Aniruddhe Mukerjee

Lake watershed management in developing countries through community participation: a model

Aniruddhe Mukerjee C/o Mr.B.K.Bagchi, 41, Nishant Enclave, 74, Bunglows, Bhopal-462003 Email –


In developing countries, water resources in the urban areas have been subjected to acute environmental degradation due to various unsustainable anthropogenic activities. To address these problems, lake management at watershed level must involve local communities and stakeholders to ensure its long-term sustainability. An action plan is needed to increase awareness among the communities regarding wise use practices and to motivate them to participate in the lake management. There have been several successful initiatives involving community participation for such action in India. Based on these experiences, a framework for the formation of a lake basin management authority with representation of local bodies, community groups and specialists functioning as information node and facilitator for developing capacity for community action in partnership through micro-watershed committees consisting of the local community which would implement the programme is suggested. To ensure sustainability, the programme will include watershed management, provide opportunities to the neglected and weaker section of the community to have better access to the resources and to be implemented with a labour intensive strategy for poverty alleviation. The most important element of the strategy would be to bring diverse groups together and encourage them to come forward with their aspiration and needs and to convert the community demand into community action. The community’s involvement in decision-making processes would ensure conflict resolution and cooperative action with local perspectives/experience taken into account. A milli-watershed consisting of a group of micro-watersheds having common drainage would have a project implementation agency consisting of a multidisciplinary team of specialists, which would support the community groups. The local watershed committee would eventually maintain the assets created without government subsidy.

Key words: Community participation, watershed management, lake development authority


The rainwater harvesting through construction of ponds and reservoirs is a tradition in India. The former rulers constructed numerous large impoundment for providing drinking water to the people in their capitals and elsewhere. They also patronized religious practices and constructed numerous relatively small water bodies along with temples through out the length and breadth of the country. Now with rapid urban development most of these water bodies have been subjected to degradation due to various anthropogenic activities. The scenario is not much different in parts of the world. Diversion of lake water for other uses causing decrease in water level, eutrophication, acidification, introduction of exotic species, salinization, siltation and contamination by toxic substances are the major impacts threatening lake ecosystems. The major causes of such impacts are, however, mainly due to catchment area activities, which in most cases are spread over in rural areas. Therefore, for management and sustainable use of lakes and reservoirs there is a need to have a complete watershed / catchment area or basin management plan.

The game plan for lake management in developing countries requires a great deal of motivation and training of village communities in order to make them aware of lake conservation and management issues involved. The initial participation has to involve the government and other agencies. There have been initiatives in India over the past several years to harness local community participation in other areas of water management; in particular, the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission has had a number of successes in their programmes for water conservation through simple, labour-intensive techniques, which have been adopted readily by semi-literate villagers. Similarly, creation of assets under the public contribution scheme has caught the imagination of the rural masses. Under the scheme the community contributes equally to the cost in the form of cash, material or labour. A model for ensuring community participation in lake management is detailed out in this paper.

The strategy

For large lakes in developing countries, which do not cross international boundaries, it is necessary to establish a single lake development authority and empower it with full responsibility and authority for managing the entire basin and fringe area of the lake. The authority would consist of representatives of local bodies, community groups and specialists and function as an information node and a facilitator for developing the capacity for community action in a long term partnership mode through watershed committees consisting of the local community groups which would implement the actual programme. The watershed management will have to be viewed as a programme to be sustainable, not merely for lake soil erosion, nutrient and solid waste run off and toxic contamination control, but for providing opportunities to neglected and weaker sections of the rural community to have better access to the resources and will need to be implemented with a labour intensive strategy. This would lead to poverty alleviation of the community in the catchment area, which is essential for sustainability of any efforts of lake conservation. For a certain project period of say 4 years there will be govt funding with equivalent local level contribution and on completion of the project period maintenance will be entirely the responsibility of the watershed committee.

The most important element of the strategy would be to make rural people the hub of all development activities. It is essential to bring diverse groups together and encourage them to come forward with their aspirations and needs and to convert community demand into community action. For this the bottom to top participative strategy would have to be adopted. This would hinge on:

  • Establishing multidisciplinary coordinating structures at various levels to act as the facilitators for community organisation, capacity building, planning and implementation and community action processes.
  • Making rural people the key actors in the programme in planning, implementation, monitoring, management and maintenance for which necessary community structures at village level in participatory manner have been evolved.
  • Harnessing all available techno-scientific resources to support the decision making process of the people.
  • Location specific and need based action plans.
  • Preference to low cost, indigenous and simple technologies, local materials and skills.
  • Tying up area development as well as beneficiary oriented programmes and institutional lending so as to optimize utilisation of this resource base at the grass root level.
  • Involving people’s representatives and members of local govt. institutions in the programme.
  • Organising training programmes for watershed based planning and implementation for implementation agencies.
  • Equitable sharing of gains and benefits.


