​Karnataka is predominantly a rural and agrarian State. Agriculture plays a key role in State's economy. Karnataka has given an important place for Watershed Development, because, 75% of the croped area in Karnataka depends upon low and uncertain rainfall. It has a geographical area of 19.049 M.Ha. Net cropped area is 10.79 M.Ha. Out of this 2.32 M.Ha. is irrigated and 8.479 M.Ha. is rainfed area. This rainfed area is without any prospect of ever being able to receive any irrigation facilities. The State depends on dry land for more than half of its food production. In view of the above situation more emphasis is given for dry land farming in the State by way of developing dry land areas on watershed basis. All India soil and land use survey in its revised atlas in 1990 has identified 35 important river basins and 3237 Watersheds in the country. In Karnataka 5 rivers basins 218 Watershed have been identified for development.

The initial impetus to watershed development in Karnataka came from Kabbalnala Watershed in Kanakapura taluk of Bangalore rural District in the year 1984-85. Later, four Dry Land Development Boards were set up, one in each Revenue Division to implement watershed programmes in all the 19 districts in the State.

The main objective of the watershed development programmes is to conserve soil and moisture as well as to put the lands to the best use according to their capabilities to improve the overall productivity of the catchment in a holistic manner/way. The programmes primarily consider land as a single entity and help in synchronizing all the land based activities to achieve productive potentials.

The process of watershed development involves co-ordinated multi-disciplinary activities and expertise from several Departments. To sustain the assets created under the programme, the participation of the people/community as well as Panchayat Raj institutions is also essential. In Karnataka, various bodies and Departments were implementing watershed development programmes which needed greater co-ordination in planning, implementation and supervision necessitating a concerted thrust on watershed approach/management.

The Govt. has therefore considered various aspects and decided that better co-ordination in planning, implementation and supervision in watershed programmes would be achieved by setting up a separate Department and hence the Government of Karnataka has created the Watershed Development Department with effect from 1.4.2000. All the watershed schemes and projects under State Sector, Central Sector Schemes, Externally aided Projects as well as District Sector Schemes relating to watershed development are expected to be implemented through this Department.

Hon'ble Chief Minister in his budget speech of 2000-01 had stated as under:

" We have already set up a multi-disciplinary Directorate of Watershed Development. This will give a new thrust to watershed management in the arid zones of the State. Karnataka has the second largest arid zone area in the country, after Rajasthan. My Government attaches the highest priority to Watershed based projects, an area which Karnataka had pioneered but which unfortunately stagnated"

In pursuance of this, the operationalisation and streamlining of all projects and schemes related to watershed development under the aegis of Watershed Development Department has begun. A major initiative has also been taken to seek assistance from the World Bank for watershed development. The World Bank has approved the proposal of the Government of Karnataka and sanctioned a loan of $ 100.4 million to treat an area of over 4 lakh Hectares. The project will cover the districts of Dharwad, Haveri, Chitradurga, Tumkur and Kolar.

Government of Karnataka has also proposed the implementation of Phase-II of ISPWD-K in four districts viz., Bijapur, Koppal, Bidar and Gulbarga to tackle an area of 30,000 Ha, at a cost of Rs. 28.00 Crores. The negotiations are now under way and the project is likely to get the clearance during the current financial year.

Government of Karnataka has entered into an agreement with NDDB for developing one lakh Ha. in Kolar district with a total project cost of Rs.20.00 Crores.

Government of Karnataka has entered into an agreement with to utilize a sum of Rs. 30.00 Crores from the Watershed Development Fund. Watershed programmes will be implemented in 10 districts, namely Bangalore rural, Davanagere, Gadag, Raichur, Koppal, Gulbarga, Mysore, Chamarajanagara, Bidar and Bellary. The selection of other districts for further phases of this project is under the consideration of the Govt.

India is one of the major agricultural countries with more than 70% of the population depending on it. Indian agriculture is dependent on monsoon which is not uniform over the years. Nearly three fourths of the cultivable land in India is dependent on monsoon, which is contributing nearly 42% of the total production from agriculture. The productivity of any crop mainly depends on two natural resources- land and water in addition to management practices. Therefore the conservation, up gradation and utilization of these two natural resources on scientific principles is essential for the sustainability of rain fed agriculture. The watershed concept for development of rain fed agriculture is gaining importance over the years and it amply demonstrated that watershed developmental tools are very effective in meeting the objectives and mission.

Karnataka has been given an important place for Watershed Development because 75% of the cropped area in Karnataka depends upon low and uncertain rainfall.  The geographical area of the State is 190.50 lakh ha. of which 129.70 lakh ha. is available for watershed development.  Out of this area, 39.20 lakh ha is treated up to end of the year 2006-07.  It is estimated that 90.50 lakh ha is available for watershed development.