How Unchecked Pumping is Sucking Aquifers Dry in India

Adinath Suryawanshi stands by his open well, which once provided water for his family on their 7.5-acre farm in Maharashtra state, India. The well, which was blasted open with dynamite years ago, has gone dry. The family has tried drilling deeper borehole wells, but they haven't found water to pump. They are now in debt and struggling to make a living while relying on the rains to water their crops. Image by Steve Elfers. India, 2015.

Mukindra Suryawanshi, 22, fills his family's water tank in Maharashtra state in western India. He and his relatives carry the tank on an ox cart and fill it up at another farmer's irrigation well. The water, drawn from about 850 feet underground, is used for washing, cooking and bathing by an extended family of 22 people. Image by Steve Elfers. India, 2015.

Four generations of the Suryawanshi family pose for a portrait at their farm in Nagarsoga, India, in June. Image by Steve Elfers. India, 2015.

DAPEGAON, India – At dawn, as bells ring out from Hindu shrines, the people of this village get in line for water.

Wells have been going dry across the countryside, and the village’s one remaining well yields just enough to run the communal taps for an hour or two a day. In front of the spigots, people leave their empty water jugs and buckets arranged in rows, and they crowd around to collect what they can while the taps are running. The water could stop flowing at any time.

For farmers here, finding sources of water underground is becoming exceedingly difficult. They’ve been drilling wells deep beneath the tilled soil into the volcanic rock – 700 feet, 800 feet, even 900 feet down. The few who strike water usually plant sugarcane, a thirsty crop that fetches fixed prices subsidized by the government. Lately, though, many farmers drill wells and find nothing at all.

“There’s no water, so there’s no harvest, so there’s no income,” said Adinath Suryawanshi, a farmer whose family has gone into debt drilling wells that turned out to be dry. “I think there’s really no way out. All I can do is cope. And I think that’s the fate of every farmer.”

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