[In Part I  and Part II of this four-part series, XMNR student Mark Kessel discussed the early stages of the Thumbo ka Golia (Jalore, India) community’s attempts to address the lack of potable water, partnering with Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) and Excellent Development (ED). In Part III, Kessel continues the story of how a sand dam was funded and built, and the impact on Thumbo ka Golia residents.]

In March 2012, the Executive Director of the JBF, Kanupriya Harish, met the director of ED at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France. ED’s mission consisted of building sand dams in Kenya to address poverty and water scarcity. According to Excellent’s Programme Officer, Emma Seal, ED was already looking to do sand dam work in India when the two directors met in France.

After Harish and the Director of ED forged a mutual working relationship, she was asked to submit a dozen potential project sites for sand dams upon her return to headquarters. Then, the Kenyan organization set the wheels in motion.

Seal, of ED, explained that back in 2012 and early 2013, Project managers from ED used Google Earth initially to find the location of Thumbo ka Golia as a potential site for sand dam construction. “[Google Earth] enabled us to find a sandy river with a bend in its shape which looked like a rock outcrop. This was key as nearby bedrock is relatively rare in that area.” (13)

Seal further explained that ED “took the opportunity to begin working with the JBF in 2013 when we conducted an initial feasibility trip alongside a visit for the final of the Nestle Prize for shared value in New Delhi [Nestle event actually occurred on Nov. 5, 2012].”

birds at a river

Visiting the site of Thumbo ka Golia with the JBF staff, ED was drawn to the area for reasons other than its bedrock: “The site was also prioritised [sic] because it was nearby (9) government wells that supplied drinking water to the whole area.” (10) When village resident, Mahavir Singh, spotted the field staff surveying the land, he approached the workers to inquire about their presence.

The JBF facilitated the transaction by translating between ED and Singh. The community leader was informed of the land’s potential as a future site for a sand dam; and that sand dams can dramatically increase the quantity of groundwater in the area. Pleased by what he heard, Singh expressed interest in continuing relations with the JBF and ED staff.

Despite his enthusiasm for the sand dam, Singh was informed by the JBF that he and his village would have to open a bank account to raise 30 percent of the dam’s cost before construction could proceed.

Since India’s independence Singh’s family took up work in the property business, and he gained experience in management and financial oversight. He was also an educated man, having been to college, which would serve him well in juggling various aspects of community mobilization, advocacy, and technical training.

Throughout the rest of 2013, he received technical training from the JBF staff at their Water Resource Centre (WRC) in Jodhpur. When not training at the WRC, Singh would spend time in Thumbo ka Golia and focus on raising funds for the dam as well as community engagement. But raising the money proved challenging when his neighbors knew little about the technology, so the efforts came in fits and starts. There were some, however, like village resident Bhanwar Singh, who was equally enthused by the prospect of the sand dam, and said, “The water (coming down this river) just goes away… this is wastage. The sand dam will recharge the ground water and help agriculture and trees, as well as drinking water” (14).

sand dam

A few months later, in 2013, Mahavir was able to convince 100-150 people in his village to open a bank account and invest in the sand dam. It took three months to raise 18 percent of the 1.7 million rupees required to initiate dam construction. The suggested investments were adjusted based on income. Despite the eventual shortfall in funding, an agreement was reached between the Jal Sabha and the JBF.

Construction of the sand dam began on November 6, 2013 and involved the collaborative efforts of the European Union (EU), the JBF, ED, Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), the Public Health and Engineering Department of Rajasthan, and local volunteers and leaders.

It wouldn’t be until the monsoon season in summer 2014 that the sand dam could start retaining rainwater in the riverbed to recharge the surrounding aquifer.

All throughout building the dam, ED followed the JBF operating procedures, but Emma admits they would have conducted community engagement differently. In her email, she stated, “The process has now changed in that more community engagement is established upfront when an area that sand dams potentially might work [in] is identified rather than after a site [is] being identified.”

In Part IV, available on December 26th, Kessel continues the story of the impact on the sand dam 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