Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Dying Traditional Water Bodies in India Struggling to Survive against Unplanned Development

Rudresh Sugam, Bhawna Gupta, Diticha Deka
June 2018 | Sustainable Water

Sugam, R., Gupta, B. and Deka, D. (2018) Dying Traditional Water Bodies in India Struggling to Survive against Unplanned Development. Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 10, 539-558.


This study, conducted in India’s Meerut district, analyses the status of traditional water bodies as other water sources have been severely polluted. Meerut is used as a representative sample for the tier-II cities and towns in India. The study involved field-based research with an on-ground survey using GPS, GIS mapping and water quality testing of 120 ponds, distributed across 12 blocks of Meerut district to acquire a practical understanding of the status of these water bodies. The researchers also undertook informal discussions with around 500 residents to understand their perception of the declining status of traditional water bodies. The paper outlines the steps necessary for the protection of these water bodies.

Key Findings

  • For most of the 12 blocks in the district, the average temperature recorded was in the range of 18˚C - 21˚C.
  • Nearly 80 per cent of the ponds sampled had pH in the range of 7 - 8. Only 20 per cent of the ponds had pH values above 9, with just two ponds having pH above 10. About 70 per cent of the ponds in Mawana block, which is known for sugar production, had pH above 9.
  • Out of the 120 ponds sampled, 13 ponds (11 per cent) had hardness value below 200 mg/l, while 78 ponds (65 per cent) had a value between 200 mg/l to 400 mg/l and 28 ponds (23 per cent) had a value between 400 mg/l - 600 mg/l.
  • Nitrate concentration in 48 per cent of the ponds was below detectable limit, while 30 per cent of the ponds showed nitrate concentration below 10mg/l. In total 10 per cent of the ponds had nitrate levels above the limit.
  • In 10 blocks, the ponds showed phosphorus contamination above the recommended level of 1mg/l. Nearly 20 per cent of the sampled ponds had Phosphorus in the range of 0.5 - 1 mg/l, while only 3 ponds had phosphorus below the detectable limit.
  • All the ponds tested for the presence of fecal coliform showed positive results.
  • Around 93 per cent of the ponds sampled had turbidity above the recommended limit of 5 NTU.
  • Chloride concentration in most of the ponds did not exceed 250 mg/l. Around 17 per cent of the ponds had chloride concentration above the acceptable limit i.e. 250 mg/l but none crossed the permissible limit.
  • Of the 120 ponds tested in the Meerut district, 50 per cent of the ponds had dissolved oxygen concentration below 5mg/l which is a matter of serious concern.
  • More than 50 per cent of the ponds showed a decrease in the area. Abuot 10 per cent of these ponds decreased in area by more than 40 per cent.
  • Nearly 35 per cent of the ponds showed an increase in area but the increase was minuscule as more than 90 per cent of them showed an increase below 30 per cent.
  • Overall, the total area of the ponds decreased by 66,106.57 m2 (7 per cent).
  • This analysis is limited to only one-decade variation and if the change in area is analysed over 25 - 30 years, a drastic decrease in the area under these water bodies would be observed.
  • Among community members, the senior citizens were the ones really concerned as they have seen the water bodies in a much better state. Other members of the community have started becoming concerned as their children were falling ill due to increased pollution levels. However, the community expected the government to do all the rejuvenation work.
  • The management of the ponds was under the control of the municipal department, which was understaffed.

Key Recommendations

Indian government should on priority start:

  • Mapping the small water bodies on GIS platform
  • Monitoring the water quality
  • Penalising defaulters
  • Giving proper weightage to the protection of water resources
  • Generating awareness for bringing in behavior change to prevent contamination
  • Actioning stringent regulation at watershed level with long term water stewardship plans and effective legal and financial assurances

More than 50% of water bodies are severely polluted (with dissolved oxygen below 5mg/l) and total dissolved solids (more than 100 NTU). Fecal contamination was observed in all the ponds that were analyzed.

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