Adaptive water resource management in the south Indian lower Bhavani project command area

Adaptive water resource management in the south Indian lower Bhavani project command area

Lessons from a successful adaptive water management project.

This study explores the theory and practice of Adaptive Management (AM) based on a detailed field study on the development and use of water resources in the Lower Bhavani Project (LBP). The project diverts water from the Bhavani River. It has had a major impact on the socioeconomic development culminating in both conflicts and negotiations in response to water scarcity and several drivers of change. There were problems from the beginning when farmers rejected in preference for more water intensive crops rather than the suggested ‘dry crops’. 

This paper presents a framework of analysis based on recent theories of AM to understand the extent to which it is practiced and how it could be improved.

  • The Adaptive Water Management analysis shows that the LBP system has increasingly fulfilled the criteria of a complex adaptive system over the years.
  • Social learning takes place at system and farmer level.
  • The main uncertainty factor, rainfall variability, has been considered in a stepwise way during the system change cycles and has been included in the system design.
  • The system has fulfilled the requirement of an adaptive regime and has built a substantial amount of social capital.
  • This has been a rather ad hoc process, which could have been much faster had attention been paid to institutional setups and infrastructure designs that support AM.
The paper gives the following lessons for policymakers:
  • policy makers need to tap into the local knowledge of farmers and resource managers to promote AM.
  • it is important to nourish social learning before or during implementation of complex systems and new practices. Social learning is necessary to get the acceptance and cooperation of the users.
  • finding compromises is in line with integrated adaptive regime theories.
  • water resource managers and farmers have the ability to adapt.
The paper concludes that this LBP case study shows that AM can surprisingly succeed in real life and yet the general belief is that irrigation systems do not adapt well.