6 Ancient Indian Water Management Systems That Modern India Can Adopt

By: Divya Kilikar

Published On: June 12, 2018

This year’s World Oceans Day came with the most disturbing statistics we’ve seen yet. The Mediterranean sea contains four times more microplastics than any other water body on earth. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that escape filters, make their way into oceans and eventually into our food. Microbeads in shower gels are an example of these microplastics. 

Plastic pollution is causing the deaths of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals every year.

Image result for plastic pollution in rivers 

At least 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ended up in our water bodies last year, putting wildlife, fisheries and the seafood we eat (and therefore, human health) at risk.

However, it’s not only our saltwater resource that we need to talk about; our rivers, lakhs and even groundwater are in serious danger too. The major two culprits responsible are pollution and overuse. Almost all of us are guilty of treating water like it is an infinite resource we’re entitled to; taking long showers, playing in water parks, enjoying 24x7 running water…

UN’s newest report on water, however, reveals that by 2050, India will be looking at an extreme water crisis. 

Read: These Warriors Are Fighting A Brave Battle Against India’s Waste Problem

Uncontrolled use, unmonitored dumping of sewage and pesticides have doubled the number of polluted rivers in India in as little as 5 years (the count is at 275 now). There’s no stopping the impending water crisis if the general public doesn’t receive adequate education on efficient water management.

Our ancestors, however, were well prepared to deal with this crisis even before it came up! An agriculture-based living, the lack of technology and scarce rainfall propelled our forefathers to devise ingenious, sustainable water management techniques that are still used in some rural areas to this date. 

Let’s take a look at 6 of India’s most ancient water harvesting methods that our cities are in dire need of today and can take cues from! 

1. Taanka


In many rural areas across India, young girls often miss out on education as they spend hours of their day hiking to find water for their family, especially during the hot summers. For these families, being able to store water or have running water at home is a luxury. 

In the Thar desert region, the taanka is commonly used to harvest rainwater to last households throughout the dry season. 

The taanka is a cylindrical paved well-like structure that can collect rainwater from courtyards and rooftops. It can last a family of 6 throughout the summer.

2. Johad


In 1985, Rajendra Singh quit his government job and travelled to Rajasthan’s Alwar district. He’d heard of the lack of healthcare in Alwar’s villages and hence went there to open a clinic. Here, an old villager dismissed his idea and asked, “What healthcare can you provide if everyone is dying from thirst? What we need is water.”

That’s when Singh began reading into Alwar’s forgotten water harvesting technique; the traditional Johads, or earthen dams that date back to 1500 BC. The crescent-shaped structures can collect rainwater, and also let it percolate into the ground and improve the water table. Rajendra formed a nonprofit organization with other villagers and built over 8,000 johads across Alwar. He won the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, considered a “Nobel Prize for water”.

3. Zabo

zabo, source: indian water portal

The Zabo connects forestry, agriculture and animal care through a smart water management system. In Nagaland, rainwater that falls on forested hilltops is channelled through cattle yards, collecting their dung (natural fertilizers) before the final water and manure mixture flows into paddy fields. 

Some of the water is also channelled into constructed ponds for consumption. Read all about the Zabo system here.

Read: 5 Earth Heroes Who Are Working To Save The Planet And How You Can Join Them

4. Eri


This age-old water management system is still used in Tamil Nadu, where paddy cultivation may have been nil without it. The “system eri” is great for flood control, whereas the “non-system eri” is used for rainwater harvesting. They are both ideal for recharging groundwater and preventing soil erosion. 

This sustainable water management system has manifested through differently developed local systems across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Auroville.org maps out the history of the eri.

5. Zing


Sonam Wangchuk’s innovation, the ice stupa has been able to bring water to farmers in Ladakh. However, a major part of the ice stupas consists of air, bushes and pipes that cost a fortune to be installed. 

The traditional zings, or water reservoirs, used by Ladakhi farmers for centuries have triple the storage capacity of zings and are cost-effective as well. Zings provide sufficient water round the year, collecting melted water from glaciers.

Though these traditional methods may have been forgotten by a majority of us, some of us are waking up to the reality of climate change and depleting resources. We need to take inspiration from individuals like Dr Rajah Kumar, who are developing innovations to help the public manage water better. It’s high time we remember that our tap water won’t be running 24x7 for long, unless we make conserving water a part of our lifestyle.

Have you taken up habits to help save water? Let us know at engage@impactguru.com!

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