Adapting to Climate Change in Urbanising Watersheds (ACCUWa): A socio-hydrological research project in the Arkavathy and Noyyal river basins

Water scarcity, unsustainability, inter-sectoral conflict and water-related vulnerability of weaker sections are ubiquitous in the Indian sub-continent. Climate change is likely to aggravate pre-existing climate variability, thereby increasing water-related stresses, especially for marginalized groups. The process of rapid urbanization poses additional challenges to communities and water managers, as it brings increasing competition from a denser population and multiple sectors, separation of source from users and overlapping jurisdictions of multiple agencies.

"Adapting to Climate Change in Urbanizing Watersheds"(ACCUWa) is a 3-year interdisciplinary research study focusing on two rapidly urbanizing watersheds in south India: the Arkavathy sub-basin in Karnataka and the Noyyal sub-basin in Tamil Nadu. This study, supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada will seek to understand the manner in which impact of climate change on the quality and quantity of water accessible to different stakeholders, particularly weaker sections, and the household and governance factors that shape vulnerability, short-term coping mechanisms and possible adaptation strategies.

The larger goal is to build an interdisciplinary approach towards understanding the interaction between the water resource ‘system’ and the climate system in an urbanizing context, and to build capacity of scholars, students, and civil society groups for conducting interdisciplinary actionable research. A review paper on approaches to understanding adaptation in water provisioning in developing countries has been published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.

The research focuses attention on stakeholder priorities, seeking to integrate detailed biophysical understanding with an understanding of the socio-technical infrastructure and institutional mechanisms through which climate change impacts will be felt by water users. As a first step, situation analysis reports and expert consultations are carried out in each basin to summarize the current understanding of the ‘water-related problems’ in each basin are being compiled. The expert consultation on Arkavathy was held in November 2012 and the Arkavathy Situation Analysis was published in February 2013. The Noyyal expert consultation was held on 24th Sept 2013 and the Noyyal Situation Analysis was published in February 2014.

Detailed monitoring of both quantity and quality will be coupled with analysis of household, farmer and industrial water consumption behavior and the institutional aspects of water allocation and regulation. A web-based simulation model will be used in tandem with iterative stakeholder interactions to generate participatory learning of cumulative and cross-scale impacts.

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Within the Arkavathy basin, we find that while water quality is a matter of concern downstream (with waste water inflows from the Vrishabhavathy River), water scarcity is a major concern in the upper part – the TG Halli catchment. In the latter, it has been observed that inflows into the TG Halli reservoir have declined from its design capacity of 148 MLD to 30 MLD. The key research question is why the inflows into the TG Halli reservoir are declining. In the Arkavathy basin, the hydrology component of ACCUWa seeks to address this. We have setup a set of five hypotheses to explain this:

  1. Rainfall has declined significantly.
  2. Temperature increases have increased evapotranspiration resulting in both decreased recharge and decreased run off.
  3. Intense groundwater pumping for irrigation has induced more percolation to the deeper aquifer resulting in a loss of base flow into the Arkavathy River.
  4. Evapotranspiration has increased due to a shift in land use from rainfed agriculture to perennial plantations such as fruit orchards, coconut, arecanut and Eucalyptus.
  5. Titled the “million puddle theory”, this hypothesis states that encroachments into stream channels and expansion of check dams in the upper catchment have resulted in ponding of water at various locations. Most of this water simply evaporates or is lost through evapotranspiration from riparian vegetation.

Following this, an analysis of secondary data suggests that groundwater pumping and increased evapotranspiration from Eucalyptus plantations due to land cover change are most likely the important causes as no significant trends have been observed in rainfall and temperature over the period of decline. In order to understand the contribution of these factors, we have initiated the following studies:

  • Modelling of groundwater-surface water interactions at the TG Halli catchment scale using secondary and primary data.
  • Milli-watershed studies to obtain a detailed understanding of hydrologic partitioning under different land uses.

Land Use Trends and Drivers

False colour composite image of Arkavathy catchment (March 2012)

The main purpose of this investigation is to understand what changes in land use are affecting the hydrologic cycle in the two study basins. These include land use changes that change evapotranspiration, those that affect water storage, those that change infiltration and those that reflect increasing water use. Thus, the land use changes we are focusing on are:

  1. Expansion of built-up areas (and within that, change in population densities and fraction under industry)
  2. Change in area under irrigated agriculture
  3. Change in cropping intensities
  4. Change in area under water-demanding tree crops (such as eucalyptus plantations)
  5. Change in storage available in water bodies

We are using multiple sources of data for estimating land use changes, including village-wise statistics from the government (Census and DES), land use maps prepared by KSRSAC, and our own interpretations of historical (Landsat TM) and current (IRS LISS4) satellite images, coupled with extensive ground truth.

