SPWD’s work on the theme covers issues related to watershed development, water management, water governance, small water harvesting systems and water quality. During the 1990s, SPWD started using watershed approach in its programmes. It also housed a secretariat for a network on small water harvesting systems (SWHS) to highlight the relevance of local systems of water management. The outputs were largely in the form of workshop reports and research study outputs, apart from identifying policy issues based on review of documents related to water. SPWD’s approach regarding SWHS was not of creating an eulogistic picture of the traditional water systems but of tracing the changes historically and setting it in the current socio-economic-political context.
Around the 1990s, SPWD began working on a field based programme on SWHS in the Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh. The thrust was on restoration of panchayati raj tanks, mainly small tanks with a command area of upto 40 hectares. Around forty tanks were restored in the region in collaboration with local NGOs through formation of representative community based tank management committees.
While rehabilitating tanks, the focus was on tank system repairs as well as on creating institutions. Even though, an economic impact study of the programme by Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS), Hyderabad shows a positive impact of the programme in terms of net present value and benefit-cost, the programme could not achieve the objective of developing a people’s movement for ‘community management of tanks’ in Rayalseema.
Other than its work on storage systems of southern India, SPWD also worked on ahar-pyne systems which are traditional floodwater harvesting systems indigenous to South Bihar. SPWD did a study on gonchi systems of Andhra Pradesh and phad systems of Vidarbha more recently.