Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rainwater harvesting resources

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is a simple solution to Bangalore’s water shortage problem. However,
for a beginner to the subject, the various ways of harvesting rainwater, the work involved for all of them, and the benefits to each solution, can all be quite confusing. Here are some resources that could provide some direction and answer any initial questions you may have about RWH.

1. Wiki page on RWH and Biome’s role

2. Video that shows how recharge wells are dug:

3. Brochure that explains recharge wells and the costs associated with digging them:

The Story of Crooked limbs in Bagepalli

26th July 2016

Working as Fluoride fellows for Karnataka under the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network, I and my colleague Kiran Kumar Sen undertook the journey to Chikaballapur district, one of severely affected fluoride regions in the State. Chikaballapur being one of the fasting growing regions around Bangalore faces severe water shortage and where bore wells are dug more than 1000 feet deep. This contributes to the presence of Fluoride in drinking water from these sources. Interestingly, our cab driver was curious about the visit and had no clue that drinking water sources contains ions such as Fluoride and has such effects on the body before this visit. 

Our first point of contact in Chikaballapur was Mr. Nagesh who was associated with Karuna Trust for water testing project undertaken in the entire district supported from Arghyam financially. The project mainly involved water testing of all drinking water sources in the district for six parameters as prescribed by NRDWP (National Rural Drinking Water Programme) in the respective district labs and the trust mainly supplied the man power for implementation of the testing. 

The tests are conducted every six months i.e. post and pre monsoon and all the data is uploaded on the NRDWP site regularly. Not all water samples are tested in the district labs and only samples which are detected for any contamination from field testing kits provided with panchayat are bought to district labs for further determination of contaminants through spectrophotometer analysis.

Below are pictures of District lab and field testing kit used.

Our next meeting was with District Fluoride Officer Mr.Vinod. He is appointed from NPPCF (National Programme for Prevention and Control of Fluorosis) working towards Fluorosis mitigation in the State from past one year. The NPCCF also conducts water testing of drinking water sources and urine analysis of patients who appear to be affected from fluorosis.

They strictly adhere to guidelines mentioned in NPPCF for fluorosis mitigation and thus act only as advisory body for the State departments who are responsible for implementing their solutions. The officer was of the view that the sustainability of existing 400 plants plus another 386 to be installed under various schemes are highly questionable in water deficient areas such as Chikaballapur. Thus, he was interested in knowing alternative methods and different interventions that could be introduced to tackle fluorosis problems in the district.

After the meeting, on his suggestion we headed towards Bagepalli Taluk which is known for high fluoride content and visited Gulur Town, Bommagarapalli and Gundlapalli which have been severely affected with fluorosis (both dental and Skeletal). We visited a private school in Gulur along with field officers Ramesh and Somashekar working for water and sanitation in the region. There we could identify the presence of dental fluorosis in many children of the school as shown below.

Currently, Gulur Town is equipped with RO plant from government and most people consume this water for drinking and cooking purposes. But the consumption of fluoride contaminated water continues in the villages (more than 2 ppm. Over all these years it has affected the people with dental and non-skeletal fluorosis.

Surprisingly, there is presence of shallow water sources (seen below) nearby which is used for the past 25-30 many villagers for drinking purposes. It was found to have acceptable fluoride concentration upon our testing. This presents an excellent opportunity to identify and preserve these kind of sources in these regions. This could a potential source of drinking water with minimal treatment.

We visited Bommagarapalli and Gundlapalli later. These villages presented cases of severely affected people with both non-skeletal and skeletal fluorosis as shown below. Both the village have Fluoride concentration between 2-2.5 ppm. The main source of drinking water and all other use was groundwater from borewells. Though a RO plant has been commissioned for Bommagarapalli by the government it is yet to be installed and tanker water is supplied from local NGO Swasti which is not affordable to majority of the villagers. The stand-posts seen below supply water for different uses. 

