Small water bodies

Small water bodies

Headwater streams, springs, ditches, flushes, small lakes, and ponds are examples of small bodies of water.

These are ubiquitous and, by their very nature, are highly diverse in all respects, from the species they support to the chemistry of the water.

The Water Framework Directive and River Basin Management Plans, which outline how we should be protecting freshwaters, both largely ignore and exclude these habitats, despite the fact that they are essential for freshwater biodiversity.

Due to their function as a transitional system between different aquatic ecosystems and biocoenosis as well as a point of contact between the aquatic and terrestrial environments, small water bodies play a crucial role in the ecology. In order to facilitate the migration of many species, they construct a bridge that connects various wetlands. In general, they help to maintain high biodiversity because of their widespread abundance and vast total area, which is greater than that covered by lakes.

Both types of water bodies can help to enrich the flora and fauna on local and regional scales, despite the fact that ponds in areas with a low degree of anthropogenic impact have ponds with noticeably higher biodiversity than those in areas with a high degree of anthropogenic impact.  These aquatic environments have a high ecological value as evidenced by the presence of specific pond species as well as a generally high proportion of rare species that find ponds to be ideal habitats with frequently undisturbed living conditions.

The Advantages of Small Water Bodies

Quick Water Access:

  • In rural areas, especially, SWBs can offer simple access to water for agriculture, drinking water, animal husbandry, and domestic needs. This can lessen the burden of household water collection and increase water security. 
  • There are SWBs in every village, minimizing the distance that women must travel to obtain water for drinking.

Low Cost of Maintenance:

  • SWBs are relatively inexpensive to build and maintain in comparison to substantial dams and reservoirs. They are therefore a desirable choice for managing and storing small amounts of water.

Benefits for Farmers

  • SWBs offer a dependable source of water for farming activities by being used for irrigation and aquaculture. This could improve crop yields and support farmers' incomes.
  • Conflict-free and effective water distribution contributes to poverty reduction among marginal and small-scale farmers.

Contributes to Groundwater Recharge

  • SWBs are also capable of restoring groundwater supplies in regions where groundwater depletion is a concern
  • SWBs can help replenish groundwater aquifers and increase overall water availability by collecting and storing rainwater.


  • Numerous rare and endangered species of animals and plants are supported by small bodies of water. 
  • They serve as crucial breeding and habitat locations for aquatic and semi-aquatic organisms like amphibians, reptiles.

Aquatic Quality:

  • By serving as natural filters and filtering runoff water of pollutants and sediment before it enters larger bodies of water, small water bodies can contribute to the improvement of water quality.
  • In times of drought, they can also support groundwater recharge and water level maintenance.

Flood prevention

  • By collecting and holding onto extra water during periods of heavy rain and then gradually releasing it over time, small water bodies can help to lower the risk of flooding.

Problems with Small Water Bodies 

  • Encroachment on Catchment Areas Over Time:
    • Due to encroachment on their catchment areas, small water bodies like lakes, ponds, and streams are constantly in danger. 
    • In the catchment areas of these water bodies and the surrounding areas, people are expanding urbanization by constructing residences, businesses, and other infrastructure. .
    • This may result in the loss of natural vegetation, soil erosion, and contamination of the water body.
      • The urbanization that began in the 1990s has seriously influenced SWBs, transforming a lot of them into landfills.
      • The Water Resources Standing Committee (2012-2013) highlighted in its sixteenth report that the majority of the nation's waterways had been taken over by State agencies.
      • In accordance with the Standing Committee on Water Resources (2012-2013), approximately one million hectares of potential for irrigation have been eliminated because of flooding and other reasons.

Insufficient yearly maintenance

  • To keep them healthy and functional, small water bodies need routine maintenance. 
  • These bodies, however, are frequently ignored and allowed to deteriorate due to a lack of resources.
  • Lack of maintenance can cause sediment, debris, and pollutants to accumulate, lowering the quality of the water and even causing the water body to completely dry up. 

Habitat Loss:

  • As a result of changes in land use, such as urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural intensification, small water bodies are frequently threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.
  •  Biodiversity and ecological efficiency may suffer as a result.

Invasive Species:

  • Invasive species are more likely to invade small bodies of water, where they can displace native species and disrupt ecological processes.
  • Declines in water quality and habitat quality can also be brought on by invasive species.

