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School and Program Updates

School and Program Updates

Michigan Project: Desilting Ponds in India Benefits Farmers, Environment

A team of University of Michigan students is working in Telangana, a southeastern state of India, to improve the farming and water-collection practices in rural areas through the desilting of local ponds. These ponds, built in the 13th century, serve to collect and store rain water during the monsoon season that can later be used by farmers, but the build up of silt over time starts to limit their holding capacity.

The system proposed by students from U-M’s School of Public Health, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning consists of digging up the silt during the dry season and using it as fertilizer for the crop fields. The results have been very successful. The use of silt reduced the use of expensive fertilizers by 36 percent, and increased crop yield by almost 50 percent.

Mr. Leon Espira, a student in U-M’s School of Public Health, is part of the Dow Sustainability Fellows program at the U-M, which supports 75 graduate fellows working on interdisciplinary sustainability projects. They credit the program for approaching the problem through many facets — social, economic, environmental and health.

“I would never have gotten a chance to learn about a new country and look at the impact of our program otherwise,” Mr. Espira said.

Mr. Espira, who grew up in Kenya, is exploring the health effects of desilting the ponds. He said that Telangana has some of India’s highest amount of cases of fluorosis, which darkens the teeth and leaves bones crooked.

The U-M team, which now has seven members, is examining groundwater data before and after desilting to check the fluoride levels.

“We think that desilting will allow more groundwater to recharge the tanks, which may reduce the fluoride levels in water,” Mr. Espira said.

Other aspects of this project include investigation into how desilting affects fluoride levels in the water, which is of interest due to Telangana’s relatively high levels of fluorosis. Local organizations such as the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture in Hyderabad as well as local governments have been in support of UM’s research in this area, and have offered their collaboration as students continue to educate farmers about silt use through village meetings. The hope is that this research will help make farming a more stable profession in the region and thus slow the influx of families into more urban areas.

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