Even water supply to the schools is groundwater. As a result, dental fluorosis could also be seen in children along with Adults. We can came across lot of complaints about muscular and joint pains. Most people aged above 35 years had initial stages of skeletal fluorosis. The pictures below narrate a story in themselves about Fluorosis affecting population in Bommagarapalli.

We found the case of severe skeletal fluorosis in Gundlapalli, seen below

The diet pattern of the people consists of ragi, rice and sambar with tomatoes. The lack the essential nutrients like calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin-C in enough concentration in the food is aggravating the condition in the affected regions. This is one of the major areas where significant improvement is required.

The people here have gone through various phases of identification of fluorosis and its manifestations by various groups. But, these villagers desperately require the most practical solution to this issue. They are open to solutions which can mitigate the effects of Fluorosis. The positive side to this story is that there are people on the ground eager to learn from Fluorosis Knowledge and Action Network and work towards Fluorosis Mitigation.

Shreyas S and Kiran Kumar Sen

Biome Environmental Trust

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RWH Presentation at ALSTOM on 29th June 2016

A 90 minutes presentation + Q&A session was held on 29th June 2016 at ALSTOM, Bagmane Tech park, Bangalore. About 70 employees attended the session. With many queries and interactions it was an engaging session

Water Management Workshop for Tripura Schools : 16th July 2016

ONGC, under its CSR initiative had repaired/ reconstructed toilets in 204 schools in six districts of Tripura. However on a field visit by the Project Team it was seen that many of the schools were facing acute water shortage issues due to which the functionality of the toilets was also affected. Hence a workshop was held on 16th July 2016 to address the following

1. To provide solutions for making water available for toilets in water scarce areas
2. To take a step to achieve the larger goal of providing access to safe sanitation to all children for better health and hygiene
3. To optimize the use of rainwater through harvesting initiatives at school level at low cost techniques (Tripura has 100 days rainfall annually, about 2200mm)

BIOME was called on as RWH Experts. The workshop was facilitated by ARPAN (a local NGO from Tripura), Earth&Us (Auroville Foundation) and BIOME Environmental Trust (Bangalore)

A short account of the BIOME team's experiences and learning from participating in the same

At ARPAN office
13th July 2016 : Was the flight to Agartala and meeting up with the local organisers – ARPAN Society. ARPAN Society ( is made up of a bunch of committed professionals from varied fields like journalism, medicine, education etc who are on a mission to create a sustainable society in Tripura. Their energy to work both with citizens as well as government (even after office hours) as well as desire to make a positive change was quite remarkable

14th July : Was a trip to 3 government schools in Khowai district to assess RWH feasibility. Some of the points that stood out were

Open Well in School
  1. Most schools were on large plots of land – perhaps an average of about 2-5 acres
  2. Some of the smaller schools (fewer kids, also the Junior Basic/primary schools) had only 12-20 children
  3. There were several toilets in the schools (built with some tranches of grant money - however most toilets were not being used)
  4. Water was available in abundance in the schools on the lower contours – however plumbing did not exist to take the water to the toilet
  5. For the schools on top of small hillocks, the teachers had to trek down for about 30-45 minutes to fetch water
  6. Older girls seemed to be the only category of kids using toilets. All other kids seemed to not care much about the toilets
  7. We met the District Magistrate of Khowai. He was extremely keen to make a difference and was interested in getting RWH implemented in the district

    RWH certainly appeared very logical and feasible to implement

Large rooftop for a 12 student school
Sandipa speaks with the kids
Water Filters

3 generations of toilets
Checking out the venue
  15th July : Was brainstorming and actually preparing for the workshop. ARPAN, Earth and Us + BIOME worked with equal intensity to ensure that the workshop would be useful for all participants. A professor and his student from IIT Guwahati also joined us. They would be sharing their experiences from Assam. The BIOME presentation is here. Thanks to Min from Earth Ad Us the planning was very meticulous. All efforts were taken that this would be "zero waste"/"no frills" workshop - to the extent possible

16th July : The full day workshop. Here are a few news articles that cover the event. By the end of the workshop the administration actually agreed to try out RWH in a couple of schools. It was attended by the Education Minster of Tripura, SSA director + headmasters and school inspectors

Education Minister
Workshop Prep

BIOME presents


17th July : A visit to the Bangladesh border + to the local landfill. Tripura is surrounded by Bangladesh on 3 sides and almost 850+km of the border is fenced. The stories of peaceful migrations were also quite heartwarming. The Hindus and Muslims in certain cases had just walked across the border and peacefully exchanged properties.

