Aussie app helps Indian farmers crowdsource water during drought

28 August 2019
A hand holding an i-phone

ACIAR has partnered with Western Sydney University to provide an efficient water management tool for monitoring groundwater reserves as large parts of India bake in extreme heat and record droughts forcing the evacuation of whole villages.

The MyWell smartphone app is enabling Indian farmers  to monitor and manage scarce groundwater in a distributed and localised way to monitor water levels in wells that supply drinking and irrigation water. MyWELL is part of the highly-successful project led by Western Sydney University and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) through the MARVI project (Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention).

Experts estimate that by 2040, 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater entirely and 40% of the Indian population will have no access to drinking water. Increasing use of industrial pumps to extract water from deep under the ground is slowly draining groundwater levels, meaning that water once available at 10-15m depth is now only available at 30m or even deeper. Effectively, at many places in India water is hardly accessible for growing crops or domestic water needs.

“The MyWELL app supports the efforts of communities to be informed about the availability of local groundwater through the efforts of local, trusted volunteers called Bhujal Jankaars (BJs – a Hindi word that means “groundwater-informed”). These volunteers act as the intermediary between local people, organisations and governments in monitoring water levels through data collection in the MyWELL app”, said Prof Basant Maheshwari, lead scientist in the MARVI project that developed the app.

“MARVI’s success is driven by its focus on village-level engagement, where local involvement close to water sources has created a distributed and reliable record of water availability, rainfall and water quality with easy-to-use measurement tools and the fact that everyone now has a smartphone”, said Professor Maheshwari.

As India’s heat and drought conditions worsen, MyWELL provides better coordination for water management than any other method. Its major benefit is using everyday resources – smartphones and local volunteers – to decentralise the recording efforts. BJ Volunteers are trained to show local people how to measure water levels in wells with a wooden float and measuring tape and record these measures precisely in the app. Over thousands of recordings, these measurements add up to create an excellent water data set that can be used to reduce the toll from drought and extreme heat.

“This technology can be readily used in other countries, developing or developed, to manage water supplies more effectively”, said Professor Maheshwari.

“By working alongside local people, building simple and repeatable skills, we can slow down the rate that water is taken out of the ground. These issues are common in many countries and that’s where we can readily extend the innovation to empower other communities to become more informed about the precious groundwater reserves”.

MyWELL is available to download on the Google Play store.