The objectives of the establishment of a single lake development authority are as follows:

  • Augmentation, conservation and optimum utilization of soil and water resources in the lake catchment area in a sustainable manner. Prevention of agricultural and solid waste runoff into the lakes. To restore ecological balance and improve the environmental resource base.
  • To develop an easily available repository of scientific and technological inputs for detailed and area specific planning to the field level implementing agencies.
  • To maximise people’s participation in planning, implementation and maintenance of the activities in the watershed area to make the entire scheme more effective and transparent.
  • To bring about an equitable distribution of resources and sharing of benefits so as to improve the lot of disadvantaged communities.

Implementation mechanism

The detailed phasewise implementation mechanism would be as below.

Phase I : Creating coordinating structures and selecting watersheds

In this phase various structures are set up at different levels to facilitate community participation in planning and implementation of the programme. These function as coordinating structures for the guidance and techno-scientific support to community organisations and monitor the implementation of the programme. Lake development authorities would be established which will work as an information node and a facilitator for other structures to enable them to shoulder the responsibilities being given to them and helps to develop the capacity for community action in long term.

For each milli-watershed consisting of a group of villages/ microwatersheds having a particular common drainage a Project Implementation Agency (PIA) is appointed. Each PIA be headed by a Project Officer who should be assisted by a multidisciplinary watershed development team (WDT) consisting of specialists from different fields (Irrigation, Forest, Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry etc.), drawn from various technical departments of the Government. The PIA will be vested with the responsibility of facilitating the planning, implementation, monitoring and review of the lake conservation programme in the selected watersheds. They would conduct base line surveys and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) to gauge the need and demand of community for preparing action plans and match it with the goals of lake conservation. They would undertake action research for adopting low-cost technologies and for helping the community to organise themselves in groups and also assist the community groups in implementation of activities, maintenance of records and accounts, maintenance of created assets and sharing of benefits.

Phase II : Establishing trust, generating awareness, learning about community and understanding its resources

In this phase PIA members would establish rapport and communication channel with the community to build a relationship of partnership and trust. Another important task for the PIA would be to learn about the environment and the resource status of the selected area to understand the community perspectives, perceptions and priorities for watershed development and management.

Phase III : Problem identification and selection of watershed management activities

In this phase various studies, surveys and resource appraisal would be conducted to understand the issues related to soil erosion, nutrient and solid waste runoff and toxic contamination due to fertilisers and pesticides and its solutions. Simultaneously they would encourage the community to articulate their needs and aspirations. Based on the identified problems and the requirement of the community, location specific watershed management activities would be selected. Income generating activities would also be identified on the basis of local resources. While selecting the activities the ideas, experiences and indigenous technical knowledge available with the community would be used.

Phase IV: Community organisation

In this phase the community would be organised into groups to establish participative structures, with common problems and concerns, which would act as vehicle for resource support, for conflict resolution and for community action. These groups would be established in all the watersheds at the village level to enable the community to organise itself for managing the entire process of watershed management. The groups would carry out various activities from planning of watershed management activities and its execution to their maintenance. They would decide on the modalities for group functioning, the principles governing distribution of any incomes/resources and conflict resolution. A watershed committee would be established to act as the executive committee to manage the day-today affairs of the watershed at the village level and to facilitate the participation of the entire village community. It would have representations from all user groups, members of village local bodies, women, NGOs and representatives of the PIAs. The Watershed Committee would be the vehicle through which community meetings would be organised, watershed plans drawn up and executed, records and accounts maintained, funds distributed to community groups for executing the activities and implementation monitored. Maintenance of assets created under the project would be done after the project period by the same community.

Phase V: Conflict resolution

In this phase, the demands of different interest groups will be placed together and each group will get a feel of the demands of other groups. Different views of groups and member of groups will be reconciled to find impartial solutions. Efforts of conflict resolution will ensure that the benefits are shared equitably and assets maintained jointly by the community itself.

Phase VI : Community consolidation and capacity building

Capacity building and community consolidation would be simultaneous processes taking place along with the implementation of the programme. The PIA would organise capacity building and training programmes for community groups so that they can:

  • act as a mechanism for motivating the community
  • articulate their needs and demands for preparing action plan
  • plan and implement watershed management or income generating activities
  • ensure sharing of benefits
  • take over and maintain the assets created during the programme Phase

