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Ancient Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Water conservation has been an age-old practice across Indian communities long before the climate change crisis begun. Historical evidence tells us that both floods and droughts were a regular occurrence back in the days, but so was traditional rainwater harvesting techniques, unique to each region based on the geography and cultural climate.

Let’s look at some of the RWH systems that have been prevalent in India. 

01). Jhalaras
They are typically rectangular step-wells that have tiered steps on three or four sides, to collect the subterranean seepage of an upstream reservoir or a lake. The oldest structure dates back to 1660 AD.

02). Bawaris
Part of the ancient water storage networks of Rajasthan, these layered step-wells helped divert the rain to man-made tanks through canals, which helped in recharging the groundwater levels of the region.

03). Taanka 
A cylindrical paved underground pit that collects rainwater from rooftops, courtyards and catchments. The water stored can last throughout the dry season and is sufficient for a family of 5, saving them the trouble for travelling long distances to source water.

04). Ahar Pynes
Indigenous to South Bihar, Ahars are reservoirs with embankments on three sides and Pynes are artificial rivulets led off from rivers to collect water in the Ahars for paddy irrigation in the dry months.

05). Panam Keni 
Native to Wayanad, this system uses a special type of well built with wooden cylinders that are made by soaking the stems of toddy palms in water till only the hard outer layer remains. They are then immersed in groundwater springs located in fields and forests.

06). Zing
Common to Jammu & Kashmir, especially Ladakh, they are small tanks that collect the water that melts from glaciers.  A network of guiding channels brings water from the glacier to the tank.

07). Zabo 
Practised in Nagaland, these channels help collect the rainwater that falls on forested hilltops and deposits the run-off water in pond-like structures that are created on the terraced hills.

08). Kund
Traditional water conservation system from Uttar Pradesh, it is a saucer-shaped reservoir that is lined with lime to help prevent the contamination of the collected rainwater.

09). Korambu
Made from brushwood, mud and grass, this conservation system from Karnataka is a temporary dam stretching across the mouth of the water channels. It helps boost the water level within the canal along with diverting it to the fields in the region.

10). Eri
Eri is one of the oldest water management systems from Tamil Nadu that acts as a flood-control mechanism and prevents soil erosion. They are interconnected tanks that are constructed to collect and store rainwater that can be used during the dry season for irrigation needs.