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