VII: Community action

This is the phase in which the community energies will be used for developing action plans, implementing these plans and maintaining the created assets. Action plan of each micro watershed/village would be developed through sequential discussions held between the PIA and each group to decide the best option for meeting the requirement for solving the identified problems. This process would lead to the preparation of a technically sound action plan with people’s participation, whereby cost effective local methods of watershed management already in vogue can be adopted after expert guidance of PIA for maximum returns and optimum utilisation. Each group would prepare its own plan for the proposed activity with designs and cost estimates. All such plans would be consolidated to prepare an action plan of the micro watershed. In the action plan the selected activities would be arranged in a timeframe say 4year programme schedule. Consolidated Action Plan would be submitted to the Lake Development Authority for sanction and release of funds. Once sanctioned, funds would be released directly to the Watershed Committee for implementation of the selected activities. The Watershed Committee would have its own bank accounts for financial transactions. It would have a Project Account and a Development Fund Account. In the Project Account, money released from the Lake Development Authority would be deposited for day-to-day transactions for implementation of selected activities during project period. The Development Fund Account would be a fixed deposit/interest based account in which the earnings from the assets would be deposited and will be maintained for post-project maintenance of assets. The Watershed Committee would implement the activities, as proposed in the action plan. For each of the implemented activities, 50% public contribution would be collected in terms of cash, material or labour from the beneficiaries. During the implementation of activities, continuous monitoring would be done by the PIA. Expenditure incurred on each activity is placed in the local body meeting and monthly physical and financial progress report would be submitted to the LDA through the PIA.

The activities, that could be taken up are:

  • Land Development including in situ soil and moisture conservation measures. i.e. Contour Trenches, Gully Plugs, Contour Bunds, Contour Cultivation, Strip Cropping, Sequential Cultivation, Broad Base Furrows.
  • Drainage line treatment with a combination of vegetative and engineering structures i.e. Check Dams, Gabian Structure, Underground Dykes, Soak Pits, Infiltration Trench • Organic farming.
  • Nursery raising for fodder, timber, fuel wood and horticultural species.
  • Afforestation including block plantations, shelterbelts, bund stabilisation, etc.
  • Agro-forestry and horticultural development.
  • Pasture development either by itself or in conjunction with plantations.
  • Repair, restoration and upgradation of existing common property assets and structures in the watershed to obtain optimum and sustained benefits from previous public investments.
  • Solid waste management via biogas plants,vermicomposting.

Phase VIII: Programme evaluation

In this phase impact evaluation would be carried out with a certain frequency in a participatory manner to judge the progress of the programme towards the goal of sustainable development. It is a regular and integral activity rather than a sporadic and separate event. The evaluation will be carried out with reference to base line information of resources and socio-economic status. It will encourage participants to modify mechanisms, rethink priorities, reset development options and rechart their course of action and for preparing the recommendations for improving the strategies. The evaluation would cover:

  • Operational success or failure of adopted strategies.
  • Resource awareness among the community.
  • Extent to which participation has been achieved in planning and implementation of programme.
  • Growth of capability of the community to take up the task of planning and implementation.
  • Technical feasibility and sustainability of implemented activities.
  • Equitable sharing of benefits.
  • Impact of income generating activities.
  • Overall impact of the programme on restoring ecological balance and socio-economic condition of the community.
  • Achievement of programme as compared to objectives, targets and success criteria laid down in project guidelines.
  • Optimum utilisation of resources.
  • Capacity of community to undertake follow up maintenance of assets created during the project.

The activities undertaken and the processes adopted would be identified and assessed by the stakeholders in the presence of the entire village and facilitators. This exercise would lead to increased ownership of the community for the activities carried out, identify gaps and made review of the action plan. This would lead to

  • Validation of the claims made by the village level Watershed Committee.
  • Satisfaction level of beneficiaries.
  • Identification of members of the village community who have not benefited.
  • Identification of areas, which need interventions. Preparation of action plan for future action and identifying the processes through which implementation is to be carried out.

Phase IX: Follow up maintenance

This phase is envisaged for participatory maintenance of the assets created. It will be done by the community through the Development fund they have collected during the project. In this phase the Watershed Committee will decide procedures of maintenance, role and responsibility of different group members.

Case study

The Upper Lake of Bhopal is a major source of potable water to the Bhopal city of 1.4 Million people. It has a catchment area of 361 sq. km, of which 40% area is urban and the rest 60% is rural dominated by agricultural practices. Due to rapid urbanization as well as intensive agricultural practices during the second half of the last century subjected this lake to various anthropogenic pressures leading to deterioration of its water quality. Therefore, the Government of Madhya Pradesh implemented the Lake Bhopal Conservation and Management Project for the conservation of this lake. Under this project various preventive and curative measures such as diversion of sewage, management of solid waste, fringe area management, catchment area treatment, removal of silt and weeds from the lake, etc were undertaken to increase the storage capacity and improvement of water quality of the lake.

The use of chemical fertilizers on the upstream crop fields being one of the major causes of nutrient enrichment of the lake, promotion of environmental friendly agricultural practices was started in 15 villages of the catchment as an added activity. Under this programme, awareness and training programme for the farmers were initiated to encourage them to adopt organic farming to reduce pollution of the lake. At the end of the project, a Lake Conservation Authority (LCA) has been created to facilitate sustenance of the conservation plan. The LCA is now promoting the environmental friendly agricultural practices in the entire catchment of the Upper Lake consisting of 66 villages in collaboration with the Agriculture department of the Government of M.P. and Winrock International India (WII), a not for profit organization to develop a mechanism for incentive based mechanism to encourage more and more farmers to adopt organic farming and compensate them for the loss they might incur due to use of organic manure in place of inorganic fertilizers for crop production.


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