Lesson 2 Problems and Prospects in Watershed Management

Watershed management encounters many problems and constraints.  Some of the major problems and constraints in watershed management are listed below.

2.1 Problems and Constraints in Watershed Management

(a)     Land degradation in rain fed areas due to soil erosion from runoff is one of the major problems.  In India it was estimated that the soil erosion in the 1990s was almost double that of soil erosion in the 1980s.  Rainfall uncertainty and poor economic conditions act as a major constraint and thus prevents the farmers in rainfed areas from making investments. This leads to improper watershed management.

(b)    Equitable benefit sharing of watershed management within the farming communities as well as within the different locations of watershed is a huge problem.  Generally, women, marginal farmers and landless laborers gain very little or nothing at all from the watershed management activities.  Several case studies in water scarce states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in India have showed that overdevelopment of water harvesting structures in the upstream portion of watersheds had significantly reduced the inflows into the downstream reservoirs.  On the other hand, it is also noticed that building of large reservoirs resulted in the submergence and hardship in the upstream parts and benefits for people in the downstream parts of the same watershed or a neighboring watershed generally having an urban or an industrial area.

(c)     Acute shortage of water in general and drinking water especially in summer has been observed in many watersheds with inadequate watershed management which may result in severe/ recurrent droughts.  It may often result in limited and temporary food productivity gains.

(d)    Many a times, common lands do not get treated adequately and re-vegetation does not take place as expected in spite of the watershed management programs.  As a result of this, domestic/ ecosystem water needs and livestock water/ fodder needs are either inadequately addressed or are made to suffer due to increased water withdrawals by other uses or due to overgrazing.  

(e)     Problems exist or new problems crop up due to improper understanding of the interaction between biophysical and socio-economic processes in watershed management.

(f)      Conflict among various government ministries such as those related to agriculture [with emphasis on food production], rural development [with emphasis on employment generation & poverty alleviation], forests [with emphasis on maintaining biodiversity & wildlife], as well as conflict between government bureaucracy and elected representatives in their zeal to control funds, is a major problem in watershed management programs -which requires to be resolved on a priority basis.

(g)     It is hard to conduct meaningful impact assessment studies on watershed management programs for lack of baseline data for monitoring and comparison of the current conditions. The whole exercise of watershed management is undertaken without properly estimating the water supply scenarios under drought/ normal/ surplus years as well as without proper demand management especially during drought years.

(h)    Large areas inhabited with tribal population lack facilities to harvest water and to stabilize their food/ crop/ fodder production due to reduced forest yields, deterioration in land quality, lack of tribal agriculture policy and population pressure.  This leads to a sustained misery, socio-political unrest and insurgency among the tribal population.

2.2 New Prospects and Opportunities Associated with Watershed Management

In spite of the above-mentioned problems and constraints as well as some other problems and constraints, watershed management is associated with new prospects and opportunities.  Some of them are listed below:

(a)   There is a need to produce more and better food without further undermining the environment/ ecology, especially the land, water, forests, wildlife and atmosphere.  This may include adoption of best management practices (BMPs) such as organic farming, de-silting for reservoir capacity restoration as well as for crop productivity increase, sprinkler and/ or drip irrigation to avoid excess use of water, no tree felling policy, afforestation and arboriculture through high oxygen yielding & other medicinal plants etc.

(b)  There is a need to ensure that gains due to groundwater recharge are not dissipated by excess groundwater extraction.  To achieve this, groundwater over-extraction should be avoided through public awareness and also through regulation.

(c)   There is a need to consider the downstream impacts of intensive upstream water conservation.  For this, watershed associations with representations from all the stakeholders in the watershed should be made operational.  These associations can take decisions in the best interest of all the people concerned.  

(d)  Decreasing the costs at which the gains are achieved and thereby increasing the modest benefit-cost ratio should offer new prospect and opportunity in watershed management.  To realize this, low cost technologies which may involve local materials, labour at practically no cost, technologies which are traditional and time tested should be employed to generate more benefits spread over the entire watershed among all the stakeholders.

(e)   Increasing all sections of people’s participation beyond the project implementation stage to ensure sustainable watershed management should be a top priority.  Only this can ensure progress on a sustained basis overcoming the hydro-geological, socio-political and other uncertainties.

(f)    Many successful watershed management programs -especially in India, have been implemented on a small scale in a few villages by collaborated efforts among the government departments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research organizations.  They represent sporadic BMPs.  Hence there is a need to scale up the watershed management activities over large areas which could include remote and/or difficult terrains, so that many problems affecting our agricultural, rural and forest sectors can be effectively addressed.

(g)   Since there have been no or very few institutions built for research & development on collective management of watersheds, there is a need to build centers of advanced learning employing the modern tools of remote sensing, geographic information systems, decision support systems, computer based planning tools, poverty & socio-economic analysis etc.

(h)  There is a need to preserve and improve common pool resources (CPRs) of land, water, fodder, forest, fisheries, wild life and agriculture which significantly contribute towards people’s livelihood especially in the rural areas.

(i)     There is a need to minimize migration to urban areas by creating opportunities in agriculture, natural disasters like floods/ droughts, forest/ mountain economies and by arresting fall in agricultural prices, gap in urban/ rural wages, gaps in urban/ rural employment opportunities.

Keywords: Watershed management problems, watershed management constraints, watershed management prospects, watershed management opportunities.


  • Hanumantha Rao, C. H. (2000). Watershed development in India: Recent Experiences and emerging issues, Economic and Political Weekly, XXXV(45) 3943-3947.

  • Jodha, N. S. (2002). Decline in rural commons: Role of population growth and public policies. Institutionalizing Common Pool Resources [Marothia, D. K., Ed.], Concept Publishing, New Delhi, India.

  • Joshi, P. K., Tiwari, L., Jha, A. K., and Shiyani, R. L. (2000). Meta-analysis to assess impact of watershed, Proceedings of Workshop on Institutions for Greater Impact of Technologies, National Centre for Agriculture, Economics and Policy Research, Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, India.

  • Kerr, J. (2002). Watershed development, environmental services and poverty alleviation in India, World Development. 30(8): 1387-1400.

  • Reddy, R. V. (2000). Land degradation in India: Extents, costs, determinants and trends, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, India.

  • Reddy, V. R., Gopinath Reddy, M., Galab, S., Soussan, J. and Springate-Baginski, O. (2004). Participatory watersged Development in India: Can it sustain rural livelihoods? Dvelopment & Change. 35(2): 297-326.

  • Sastry, G., Reddy, Y. V. R. and OmPrakash. (2003). Impact of watershed management practices on sustainability of land productivity and socio-economic status. National Agriculture Technology Project. Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Hyderabad, India.

Suggested Reading

  • Agarwal, A., Chopra, R. and Sharma, K. (1982). The First Citizen’s Report, 1-30. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, India.  

  • Agarwal, A. and Narain, S. (1985). The Second Citizen’s Report, 1-48. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, India.

  • Sharma, B. R. and Scott, C. A. (2005). Watershed management challenges: Introduction and overview. Watershed Management Challenges: Improving Productivity, Resources and Livelihoods. [Sharma, B. R., Samra, J. S., Scott, C. A. and Wani, S. P. Ed.], 1-21. International Water Management Institute,  New Delhi, India.

  • K. Palanisami, V. N. Sharda and D. V. Singh. (2013). Water management in the Hill regions-Evidences from field studies. Jointly published by ICAR and IWMI. Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd.

Last modified: Thursday, 6 February 2014, 5:38 AM