India water availability

Water Availability and use in india

India water availability pattern

India’s fresh water resources include annual precipitation via monsoons & north westerlies, perennial rivers fed by melting snow from the Himalayas and groundwater stored in acquifers which are recharged at different rates and hydropower plants which store water.

state of water vailability river basin wise

Water resource data is maintained basin-wise and not state-wise.

  • The average annual water resources of all basins of the country have been assessed as 1869.20 Km3.
  • The per capita water availability is estimated by dividing the annual average water availability by the population.
  • The average annual per capita water availability in the year 2011 has been assessed as 1545 cubic meters. Further, based on the above study, the average annual per capita water availability may further reduce to 1486 cubic meters by 2021. This is an average figure and will vary depending on the season and region. Water resource data is maintained basin-wise and not state-wise.

Annual per-capita water availability of less than 1700 cubic meter is considered as water stressed condition whereas annual per-capita water availability below 1000 cubic meters is considered as a water scarcity condition.

The entire country has been divided into 22 basins as per Central Water Commission. Using the SRTM DEM data of NASA, the country has been divided into 25 Major River Basins and 103 sub-basins.

On an average, India receives annual precipitation (including snowfall) of about 4000 km3 . However, there exist considerable spatial and temporal variations in the distribution of rainfall and hence in availability of water in time and space across the country. It is estimated that out of the 4000 km3 water, 1869 km3 is Average annual potential flow in rivers available as water resource. Out of this total available water resource, only 1123 km3 is utilizable (690 km3 from surface water resources and 433 km3 from ground water resources). The water demand in the year 2000 was 634 km3 and it is likely to be 1093 km3 by the year 2025. Due to rapid rise in population and growing economy of the country, there will be continuous increase in demand for water, and it will become scarce in the coming decades ( Refer Table-1).

Table-1:Water Availability Facts at a Glance

Area of the country as % of World Area 2.4%
Population as % of World Population 17.1%
Water as % of World Water 4%
Rank in per capita availability 132
Rank in water quality 122
Average annual rainfall 1160 mm ( world average 1110 mm)
Range of distribution 150-11690 mm
Range Rainy days 5-150 days, Mostly during 15 days in 100 hrs
Range PET 1500-3500 mm
Per capita water availability (2010) 1588 m3



According to the international norms, a country can be categorized as 'water stressed' when water availability is less than 1700 m3 per capita per year whereas classified as 'water scarce' if it is less than 1000 m3 per capita per year. In India, the availability of surface water in the years 1991 and 2001 were 2309m3 and 1902 m3 . However, it has been projected that per capita surface water availability is likely to be reduced to 1401 m3 and 1191 m3 by the years 2025 and 2050, respectively. The Per capita water availability in the year 2010 was 1588 m3 against 5200 m3 of the year 1951 in the country.

Table-2:India's Water Resources

Sl.No. Water Resource at a Glance Quantity (km3 ) Percentage
1 Annual precipitation (Including snowfall) 4000 100
2 Precipitation during monsoon 3000 75
3 Evaporation + Soil water 2131 53.3
4 Average annual potential flow in rivers 1869 46.7
5 Estimated utilizable water resources 1123 28.1
Surface water 690 17.3
Replenishable groundwater 433 10.8
Storage created of utilizable water 253.381 22.52
Storage (under construction) of utilizable water 50.737 4.5
6 Estimated water need in 2050 1450 129
7 Estimated deficit 327 29
Interlinking can give us 200 17.8

What are the root causes of India’s water crisis?

What are the root causes of India’s water crisis?

  • The first is insufficient water per person as a result of population growth.
  • India had between 3,000 and 4,000 cubic meters per person in 1951.
  • The second cause is poor water quality resulting from insufficient and delayed investment in urban water-treatment facilities. Water in most rivers in India is largely not fit for drinking, and in many stretches not even fit for bathing. Despite the Ganga Action Plan, which was launched in 1984 to clean up the Ganges River in 25 years, much of the river remains polluted with a high coliform count at many places.
  • The industrial effluent standards are not enforced because the state pollution control boards have inadequate technical and human resources.
  • problem is dwindling groundwater supplies due to over-extraction by farmers. This is because groundwater is an open-access resource and anyone can pump water from under his or her own land. Given how highly fragmented land ownership is in India, with millions of farmers and an average farm size of less than two hectares, the tragedy of the commons is inevitable.


