Water Security and Rainwater Harvesting in Tamil Nadu, India

As part of a graduate research assistantship, I explored methods for imparting more dynamic aspects of process models into traditionally static indicators of water sustainability (certainly a non-static concept). While designed to be understandable, affordable, and transparent, indicator models do not adequately capture the dynamic processes in coupled human and natural systems. This results in an indicator model where the social, economic, and environmental dimensions that often comprise conceptual frameworks of water sustainability, security, or scarcity are often weakly connected to the key systemic processes. I find these shortcoming generally stem from indicator construction methods (selection, weighting, aggregations) that do not consider the causal links among variables and indicators themselves.

Our project extended existing causal frameworks to include components and indicator interactions spanning both conceptual and spatial scales, blending  coupled-natural human systems, causal networks, and socio-hydrology as a foundation for construction and validation of a water sustainability indicator. We used rainwater harvesting and smallholder agriculture in Tamil Nadu as our case study. During the project, we worked with the DHAN Foundation and visited rural villages and farms across the state. The visit opened my eyes to the impacts of climate change and globalization on water security and rural livelihoods.

Our work was published in Applied Geography in 2016. You can find the manuscript here:


Supported by:

NSF CNH Award #1211968: Monsoon Harvests: Assessing the Impact of Distributed Storage Tanks on the Vulnerability of Subsistence-Level Agriculture in Tamil Nadu, India (PI: Eric Tate)