Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability (T2GS) investigates promising grassroots initiatives of people organizing around groundwater in places where pressures on the resource are particularly acute — India, Algeria, Morocco, USA, Chile, Perú, Tanzania. As these initiatives often defy or challenge conventional wisdom, the project’s hypothesis is that they contain creative insights into ways of dealing with the tensions that characterize groundwater governance: between individual and collective interests and between short-term gains and longer-term sustainability.
This hypothesis was discussed and revised during the project’s kick-off meeting, held in Pune, India, in December 2018. Water professionals from Algeria, USA, Chile, France, India, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, met in Pune to learn from each other and from the different groundwater realities the project engages with. After two days of lively discussion, the T2GS team — a heterogeneous group of engineers, hydrologists, political scientists, anthropologists and geographers — conducted collaborative fieldwork in Randullabad, a small village of smallholder farmers in the rural areas of Maharashtra.
During the fieldwork, the team witnessed how Randullabad villagers, supported by water professionals from ACWADAM and SOPPECOM, have successfully developed participatory strategies to manage, use, re-charge and take care of groundwater within their village. Villagers shared stories about their attempts to develop a sustainable way of living with and sharing groundwater resources. At the core of these attempts are a ban on individual deep bore wells, and the encouragement of the collective construction and maintenance of shallow dug wells.
Dug wells are holes storing groundwater: they rely on shallow water from the most superficial levels of the aquifers. Dug wells bring aquifers into engagement with the social life above ground: as variable groundwater levels become visible in the wells, they continuously remind villagers of the daily care groundwater demands. Becoming part of the social flow, dug wells demand joint investments and agreements between villagers and between villagers and the aquifer to keep functioning.
Randullabad is an exemplary case that shows how grass-roots initiatives contain the seeds of sustainable, and often ignored, ways of caring for, sharing and regulating groundwater. The entire team would like to thank the people of Randullabad for their generous hospitality and willingness to share their groundwater lessons.
Strongly inspired by these initiatives, the T2GS team looks forward to meeting up again in Morocco in 2020. That meeting will serve to bring together the lessons currently being learned by team members stemming from mutual exchange, study visits to different countries, collective writing experiments, and more.
Professor Frances Cleaver, one of T2GS’s principal investigators, said
‘a really exciting feature of this project is the many ways in which we can share knowledge – across country cases, between disciplines, between water users and researchers. We anticipate that this will enrich our understandings of groundwater dynamics and the potential for sustainable solutions’.
And in the words of researcher and activist Seema Kulkarni, from Soppecom,
‘we are really looking forward to be part of this global study on understanding groundwater practices, especially in the context of the changing gender and labour relations’.
This text was inspired by a non-published open-letter to the community of Randullabad, collectively written by Irene Leonardelli, PhD of the T2GS project, in collaboration with Cristóbal Bonelli, post-doctoral research associate of the T2GS project, and Dhaval Joshi, groundwater expert from ACWADAM. All the pictures were taken by Cristóbal Bonelli.