SPWD’s work in the field of water spans across issues related to watershed development, water management, water governance, small water harvesting systems, and water quality. During the 1990s SPWD started using the watershed approach in its programs. Also, SPWD housed a secretariat for a Ford Foundation-funded network on small water harvesting systems (SWHS) to highlight the relevance of local systems of water management. The outputs were largely in the form of workshop reports and research study outputs, apart from identifying policy issues based on the review of documents related to water. SPWDs approach vis a vis the SWHS network has not been to create a eulogistic picture of the traditional water systems but to trace the changes historically and set it in the current socio-economic-political context.
In late 2000’s SPWD began working on a programme aimed to contribute to policy dialogue at the National and State level by grounding of approaches to using Governance Principles and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) by tailoring them to the (sub) regional/ agro-eco-subregion/ basin context. The program helped develop a methodology for planning for assured minimum livelihoods at the sub-basin level for six project locations. It also contributed to policy dialogue on water governance at various levels like state and sub-basin. SPWD plans to continue with a similar approach in the future.
Around the 1990s, SPWD also began focusing on small water harvesting systems to start with through a program in southern India. SPWD has been working in the Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh since the mid-1990s on restoration of Panchayati Raj tanks, mainly small tanks with a command area of a maximum of 40 hectares. Around 40 tanks were restored in the region by SPWD in collaboration with local NGOs through the formation of representative community-based Tank Management Committees. While rehabilitating tanks the focus had been on tank system repairs. Even though, an economic impact study of the program by Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad (2011) shows a positive impact of the program in terms of Net Present Value and Benefit-Cost, the program could not achieve the objective of developing a people’s movement for “community management of tanks” in Rayalseema. Other than its work on storage systems of southern India, SPWD also worked on ahar-pyne systems which are traditional floodwater harvesting systems indigenous to South Bihar. SPWD also did a study for the SDTT on gonchi systems of Andhra Pradesh and phad systems of Vidarbha more recently.