[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 Part I of this four-part series, Kessel describes early efforts to provide the village of Thumbo ka Golia in Jalore, India, with a reliable and sustainable source of potable water.]

Water Scarcity — Marwar’s Ancient Legacy

Throughout time the village of Thumbo ka Golia had suffered water insecurity, just like the rest of the Thar Desert. It was a region covered by sandy plains and sparsely vegetated hillocks in the Marwar region of Rajasthan, India. The most populous arid sector in the world, it placed a unique set of challenges on the inhabitants of the land.

To combat water scarcity, ancient Marwari societies developed technologies and practices for rainwater capture and storage. In the 1960s these practices and technologies fell away and were replaced by centralized government-backed distribution networks of piped water with limited coverage of the villages and dubious water quality (9).

A Need for Local Leadership and Advocacy

Desert communities like Thumbo ka Golia were in a severe state of water distress after the 1960s. In 1987 a drought and famine struck India and spurred the creation of the U.K. based non-governmental organization, Wells for India. Despite the organization’s relentless outreach and projects that focused on building water capacity, there was still a need to empower decentralized villages through a system of distributed leadership and advocacy campaigns that backed pro-poor policies (10).

watering mustard plants in Thumbo ka Golia

When H.H. Maharaja Gaj Singh II, Rajendra Singh, and Prithvi Singh founded the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation on January 15, 2002, they were prepared to address the needs and concerns of the Marwari people. The trust was inspired by the strategies and accomplishments of Tarun Bharat Sangh, a conservation-based organization chaired by cofounder of the JBF, Rajendra Singh.

The main differences between the two organizations were the geography and culture. The JBF was developed specifically to promote water security and pro-poor policies in the desert communities of Marwar, making each successful project replicable.

[In Part III of this four-part series, available on December 18th, Mark Kessel continues the story of how a sand dam was funded and built.]


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