Changing Climate:

  • The availability, temperature, and quality of small water bodies can all change as a result of climate change. 
  • The effects of other stressors, such as pollution and habitat loss, can also be made worse by climate change.

Exploitation and overuse:

  • For various uses, including irrigation, drinking water, recreation, and fisheries, small water bodies can be overused and exploited. 
  • Overuse can cause water resources to run out, water quality to decline, and biodiversity to decrease.


  • Without a corresponding expansion of public facilities like infrastructure for waste disposal, the population of cities has grown dramatically.
  • Urban civic services are becoming less adequate as more people move into cities.
  • As a result, pollution is harming the majority of India's urban water bodies. In a few instances, the water bodies have been used as landfills.
  • For instance, since 2006, the municipal corporation has dumped solid waste at Guwahati's Deepor Beel. Even the marshland of Pallikarni in Chennai is utilized for waste dumping.


  • This poses yet another serious risk to urban water bodies. The amount of available land has been decreasing as more people move to urban areas.
  • Even a small plot of land in an urban area is now highly valuable economically.
  • These urban water bodies are valued for their real estate value in addition to their ecosystem services.
  • Well-known examples of encroached water bodies include Deepor beel in Guwahati, Ousteri Lake in Puducherry, and Charkop Lake in Maharashtra.

Illegal mining activities

  • On the lake's catchment and bed, illegal mining for building materials like sand and quartzite has a very negative effect on the water body.
  • For instance, illegal mining in the catchment area has harmed Jodhpur's Jaisamand Lake, which was once the only source of drinking water for the city.
  • The water level in Vembanad Lake on the outskirts of Kochi has dropped as a result of careless sand mining from the lake's catchment.

Unforeseen tourism-related activities

  • Several urban lakes in India are now in danger because of the use of water features to draw tourists.
  • The unplanned and uncontrolled tourism in Ladakh has polluted the Tso Morari and Pongsho lakes.
  • Ashtamudi Lake in Kerala's Kollam city is another illustration, where oil from motorboats has leaked and caused pollution.

Lack of a formal administrative structure

  • The government's lack of interest in protecting water bodies is the biggest problem.
  • Its lack of information regarding the total number of urban water bodies in the nation can be used to understand this.
  • In addition, the CPCB had not identified any significant aquatic species, bird species, plants, or other animals that were endangered because of river and lake pollution.

Way Forward

  • Need for Effective Laws
    • Given the increasing incidence of encroachments, robust laws ought to be passed immediately to make damaging Water bodies a punishable crime.
      • On lands located along SWBs (Streams, Water Bodies, and Wetlands), the Madras High Court ruled in 2014 that no approval should be granted for building plans or layouts. 
  • The Establishment of a Separate Ministry for Small Waterbodies
    • In recognition of the declining condition of tiny water bodies, they ought to be established with sufficient funding for ongoing maintenance and reconstruction efforts. 
    • Without the involvement of farmers who are the primary recipients of SWBs, it's hard to enhance the efficacy of these centuries-old oases.
  • Establishing a Tank Users Organization
    • Farmers have to volunteer to establish a tank organization for users and fix SWBs, as was done previously with the centuries-old Kudimaramathu system.
    • Since companies are increasingly utilizing water for different reasons, they ought to be tasked with fixing and renovating SWBs within the purview of Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • Refrain from Contamination
    • Small bodies of water are susceptible to contamination from runoff from farms, factories, and residential areas.
    • It is essential to safeguard the health of lakes and rivers by avoiding Putting harmful substances into them. 
  • Protecting the Local Environment:
    • Small water bodies and the surrounding land are closely related in terms of health. 
    • The prevention of land development, deforestation, and other processes that result in soil erosion may mitigate sedimentation and contamination of the water with nutrients.
  • Getting Rid of Invasive Species
    • Small water bodies' ecological balance can be upset by invasive species, such as non-native plants and animals.  
    • Control steps ought to be taken to avoid their introduction and dissemination.
  • Promoting Awareness
    • Educating the general public about the value of tiny water may contribute to raising awareness
    • This may involve tasks like arranging community gatherings, handing out educational materials, as well as interacting with local stakeholders.