of groundwater sources on the mWater app. The programme and the app are aimed at compiling estimates of water demand and usage at household and community level, fortnightly water discharge measurement data collection, fortnightly water quality surveillance and management, and rain gauge readings and their maintenance.

Village volunteers map and geo-tag all the findings using android apps like mWater, NoteCam, and GPS Essentials which make use of in-built GPS of smartphones. The volunteers are trained in building inventory of water resources in the village and monitoring these sources. The mWater app takes the location. The volunteers then proceed to fill in the details of the water source surveyed and upload a photo of the water source along with the details. “I am enjoying the work as a WSS cadre,” says Bhaskar Mandal, who is one among the two volunteers chosen by the Village Development Committee (VDC) in Tunderi village for the WSS Programme in Luhanga Gram Panchayat.

Bhaskar is a graduate and lives with his two elder sisters and an elder brother. “My brother works as a mason and my two sisters help me in the field to cultivate paddy. We also grow vegetables, some of which we sell in the local market. I could not get a job so I remained here in the village and learnt farming. This year, my sisters will be harvesting the paddy with help from a relative since I have to travel to five more villages in our Gram Panchayat this month to locate and map the water sources.”

The water needs of Tunderi village are met by a spring close to the village. It got its piped water system and bathing and toilet facilities for each of its 25 households with support from Gram Vikas in 2008. “I feel proud that our village looks so clean and open defecation is not prevalent anymore. When the VDC asked me to enrol for the WSS program, I was eager to be a part of it. This work will give me a chance to preserve the springs on which my community depends upon for its water needs.”

Sunil Kumar Mandal, 27, a graduate is also a resident of Tunderi village. In October 2021, when the Village Development committee (VDC) in his village asked him to enrol as a WSS volunteer during a village meeting, he immediately took up the opportunity.

“I received training in the first week of October 2021. This work makes me feel very happy as I have learnt so much about our water sources. It will make our water sources sustainable for future generations. I was at home idling my time after completing my graduation in 2017. Two years ago I fell and broke both my limbs. I still limp today and have to walk at a slow pace. The disability has hindered my ability to take up work opportunities outside my village,” said Sunil, who had big ambitions for himself after his graduation.

Sunil says he is happier today after getting this chance to work for Gram Vikas, “They made bathing rooms and toilets possible in my village in 2008. I am told when one would enter our village, there was a foul smell as residents  defecated in the nearby areas. After Gram Vikas came to our village, a lot of things changed for the better. I am inspired by their work and the manner in which they mobilise residents creating a feeling of ownership for everything, including our water sources.”

Volunteers like Bhaskar and Sunil are selected by the VDCs of their village according to a given criteria. Any person between the age of 18-50 years and with a minimum education of Class VIII, with the ability to operate a smartphone, having a good rapport with the community, and open to working five days a month is selected as a cadre.

The selected cadres undergo training at the village level with Gram Vikas’ staff to cover the basics of the watershed/springshed activities. A follow up training is organised at the project level, where field experts will evaluate the understanding of the trained cadres. Cadres selected and appointed into the programme will undergo a final training at the district level which will be taken up by a partner organisation like Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM).

Thirty eight trained volunteers have mapped 186 springs and 1050 other water sources in 220 villages in Gajapati district.

It is essential to monitor water sources, especially groundwater sources, to make sense of what is happening to the water scenario in the long run. The volunteers make note of how much water is available for how long from each source,and for what activity it is used.

The VDC President of Tunderi village, Purna Chandra Mandal has this to say about the efforts to build inventory of the water sources in the village and monitoring them regularly, “By mapping our aquifers we will be able to have equitable distribution of groundwater from underground aquifers which are spread across multiple villages. Two kilometres away on the hill is Talada village where a spring had sufficient water for the entire village for 12 months a year. But now, the spring dries up right after the rainy season. During the mapping process, our cadres found trees around it had been felled by residents for bogodo (burn and slash) cultivation.”

Gagan Mandal, a resident of the same village adds, “In Souri village, which lies one kilometre away, the water discharge remains the same but due to increase in the number of households, there is water scarcity during the summers. We need to treat water as a collective and not a private resource and residents should unite to learn to manage water and share it.”

Currently, a total of 148 trained volunteers from Gajapati, Kandhamal, Nayagarh, Ganjam, and Kalahandi have mapped 675 springs and 3602 other water sources since October 2021.

Sunil Kumar Mandal wants his village Tunderi to be water secure.

Photograph from Gram Vikas archive


Prasanta Kumar Sahu, a Field Expert, and Anurag Sharma, member of the Water Resources Technology Group, provided data and inputs for the story. Ganesh Chakravarthi edited the story.


Chandrika Patnaik leads on content production within the Communications team.


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