Columbia Water Center and the Earth Institute Explore Water Conservation in Punjab, India

Columbia Water Center and the Earth Institute Explore Water Conservation in Punjab, India

Many farmers in Punjab, India, have long been growing government-subsidized rice as a main crop. Despite growing awareness that groundwater in the region is rapidly being depleted and the large amount of water used in current rice production practices is unsustainable, farmers continue to focus on rice because of its low risk to produce. With support from the PepsiCo Foundation, the Columbia Water Center (CWC) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, has recently established two initiatives aimed at reducing agricultural groundwater usage and establishing stronger alternative crop markets in Punjab. CWC and Earth Institute staff recently visited Punjab to spearhead these efforts.

“The potential impact of this work is tremendous,” says Dan Stellar, CWC’s assistant director. “Small water savings in the agricultural sector translate into huge amounts of water that can be made available for household use.  Through this initial work, we aim to conserve enough water to meet the basic needs of over 200 thousand individuals per year. And the strategies we’re pursuing are completely scalable, meaning this work literally has the potential to change water use patterns across India.” 

Stellar joined Kapil Narula, CWC India director, and Jennifer Swift-Morgan, foundations and corporate relations officer for the Earth Institute, in Punjab in February. On their visit they introduced farmers interested in alternative crops to corporations that guarantee markets for vegetables, seeds and flowers rather than rice. They also explored different methods for more efficient, less water-intensive rice cultivation. A slideshow on the projects and trip are available at or on YouTube.

The CWC looks forward to the further implementation of these initiatives, which aim to reduce the strain on India’s water supply and save the energy expended in pumping water, this spring. Potential income for farmers would increase while reducing the burden on the state of Punjab, which subsidizes rice crops. These expected results are in line with the CWC’s mission to creatively tackle the challenge of global water scarcity through innovations in technology, public policy and private action.

For more information, please email the CWC at