What are the critical areas of concern stemming from India’s water shortages?

  • Of the many critical areas, the main concerns are the pressing need to increase irrigation and the difficulty of creating water-storage facilities. Of the 140 million hectares (mh) of net cultivated land area in India, only around 60 mh are irrigated.
  • In order for Indian agriculture to grow at its targeted rate of 4% per year, it needs to increase the area irrigated, introduce new high-yield technology, or expand cultivable land. There is no scope to expand the cultivated area, which has remained around 140 mh for the last two decades.
  • Many national and international environmentalists oppose dam construction. Storage dams, in particular, are controversial because they often submerge forests and reduce biodiversity by disturbing habitats.
  • With India’s high population density, dams would also displace many people, often poor tribal communities. Even when these people are resettled and compensated properly, which frequently is not the case, their lifestyles, social support system, and culture are disrupted. Despite these objections, there remains a critical need for storage dams because climate change will increase the availability of water while greatly altering its distribution.

India’s future economic growth is also a concern. If the country cannot expand irrigation or increase agricultural productivity by other means, economic growth will be restricted. Given its size and humiliating experience of “ship to mouth” grain imports from the United States in the 1960s, India is likely to limit its dependence on imports. it possible to double-crop more land or technical progress increases per-hectare output.

What is fresh water?

Fresh water include safe & readily usable water resources mostly naturally occurring from rain, snow, hail/sheet, which have none or very little dissolved salts and solids. Fresh water is accessed by humans mostly from rivers and lakes, other places where it may be found in small amounts is from wetlands, streams, ponds and underground acquifers.

Major river basins of india

River basin is considered as the basic hydrological unit for planning and development of water resources.

Major river basins - There are 12 major river basins with catchment area of 20000 km2 and above. The total catchment area of these rivers is 25.3 lakh km2 . The major river basin is the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna , which is the largest with catchment area of about 11.0 lakh km2 (more than 43% of the catchment area of all the major rivers in the country). The other major river basins with catchment area more than 1.0 lakh km2 are Indus, Mahanadi, Godavari and Krishna. There are 46 medium river basins with catchment area between 2000 and 20000 km2 . The total catchment area of medium river basins is about 2.5 lakh km2 . All major river basins and many medium river basins are inter-state in nature which cover about 81% of the geographical area of the country.

The names of the basins along with their id and area are given in the table.


Sl. No Basin Code Basin Name Area (
1 01 Indus (Up to border) 321289
2 2A Ganga 861452
3 2B Brahmaputra 194413
4 2C Barak and others 41723
5 03 Godavari 312812
6 04 Krishna 258948
7 05 Cauvery 81155
8 06 Subernarekha 29196
9 07 Brahmani and Baitarni 51822
10 08 Mahanadi 141589
1 09 Pennar 55213
12 10 Mahi 34842
13 11 Sabarmati 21674
14 12 Narmada 98796
15 13 Tapi 65145
16 14 West flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri 55940
17 15 West flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari 56177
18 16 East flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar 86643
19 17 East flowing rivers between Pennar and Kanyakumari 100139
20 18 West flowing rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni 321851
21 19 Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan
22 20 Minor rivers draining into Myanmar & Bangladesh 36202
Solution to india's water problem

Local solutions to local problems:

There is emphasis throughout the country on watershed development. This involves leveling land and tapping rainwater in small ponds created by building small dams in the streams (called check dams). This water increases soil moisture, recharges groundwater, and permits a second crop to be planted.

Successful examples:

  • Anna Hazare has transformed the village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra into a model sustainable village through water harvesting and cooperation.
  • Rajendra Singh, whose NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh has transformed the Alwar District of Rajasthan through community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management. Singh is known as the “waterman of India” and was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2001. Similarly, with the support of the government, NGOs, community groups, and other civil society organizations, the state of Gujarat has built over 100,000 check dams. Some economists have attributed Gujarat’s 8%-plus growth rate of agricultural GDP to these efforts.
  • leaky distribution networks - The problem of urban water supply is due to poor and leaky distribution networks leading to large amounts of “unaccounted water.” Even though New Delhi’s per-capita availability of water is greater than that of Paris, the city does not provide reliable water.
  • Inadequate pricing is one problem. Some cities have used private firms to help streamline distribution in order to provide reliable water and reduce waste. The city of Dharwad in Karnataka, for example, now has a constant water supply with the help of private consultants.

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