Jul 10, 2021 3 min read

When water bodies dry up

Hi there,

Thanks for joining me this week.

Before we dive into the story of our editor Jency Samuel, I'll give a summary of the events that we had organised last week.

The Dutch Research Council NWO has been running Urbanising Deltas of the World programme since 2012 with a goal: Leveraging science for the prosperous development of deltas worldwide. As the programme is coming to a close, NWO started a series of events last week to showcase their results.

We contributed to two of their events. The first one was a storytelling workshop for researchers involved in this programme. During this session the researchers identified and crafted their own storylines. We will help them build on their narratives about issues that river deltas face and publish their stories.

The other event was a webinar hosted by Vietnam National University HCM, along with the other partners IHE Delft, and Wageningen University and Research. We contributed to the event with a video clip production about their work. It's highlighted in this newsletter as Video of the Week.

I hope you'll enjoy the story by editor Jency who shares her experience from Chennai, India.

The lake near Chennai, India. Photo: Jency Samuel

When water bodies dry up

While travelling for an assignment to the outskirts of Chennai, the south Indian city where I live, I stopped near a lake to relive memories. It used to be one of my family’s favourite picnic / birding spots.

During a visit years ago, my husband saw a gap in the embankment, and on a whim took the car into the bone-dry lake bed, puncturing the tyre in the process. Well, the story is not about husband and son enjoying replacing the punctured tyre but about an innocuous comment I overheard.

"We are wasting the lake bed’s fertile soil," said an elderly man, almost to himself. I understood what he meant. Kudimaramathu is an ancient practice of maintaining lakes, tanks and ponds in villages. Kudi in Tamil language means people and maramathu means repair, implying people’s participation in the upkeep of water bodies.

These water bodies were mostly used for irrigation purposes as agriculture was, and continues to be, the mainstay of Indian villages. In summer when a pond dried up, the villagers would clean it up. The farmers would take the nutrient-rich silt that had been deposited by runoff from rains and use it in their fields.

Naturally the depth of the water bodies would be restored so as to receive rainwater during the next monsoon. Where necessary, villagers would strengthen the bunds and embankments.

This participatory management of water bodies met with its end slowly when bore wells became popular. When farmers started sinking bore wells in their own fields, the common resource was left uncared for.

The fertile silt was not only left unused, but the silt accumulation reduced the depth of the water bodies and hence their capacity. Reduced volume of water in the ponds naturally led to groundwater depletion in the surrounding areas. It became a vicious cycle when people started drilling more bore wells to get water from deeper aquifers.

To stop the practice, and to enable proper storage of rainwater and increase the water table, the government of the southern province of Tamil Nadu – of which Chennai is the capital – revived the kudimaramathu practice in 2017.

It was a move that everyone welcomed. And it was what I observed when I stopped by the lake. Workers were removing silt from the lake bed and loading it on bullock carts and small tractors to cart away to farmers’ fields.

Farmers and villagers are hopeful that this periodical water management practice would continue. For it has certainly improved the water situation in many villages. I didn’t get to see the old man during this visit. But I am sure he is also happy that the ancient practice has been revived.

Water story

Dutch consultancy helps Mekong Delta farmers switch to sustainable agriculture

Dutch consultancy helps Mekong Delta farmers switch to sustainable agriculture

Resource-intensive practices made farming environmentally and financially unsustainable for rice farmers of Mekong Delta. With a blend of varied data, Nelen & Schuurmans, a Netherlands-based company that offers technology-based solutions in the water sector, has turned the practices of the farmers around.

Video of the Week

Building Resilient River Deltas Through Innovation

Tweet of the Week

Hello. We're Nextblue.

Nextblue is a storytelling platform covering the intersection between water and climate change.

Together, we can empower the voices of communities in the heart of delta regions around the world.

If you have any questions or suggestions for this newsletter, Nextblue, or want to propose your own story on water and climate change. Just send an email to joep@next.blue.

Have a nice weekend,


Joep Janssen
Joep Janssen
Founder and editor-in-chief Nextblue
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