The inputs to the landfill are slowly increasing. The usual "urban" problems of segregation and waste processing are quitely catching up with this otherwise rather small and peaceful city

We return to Bangalore

Bangladesh border

Agartala Landfill

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Kaikondrahalli Lake: Monitoring Water Quality

On the day of July 6th, 2016, a team comprising of members of Biome and ATREE went to Kaikondrahalli Lake in order to assess the quality of water. With the start of the monsoon season, the quantity of water that the lake receives increases, which also create situations of untreated sewage finding its way to the lake. Having that in mind, samples were picked up from key locations of the lake and were tested for physical and chemical parameters. Specifically, Nitrates (NO3) and Phosphates (PO4) were given for testing to a laboratory by the name of Nexus Test Labs. 


4 locations were identified where samples were picked up for laboratory testing:

Upstream Inlet: A location near to the major inlet of the lake, on the Southern side. Water from the Kasavanahalli Lake  and upstream dwellings that feed Kaikondrahalli Lake. 

Middle of Lake: A sample was taken approximately at the middle of the lake, close to the island.

Potential Sewage Inlet: An inlet located on the Eastern side of the lake. There have been indication of raw untreated sewage entering the lake from this inlet. The source is potentially been identified as the lower income community residing right next to the lake. 

Outflow: This sample was taken close to where the water exists the lake, on the North Western tip. The result would provide us with information of what quality of water flows further downstream towards Saul Kere. 


Nitrates and Phosphates

Here are the results that were provided from test conducted in the laboratory:-

The locations along with the results has also been displayed in the following figure:-

pH and Total Dissolved Solids 

The pH and TDS values were also measured at varying locations within the lake, with an attempt to logically cover the stretch of the lake. Consistency was noticed with the pH values ranging between 8.3-8.9. TDS values also hovered between 430-460 mg/L

Regulatory Standards

 Standard IS: 10500- 2012 sanctioned by the Central Board of Pollution Control provide standards that need to be adhered to with respect to water being utilized for consumption. In the given standard, the maximum limit for Nitrates is identified as 45 mg/L. Currently it is unclear of a standard for Phosphates which not been provided by the relevant authorities. 

Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) have standards of the quality of water that must be maintained in the output of sewage treatment plants, post treatment. The standard for Phosphates is given to be a maximum of 5 mg/L  and no standard as of yet is adopted by KSPCB with respect to Nitrates.

However while comparing the results of the tests conducted for the lake samples with the given standards, it is clear with this data set that the water quality of the lake appears to be sufficiently acceptable. This conclusion however can be a lot more confirmed when multiple quality monitoring is conducted over time and with seasonal variations. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What are the activities/components that go into the making of a Recharge Well ?

Often times we (BIOME) are asked to compare the prices of recharge wells quoted by various well diggers. On speaking with the clients we realise that they maybe comparing apples to oranges. Apples to oranges – since the well is not a standardized product but requires and includes several components and activities. Each well digger has his own vision of the well and hence his (no women digging wells) costs. Hence this blog post to know the components and activities that go into the making of a recharge well. And here we are not speaking of quality of activities or components - just a plain listing 

