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Info Required : Sand Dams in India

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing with regard to the use of sand dams in India. I work for a UK based NGO where I am currently researching the use of sand dams in India as a method of rainwater harvesting. I would be very interested to know of any organisations that are currently working in semi-arid regions of India (with a particular emphasis on food and water security issues and agriculture generally), as well as any evidence for current or historical use of sand dams in India.

I would very much appreciate any help or advice you might be able to give on this matter.

Yours Faithfuly,

Jonny Wood



1. Sand dams in India

Dear Jonny,

The sand dam shown at was constructed by Thomas Dietrich, from Seidl & Partner in the Namibian desert of Africa. I had correspondence with him in 2003 but lost track of him afterwards.

Dams, Weirs, check dams, subsurface dams and sand dams are different types of civil engineering structures constructed across streams to regulate their flood flows for some use such as drinking and irrigation for a longer duration. Thanks to the generosity of Chetan Pandit, I could make a PowerPoint presentation at the 23rd Induction Training Program (ITP) for the new appointees of the Central Water Engineering (Group ‘A’) Services, National Water Academy (NWA) at Pune on 4th November 2009 wherein I described these structures. This can be viewed at -1.pdf .

A dam or weir across a stream helps to divert flood flow into a canal by gravity for use in some low-lying area away from the stream. While benefiting people in some downstream area away from the stream, such structures deprive water to people living along the stream.

A check dam obstructs flood water for storage in the upstream. A cascade of such check dams at close intervals along the stream can make an ephemeral stream into a perennial stream. This type of work by Rajendra Singh helped some dry rivers in Rajasthan to benefit the local farmers so much that he was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award (considered as the Asian equivalent of Nobel Prize) for Community Leadership in 2001.

A subsurface dam obstructs groundwater flowing in sand beneath a stream. Groundwater so arrested upstream of the dam could lead to spring discharge for the benefit of the downstream users or pumped through some high-yielding shallow wells in the upstream to benefit upstream users.

Floods in many streams in arid and semiarid areas lead to transportation of both water and sand in large quantities. A sand dam constructed gradually over a period of some four years allows accumulation of good quality sand without silt and clay to get stored in the upstream. The accumulated sand holds enormous groundwater that could be tapped through shallow wells. Construction of a cascade of such dams helps to collect so much sand that a portion of it could be used for the much-needed construction industry while the remaining sand stores enormous groundwater that could be tapped by shallow wells.

Although sand dams have become highly popular in India, the same is not true with India. I don't have any information on the construction of sand dams of the type constructed by Thomas in India. Some effort was made in Chittoor and Cuddapah districts in Andhra Pradesh by Tirupati-based Rashtriya Seva Samithi (RASS) for the construction of subsurface dams. These dams could not produce results because of faulty construction or because of constructing them across rivers where they are not feasible. As a result, RASS has stopped working in the water sector.

Kerala is one State in India which appears to have appreciated the importance of sand dams in meeting the shortages of sand for construction industry and water for other uses. With a view to overcome the twin problems of silting of reservoirs with sand and silt and shortage of sand for construction industry, the State proposes to amend the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act of 2001. You can get some additional information from the following.

What Kerala is doing could be profitably done by other states such as Andhra Pradesh. For example, a cascade of such sand dams along Tungabhadra River between Tungabhadra dam in Karnataka and Srisailam reservoir in Andhra Pradesh will not only reduce the silting rate of the Srisailam reservoir but also provide the much needed sand for construction industry and the much-needed water for drinking and irrigation.

There are however conflicts between users of sand accumulated in sand dams and users of surface water feeding reservoirs for water supply. This is amply demonstrated in the case of Surat city of Gujarat (

You will be doing great service if you can popularise construction of sand dams in India in a big way.

Good luck

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao, Professor of Geology Retired, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, AP 517502, India

2. A correction

Please read the sentence, "Although sand dams have become highly popular in India, the same is not true with India" in the above message as "Although sand dams have become highly popular in Africa, the same is not true with India".

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao, Professor of Geology Retired, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, AP 517502, India

3. Dear Jonny Wood, Thanks for

Dear Jonny Wood,
Thanks for your queries.
Sand dams are nothing but earthen bunded tanks used for multiple purposes including irrigation. They are many centuries old. We DHAN Foundation (, Centre for Water Resources, Anna University ( Dr.K.Palanisami, Director, IWMI-Tata Water Policy Programme, C/o ICRISAT, Hyderabad have very vast experience and knowledge in the subject and the purpose quoted by Mr.Wood in his query. The Minor Irrigation Department of respective state government or Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India would also be in a position to fulfill his requirements.

With kind regards,

Yours Sincerely,

Chief executive
DHAN Vayalagam (Tank) Foundation
Madurai, Tamilnadu

4. Dear Jonny Wood, Some of the

Dear Jonny Wood,

Some of the organizations working in semi-arid regions of India for food and water security are:
1. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru 502324
Andhra Pradesh, India
Tel: +91 40 30713071
Fax: +91 40 30713074/30713075296182
2. Central Arid Zone Research Institute
3. Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR)
4. NABARD (Down load technical digest from link and read article on ‘GROUND WATER DAMS FOR ARTIFICIAL RECHARGE TO PHREATIC AQUIFERS’ by John Kurien

Karishma Bist
Dy. Director
FICCI – Resource Conservation & Management
Federation House, Tansen Marg, New Delhi-110001

5. Sand-dams- India - Please update me on improvements

Dear Jonny,

Can you please update me on any sequel to the very interesting correspondence you started early last year. I have a particular interest in this and maybe you could contact me directly at my e-mail below.
Andrew Redpath (

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