Thursday, July 5, 2012

Water stories in Bangalore - A Crisis or an opportunity ?


A Crisis or an opportunity ?

Walking on a narrow a mud-road in Vignana Nagar, I need to follow a water tanker “watering” the road to keep dust levels down, to get to my destination.  And as I walk in to the layout I am headed to – a plush row-housing layout of about 200 households on 28 acres - the story of its water begins to unfold. 
This layout is right next to the Doddanekkundi lake and was built around 7 years ago.  With no access to piped water supply from the city, the layout was completely dependent on ground-water.  Six borewells with depths varying from 200ft to 500ft extracted water from mother earth meeting the needs of the layout for all domestic purposes, to water the gardens and to run a club-house.  The water was supplied after centralized treatment through a hi-tech set of hydro-pneumatic pumps maintaining pre-set pressures in the pipes in all houses.  All the waste-water was treated in an STP. In the beginning at low occupancies while STP treated water was used for gardening, it did not suffice.  All the houses were consumption metered, though initially the meters were not seen as too important. 

Time passed and occupancy increased. The area also started developing with other apartments and layouts emerging around, each of them digging their borewells too.  The yields of borewells this layout had started decreasing and finally the borwells started going dry.  Water tanker suppliers as a substitute source were not always reliable. The layout had to respond.  The Resident welfare association (RWA)  started taking the water consumption meters seriously - and introduced increasing block tariffs.  With increased occupancy they had more treated waste-water and they ensured that no gardening was done with fresh water.  The RWA engaged with people to control demand.  And they brought down the demand from around 500 lpcd down to a more acceptable 250 lpcd.  “In our hydrpneumatic system a lot of water goes down the flush”, acknowledges one of the RWA representatives.  Water scarcity continued to be a reality, and so was the search for augmenting supply.

Storing and using harvested rooftop rainwater was an option – but given the hydro-pneumatic pumping systems they had, it was not easy to “plug” this solution in easily.  The investigations of how rainwater harvesting could help solve the problems continued.   In around 5 years, however, all their borewells went dry and they had to dig new borewells.  In the last two years, 3 new borewells have been dug.  Notably, all these 3 new borewells are between 800ft – 1000ft in depth – much deeper than their earlier borewells.  Rainwater harvesting now recharges groundwater in this layout.  The dried borewells are being used as recharge structures – rainfall runoff is diverted, filtered and recharged into some of these dried borewells.  Apart from these 170 shallow 10 ft wells recharge ground water too.  “We understand that the water recharged may not come to us”, says an RWA committee member, “but as long as it recharges groundwater, we will not ask who is using it.  We will continue to recharge, and we will try and continue to invest in recharge”.

Does this story not reflect what is happening in Bangalore (and perhaps other cities in India)?  And does the action of this layout’s not represent some of the solutions Bangalore needs for its water story to be fixed?  And I see these stories repeating itself in house after house, apartment after apartment, layout after layout.    Should Bangalore fix its water problems a house, an apartment and a layout at a time?  In every crisis, it is said, lies an opportunity.  Can Bangalore seize it?

Avinash Krishnamurthy
7 july 2012

17 comments:

Vijay said...

Nice one Avinash. I have heard of Purva Riviera having tremendous problems with their borewells running dry, Skylark Greens in Whitefield, who were in panic mode for a couple of days and Chaitanya Samarpanam in Whitefield who feel that they have huge leakage happening in their system. Purva Riviera is in fact rationing water so you don't get water in the taps for some portion of the day, which is quite extreme for an upscale complex. I am wondering if Bangalore is reaching a 'tipping point' as Zenrainman suggested. Though 450 mld extra from the Cauvery should have some appreciable impact.
The other thing is understanding the recharge. What is the nature of the penetration of the recharge to the deeper aquifer. Can we do a recharge-withdraw, recharge-withdraw cycle from the dug wells or shallow borewells over the monsoons? Can the shallow groundwater in the city center where groundwater levels are high, be productively used ?

Earthwormfirefly said...

Thanks for the comment. All three apartments/lyouts you talk about have contacted us and we have engaged/engaging with them to various degrees of success (and failure).

The tipping point of Bangalore must be seen not just as a tipping point of water crisis but as a tipping point of citizen action - the sheer lived experience of water scarcity drives action - but at local scales. So how de we capitalise on this ?

And yes how do we generate knowledge (like the groundwater related questions you raise) and inform local action with this?

This is the challenge we need to work on, I think.

HumanCitizen said...

Hi Guys i think water is already a very scarse commodity and becoming a more acutely scarse one by the day.I live in G M Palya and there you dont even get water till you bore for 800 to 1000 ft and I have read somewhere that at those depths what you get is fossilised water reserves.
Is there a way individual owners can recharge the water levels by rain water harvesting and why is th eGovt not doing anything about it. Digging more wells or lakes for recharge and more importantly maintaining them. Bangalore gets so much of rain if we harness it I am sure all our water problems can be solved.

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