  • Soil excavation. Digging the well. The well is manually dug to the desired depth. The 2 events that can keep you from getting to the expected depth are 
    • encountering hard rock 
    • water inflow/seepage from the side walls. 
This sometimes leads to collapse of the surrounding side walls. Digging can be continued by either manually removing the water or pumping out the water – if the safety of the well diggers in not compromised The size of the hole that is dug is normally about 6” - 8” larger than the size of the external diameter of the rings that are proposed to be placed. The costs for digging the well normally increase with increasing depth. An experienced well digger also normally quotes in a way such that his costs are covered for a minimum depth – irrespective of circumstances that might hold up work 
  • Dumping of excavated soil. This can be quite tricky and expensive - especially in core areas of Bangalore. If possible try and find a place close by for dumping. This might not necessarily result in lowered costs. The soil below 5ft depth is not of a quality that is good for planting – it can only be used for filling  
  • Purchase, transportation and placement of rings : Rings of good quality have to be purchased, brought to site and lowered into the well one by one 
  • Aggregates/Jelly in the annular space between the rings and pit. After lowering every 2 rings the annular space between the rings and the pit should be tightly filled with jelly. This is so that the soil around the rings does not collapse 
  • Well cover with manhole. The well should be covered on top with an good quality/sturdy RCC slab so that all accidents are prevented. It is good for the slab to have a manhole or peep hole so that rainwater coming into the well as well as flowing out of the well can be observed. The manhole should have a provision for locking
  • Safety Grille: Increasingly we also encourage provision of a safety grille placed at about 2-3ft below the top slab. This ensures that no mishaps occur even if the slab were to give way 

So, yes, the final costs for the well are based on the above. The above elements can be of varying designs and qualities and that would further impact costs

RWH training session on 24th June 2016 organized by NVIRON

Class room sessions
BIOME was invited as a trainer for a RWH training session organized by NVIRON (NVIRON Training Centre is one of the Asia’s emerging knowledge platforms on water and environment management. ) on 24th June 2016. The participants (all engineers) were from varied industries – from an amusement park, sugar factories in Bagalkot, 2 wheeler manufacturers, Andhra Pradesh Electricity board, KUWSDB and others. 
The training included sessions on the hows and whys of rainwater harvesting. It was interesting to understand the water management practices at each of these industries. 

  1. The sugar industries work only for 4-5 months of the year in the dry months and are closed in the monsoon months for maintenance and that is when they receive most of their rain. How does one store rainwater over long periods of time ? 
  2.  The 2 wheeler manufacturing industry manages only with harvested rainwater as well as treated waste water. However there were issues with the quality of harvested rainwater. 
    Water in the well
    At the theme park

The participants interest and experience with RWH ensured that all sessions stayed interactive. This led to good discussions as well as good learning for both the trainers and the trainees.

The afternoon session was a trip to the RWH Theme park (a good resource center for practical demonstrations of RWH) in Jayanagar, Bangalore.

Many thanks to NVIRON for the opportunity

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Common Wetland Plants

Chrysopogon zizanioides or commonly known as Vetiver.

Usually planted on the beach of the wetland
It is medicinal, controls erosion and a great pest repellent

Sources: Can be transplanted from an existing wetland. Can be bought or purchased at nurseries near Big Banyan Tree, kengeri, Bangalore


Alternanthera Philoxeroides or commonly known as Alligator weed.
Alligator weed has extremely vigorous growth and great tolerance of normal control measures. Planted minimally. Good fodder for cattle. 
Sources: This is commonly available in existing wetlands. Easy to transplant. Check Puttenahalli wetland, JP nagar. 

Typha Augustifolia or commonly known as Bull Rush.

It is planted on the beach of the wetland. It has a high nutrient absorption rate   
Sources: This is also commonly available in existing wetlands in Bangalore. Easy to transplant.
Check Jakkur Wetland, Jakkur lake.

Nelumbo nucifera or commonly known as Indian Lotus 

Free floating aquatic plant. It is planted at the botoom of the wetland and floats up. Regulates temperatures of water and reduces evaporation losses.
Sources: This is available in all major nurseries near Big Banyan Tree, Kengeri and on Kanakapura Road

Azolla Pinnata or commonly known as Mosquito Fern

Free floating aquatic plant. Generates nitrogen and is great fodder and a fertilizer. It absorbs certain amount of lead in water.
Sources: This is commonly available in existing wetlands. Easy to transplant. Regular harvesting of Azolla happens at Puttenahalli wetland, JP nagar.