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Domain Themes

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Domain Team

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Domain: Water Resources & River Systems

Broad Coverage

An impending water crisis stares the country in her face today. To illustrate: many of our rivers and water bodies are heavily polluted, posing severe health problems; many cities and towns face acute water shortage every year; much of the population has no access to safe drinking water; overexploited groundwater resources are affecting agricultural output in large tracts of the country; and rapidly vanishing water bodies have gravely damaged aquatic ecosystems and their resilience. The low efficiencies of irrigation water use and poor water management practices and policies at all levels have contributed to the overall aquatic crisis. The focus of the IMPRINT initiative in this domain is to evolve appropriate educational and research policies that can complement efforts to overcome the critical challenges of water resources and river systems.


  • River Basins: A river basin is a closely connected hydrological-ecological system characterised by a web of interactive natural resources that sustain healthy rivers and terrestrial life. Holistic and scientific river basin management plays a key role in sustainable development.

  • Water in Urban Systems: Urban habitats are drastically modified ecosystems ― often in a state of flux. Anthropogenic water use, safe wastewater disposal or reuse, water scarcity, drainage, flood management, ecosystem needs and micro-climate control are key challenges of urban water management.

  • Water In Rural Ecosystems: With small clusters distributed over landscape scales, rural habitations have been transiting from their past stable states. Their pressing concerns include potable water needs, water security, sanitation, flood protection and community water management.

  • Water & Agriculture: Conventional modern agriculture has ushered in unsustainable resource use and increased agroecosystem vulnerability. Groundwater depletion, water-logging, increasing soil degradation, and pollution of rivers, water bodies and groundwater are key concerns of Water & Agriculture.

  • Water & Industry: Industrial growth in a developing country like India is imperative; hence, so are increasing water use and waste generation. Re-use and recycling practices thereby internalizing environmental damages in industrial development along with appropriate siting define the new paradigm.

  • Spatial Real-Time Data Infrastructure: With huge gaps in data and scanty real-time data, water resource and river management lie at the mercy of thumb rules and guesstimates. A robust quality-controlled data collection system with real-time open access underlies all future knowledge-based approaches.

Grand Challenges

  • Define, maintain and improve the health of water bodies

  • Convert rapid flows to sluggish flows to increase water availability for human and ecosystems

  • Locally close water and nutrient loop in agriculture, rural, urban and industrial systems

  • Recognize and disseminate traditional knowledge and practices regarding management of water and water bodies

  • Increase water-use efficiency through cost effective technology, interventions, measurements, pricing mechanisms, informed opinions and public policies

Major Science Questions

  • What are the key gaps in data availability, monitoring and dissemination at various spatial and temporal scales that affect water resources and river systems?

  • To what extent water availability and water demands changed historically and how these are likely to change in future?

  • How sensitive are the river basins towards changes in land-use/ land- cover and climate?

Complementing Science and Technology Measures

  • Valuing Water: Water is not only a commodity, but its true value also includes social, cultural, environmental and economic values. All of these must be considered in appraising different policies and initiatives to realize the goals of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) – social equity, environmental sustainability and economic efficiency. Unfortunately, this is rarely done in many developing countries where poor people often pay much more than the rich for the same water services. Further, the value of water embedded, directly or indirectly, in various products and services also needs recognition. World over this concept of virtual water now influences production and trade policies, especially in water-stressed areas, enabling the most economic and efficient use of scarce water supplies.

  • Governance: The water crisis in many countries today is largely a governance problem. National responses to water-related disasters and shortages, allocation of transboundary water resources, management of national water resources, and building capacity and knowledge should all be jointly shared by governments and civil society. In reality, effective and equitable water management is impeded by many factors, such as sector fragmentation, corruption, insufficient aid and investment in the water sector, institutional shortcomings, and lack of stakeholder participation. An integrated approach to water management is the best way to overcome these obstacles.

  • Knowledge & Capacity Development: The lack of data and sound knowledge-based systems, combined with inequitable access to and sharing of scientific, local and indigenous knowledge, comprises the major stumbling block to sound water management. This is especially true for low-income and in-transition countries. Yet, we have the knowledge and capacity to solve many – and probably most – of our pressing water-related problems if water issues are properly governed.

    Globally the strategy to improve the overall quality of water resources is based on local level actions. Lessons learned — successes and failures — are invaluable sources of information and, if properly shared, will help us to solve some of our most pressing freshwater-related problems.

  • Deliverable: Domain Specific Policy Document on Education & Research

    • Assessment of present status and setting benchmarks for engineering, innovation and education

    • Identification of - R&D gaps, policy gaps and implementation issues

    • Articulation of shift in human resource development policy at various levels - school to higher education, vocational, etc.

    • Re-adjusting focus, identifying needs (infrastructure, financial and human resources) and timelines for R&D

    • Suggestions for addressing implementation issues