The Cauvery delta is situated at the mouth of the 800 km-long Cauvery river. This delta, also known as the ‘rice bowl of southern India’, is composed of a complex network of distributaries that support an ancient irrigation system and an intensively cultivated region.

Today, it faces numerous anthropogenic and natural threats, like reduced surface flows, saltwater intrusion, and high-amplitude cyclones. These environmental changes are coupled with socio-economic issues like the propagation of commercial shrimp farming at the cost of agricultural land, rising unemployment, and the continued oppression of landless labourers.

Against this background, the delta is witnessing both confrontation to resist and reform hegemonic powers, as well as productive efforts to re-imagine and create new water management practices. In the Vennar command area, the state government started an internationally financed climate adaptation project in 2016. This is being contested by local actors, who perceive it to be increasing inequity and marginalization. Alongside efforts that challenge centralized developmental interventions, the delta has also seen grassroots efforts to manage water. For instance, there has been a proliferation of bottom-up government- and community-led tank rejuvenation initiatives to recharge groundwater. Inspired by the citizen movements and aiming to create open knowledge, ATREE has started a citizen science initiative to enable local citizens to collect groundwater data, analyze it and interpret it to tell their own story.

This research will probe the above developments in the delta and support efforts to democratize (what counts as) scientific data by adding knowledge into scientific circles and making data publicly available.

PhD researcher: Tanvi Agrawal

Within the landscape of studying rivers from a commons perspective, deltas can be seen as microcosms of the ‘hydrosociety’ at large. At the same time, they are highly vulnerable geographies and need special focus. Technocratic delta management strategies to ‘keep the water out’ have been largely unsuccessful and exclusionary, leading to the growing recognition of the need to learn to live with water in more inclusive and sustainable ways.

With an intention of exploring the challenges and possibilities for delta governance, this research focusses on the Cauvery delta, situated at the mouth of the 800km-long Cauvery river in Southern India.

As in any settled geography, there are several stakeholders of the delta, with varying understandings of (‘ontologies’) and aspirations for it. The power negotiations among these actors lead to infrastructural and governance interventions, which shape the water sinks and flows, in turn impacting the deltaic ecology and society.

Recognising that the story of water is determined by the variables that enact it, this research asks the question “what is the delta’s water”, as a prerequisite to thinking about “how to manage the delta’s water”. This research explores how the interconnections among people, nature (particularly the hydrology of surface water, groundwater, rainwater, and seawater), and technology in the delta are translated through its multi-layered geography. Understanding this veritable palimpsest of spaces makes for opportunities to address these challenges and plan for the future in this complex multi-layered geography.