Water Quality

The main focus of water quality research work in the larger ACCUWa framework is to understand the linkages between sources of pollution and receiving water bodies and the impacts of polluted water sources on stakeholder outcomes which is defined in terms of livelihoods, social well-being, health issues and environmental amenities.

Vrishabhavathy River (V-River) originates in the city of Bangalore and it receives wastewater from domestic and industrial uses. The wastewater gets collected into the Byramangala tank and the highly polluted tank water is used by downstream villages for irrigation of various crops such as baby corn, mulberry and coconut.

In order to connect the linkages, the sources of pollution in the Vrishabhavathy River have been identified by studying a smaller sub catchment (Peenya sub catchment) which is highly industrialized by large, medium and small scale industrial units with varying degrees of pollution. Water quality from this sub catchment is analyzed for various parameters including heavy metals. Heavy metal load is estimated by installing a 24 hour automatic water sampler and a water level recorder at the end of the sub catchment.

The impacts of using polluted water source by downstream villages is assessed by collecting and analyzing drinking water, irrigation water, vegetables (baby corn) and milk samples from three sample villages (Chikkakuntanahalli, Bannigiri and M Gopahalli) and a control village (Mudenahalli). Based on the results obtained, a health risk assessment will be carried out and this will shed light into the overall hazard index for users exposed to the contaminants.

Institutions and Governance

The institutional component of ACCUWa seeks to understand how formal laws and rules and the political culture of water agencies and water users shapes the manner in which these agencies allocate water and manage infrastructure in the short and the long run. There are four distinct arenas in which water institutions can be examined in the study basins:

  • rural agricultural use,
  • rural domestic use,
  • urban domestic/industrial use, and
  • urban effluent disposal.

Our work initially focuses on the third and fourth arenas. Within urban use, we are focusing initially on small towns in the two river basins. We hypothesize that in small towns, management of water resources is shaped by the natural endowment of resource, physical and political proximity to capital cities, and the structure of governance in the town. Within these constraints, the agencies involved make choices regarding the type of water source to use (surface or ground water or both), supply and distribution infrastructure, operation and management, and pricing.

We are initiating a study to understand how institutional and household factors influence household water security in small towns in the Arkavathy watershed (Doddaballapur, Kanakapura, Nelamangala and Ramanagara). We aim to understand the role of institutions and its effectiveness through some of the critical outcomes:

  • Average per capita supply of water,
  • Cost of the water supply to the utilities and users,
  • Equity and fairness in distribution of water,
  • Resource sustainability (ecological) and fiscal sustainability of water supply utilities,

In addition to understanding institutional aspects in each case, we also want to observe institutional effectiveness in comparative perspective across towns and basins (with Noyyal).

Household Responses

The household responses component of the ACCUWa project covers both farm and domestic sectors and addresses the following questions:

Agriculture/Farm responses

  1. What are the drivers of crop choice and land use at the farm household level?
  2. What is the impact of crop choice and land use on water consumption in agriculture?

Domestic responses

  1. What is the impact of domestic water scarcity on communities and households, especially the marginalized?
  2. How do households respond to water scarcity?

Fieldwork was conducted to address these questions in 16 randomly sampled villages in the Arkavathy basin during November 2013-January 2015. Field research included household level questionnaire surveys on farm and domestic water management, verification of crops and irrigation sources in agricultural plots, interviews with key local informants including government officials and conducting transects and focus group discussions with farmers and residents.

The farm component of the survey focused on rainfed and groundwater dependant farm households, covering a random sample of 20% of households from both the categories in each village. In total the team covered close to 400 households in the farm survey. The domestic component focused on marginalized and non marginalized households, covering a random sample of 20% of households from both the categories in each village. In total the team covered more than 500 households in the domestic survey. GPS points of water sources and locations of different crops were marked during fieldwork and borewells identified for monitoring, feeding into the land use and hydrology components of the project.

Preliminary analysis of both the farm and domestic survey datasets is ongoing.


