[As a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) degree program, Mark Kessel participated in an International Residency trip to India. In this four-part series, Kessel describes efforts to provide the village of Thumbo ka Golia in Jalore, India) with a reliable and sustainable source of potable water.]

When the villagers of Thumbo ka Golia ran out of potable water early in the summer of 2015, Mahavir Singh, President of the village’s Jal Sabha (1), gave the village water for free. Thanks to the construction of a nearby sand dam (2), in November 2013, 103 wells surrounding a four kilometer radius (7) of his property generated “sweet water” for drinking and irrigation.

One year prior to the dam’s construction, the community leader ran into field personnel from the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) and Excellent Development (ED) as they surveyed a nearby river bed. When Singh asked what they were doing in the area, the representatives explained their interest in placing a sand dam in the village to increase water capacity. Knowing his village needed a consistent source of water, Singh seized the moment and forged ties with the two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (3) to help his village.

Mahavir Singh

Prior to the sand dam, the groundwater in Thumbo ka Golia was too saline and at times too deep to access. “You could not drink it or use it for farming,” said Singh in January 2017 (4).

From 2014 to 2015, the farmers’ groundwater level increased from 4.57 feet to 9.14 feet, nearly double the capacity (7).

Back in 2005, Rajasthan’s Public Health and Engineering Department supplied the village with tube wells (5) that received their water from ground level reservoirs (6) (GLRs); however, the groundwater remained mostly unfit for consumption and didn’t receive enough recharge to dilute or “sweeten” the well.

So in November 2012, when Singh was presented with the option to have a sand dam built by the two organizations, along with receiving technical training and assistance with mobilizing his community, the choice was easy, even if the process wouldn’t be.

Before the JBF and ED agreed to break ground on the sand dam, the people of Thumbo ka Golia needed to raise 30 percent of the project cost. In the early part of 2013, Singh began gathering funds from the community to begin dam construction, but he was not successful at first. His fellow neighbors were skeptical about investing in something they knew little about.

But Singh went on to convince 100 – 150 of his neighbors of the investment’s worth and raised 18 percent of the 1.7 million rupees (7) needed in three months. Although the raised funds fell short of the 30 percent requested, the JBF agreed to move ahead with the dam.

By 2015, villagers were seeing returns on their investment. Groundwater increased both in volume and quality around Singh’s property. When the JBF’s technical staff visited the village in 2015, residents who lived further away from the dam expressed interest in having one built closer to their properties, too.

After the JBF conducted a survey of their land, the residents were told they did not have the geological characteristics to warrant the construction of a sand dam. In January 2017, Singh explained, “the villagers [of Thumbo ka Golia] are happy with the sand dam… I am going to mobilize other villages in the future (8).”

[In Part II of this four-part series, available on December 11th, Mark Kessel continues the story of how a sand dam was funded and built, and the impact on Thumbo ka Golia residents.]


Mark Kessel headshot

Mark Kessel is a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program, and water analyst at Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), a public-benefit corporation providing drinking water to 1.2 million residents in Long Island, NY. Mark’s responsibilities at SCWA include method development, data analysis, ELAP proficiency testing, and mentoring staff. Some key projects he is involved with are the Unregulated Contaminants Monitoring Rule; Advanced Oxidation Procedure (AOP) pilot study for the removal of 1, 4 dioxane from groundwater; the Lead and Copper Rule, and the Disinfectant By-product Rule. Mark lives with his family at Artspace Patchogue, a green energy, mixed use living workspace building. 


1.     A water users association in charge of leading the community’s water resources

2.     A sand dam is a concrete wall that lies mostly below the land’s surface (18 ft. in the case of Thumbo ka Golia), and extends from one side of a seasonal river bed to another, trapping rainwater to recharge the surrounding aquifer.

3.     Non governmental organizations

4.     Personal interview, January 11, 2017

5.     Well borings lined with a concrete or plastic shaft, where a motorized pump is dropped down into the shaft to retrieve water.

6.     Covered ponds or tanks that sit at or above ground level, and gravity feed water to different service areas or wells.

7.     Figures retrieved from Charu Bhari’s article, India’s Groundwater Crisis, published on Nov. 4, 2016, http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/indias-groundwater-crisis-water-levels-fall-in-65-wells-in-a-decade-20922

8.     Personal interview, January 11, 2017

9.     Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. Milestones. Retrieved from JalBhagirathi.org/themes/upload/document/838171.pdf on Feb 6, 2017

10.   Policies that address the needs and concerns of impoverished peoples

11.    Image retrieved from JalBhagirathi.org on Feb. 7, 2017

12.    Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. Harvesting Dreams. Retrieve from http://JalBhagirathi.org/themes/upload/document/569720.pdf on Feb. 6, 2017

13.    Email from Emma Seal to Mark Kessel, sent Feb. 8, 2017

14.    Excellent Development. Pioneering sand dams: different world, universal problem. Retrieved from http:www.excellentdevelopment.com/different-world-universal-problem on Feb. 7, 2017.

15.    Excellent Development. Transforming lives in the land of death. Photographed copy of story from a news clipping in Thumbo ka Golia on Jan. 11, 2017. Also retrievable at www.excellent.org.uk

16.    Excellent Development. People & communities: Sweet water on tap. Retrieved from http://www.excellentdevelopment.com/articles/people-amp-communities/sweet-water-on-tap on Feb. 7, 2017.

17.    JBF. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. Reaping Rich Dividends of Sand Dams (Canvas handout). Retrieved from Canvas (Virginia Tech – XMNR 2017) on Dec. 22, 2016.

18.    Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. Internet Homepage. 2017. JalBhagirathi.org

19.    Personal interview, Jan. 11, 2017