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Research staff on the project

Post Doctoral Research Associate

Senior Research Associates

Research Associates

Research Assistant

Water Quality Lab Analyst

Field Assistants

  • Kumar D S
  • Lokesh D Gowda
  • Nagendra P
  • Guru Swamy
  • Sathish A H
  • Manjunatha B K
  • Vivek M
  • John S. Ranjith
  • Vijayalakshmi C
  • Ramya M
  • Chidananda Murthy Aradhya
  • Manjunath G
  • Shivaram


  • Shilpa D N
  • Singireddy Tagore Reddy
  • Nagaraju Mamilla
  • Malavika G
  • Sayan Roy
  • Abhimanyu Lele
  • Sai Prasanth Bhalachandran
  • Veena H S
  • Akangshilu Longkumer
  • Pradnya satyapal katkar
  • Sana Anjum
  • Uvashree Jananai
  • Sivaranjani K
  • Durgesh Kumar Singh
  • Krithika Jain
  • AravindBandaru
  • Arjun K R
  • Chandan Gowda
  • Sierra Young
  • Gopal Penny
  • Danielle Lindamood
  • Shashank Palur

Research Articles / Reports

Articles in Popular Press

Wires Water piece

Arkavathy Newsletters

Conference Presentations/ Posters

  • Devasenadhipathi, U., D. Biswas, V. Srinivasan and S. Lele. "Patterns and drivers of household water consumption in Coimbatore", paper presented at Urbanization and the Environment: Eighth Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, Bangalore, 4th - 6th January 2016.
  • Jamwal, P., S. Lele and M. Menon. "Rethinking water quality standards in the context of urban rivers", paper presented at Urbanization and the Environment: Eighth Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, Bangalore, 4th - 6th January 2016.
  • Kuttawa, P., S. Lele and G. V. Mendez. "An analysis of the economic, institutional and social factors influencing decentralized urban wastewater reuse: Insights from Bengaluru, India". Paper presented at Urbanization and the Environment: Eighth Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, Bangalore, 4th - 6th January 2016.
  • Madhyastha, K., S. Sulagna, R. Dhavamani and S. Lele. "Water Governance in Small Towns: A comparative study of small towns in the Noyyal Basin, Tamil Nadu and Arkavathy Basin, Karnataka", paper presented at Urbanization and the Environment: Eighth Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, Bangalore, 4th - 6th January 2016.
  • Srinivasan, V., S. Lele, B. K. Thomas and P. Jamwal. "The transition from water scarcity to water pollution in Thippagondanahalli Halli catchment, India", paper presented at Urbanization and the Environment: Eighth Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, at Bangalore, 4th - 6th January 2016.
  • Biswas, D. "Inter-and intra-household dynamics of domestic water access in urban slums: A case study of Coimbatore” paper presented at International Seminar on Anthropology and Global Climate Change: Local Knowledge, Cultural Adaptation and Resilience among the Indigenous Peoples, Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad, 14th - 15th February 2016.
  • Jamwal, P. “Wastewater reuse in urbanizing watersheds: issues and challenges”, paper presented at University of Waterloo's Six Annual International Development Conference on “Urbanized: New Frontiers of Development” organized by Centre for international Governance Innovation, Waterloo, Ontario, 26th February 2016.
  • Jamwal, P. “Diagnosing the water quality problem in the Vrishabhavathy watershed in Bangalore: A problem-driven approach”, paper presented at Indo-UK Workshop on Water Quality– Source Protection Jointly organised by James Hutton Institute, Scotland & Interdisciplinary Centre for Water Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, 30th March-1st April 2016.
  • Jamwal, P., Md. Idris and Praveen Raj Urs. “Linking urban wastewater discharges to water quality of Peri-Urban areas: A case study of Bangalore city”, at the 1st Indo-Chinese Young Engineering Leaders’ Conclave (ICON-1) IIT. Gandhinagar, 7th – 9th October 2015.
  • Jamwal, P. “Rethinking framework for instream and effluent water quality in the context of urban wastewater reuse in agriculture” In: National Conference on Challenges in Environmental Research, Organized by IIT Guwahati, Assam, 4th – 6th June 2015.
  • Thomas, B. K., M. Eswar, S. D. Kenchaigol, V. Srinivasan and S. Lele. 'Enhancing Resilience or Furthering Vulnerability? Responses to Water Stress in an Urbanizing Basin in Southern India' presented at the ICARUS Fourth Global Meeting, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, 7th -10th May 2015.
  • Jeremiah, K., Srinivasan, V., Apoorva, R. Evaporation Ponds or Recharge Structures ? The Role of Check Dams in Arkavathy River Basin, India. Poster Session presented at: Sociohydrology: Modeling Feedbacks in Complex Coupled Natural-Human Water Systems. Fall Meeting of American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, 9th – 15th December 2014.
  • Srinivasan, V., Ballukraya, P.N. A fresh perspective on groundwater in over-exploited, hard rock aquifers: Low cost, participatory approaches in the Arkavathy watershed,India. Poster session presented at: Hydrology and Earth Sciences in Data Scarce Regions: From Remote Sensing to In Situ and Crowd-Sourcing Methods. Fall Meeting of American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, 9th – 15th December 2014.
  • Penny G., V. Srinivasan, S. E Thompson. Satellite observations of hydrologic change in the Arkavathy River near Bangalore, India. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting, 16th December 2014.

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