Charge & recharge mantra to solve Bangalore’s water crisis

Monday, 10 May 2010 - 9:26am IST
DNA initiates a discussion among experts in the field who want residents to realise the preciousness of water and use it judiciously so that we will not run out of water resources.

Bangalore gets its water from River Cauvery, about 100 km away. As the levels dip and temperatures soar, the summer could leave us parched. DNA initiates a discussion among experts in the field who want residents to realise the preciousness of water and use it judiciously so that we will not run out of water resources.

Do you feel enough is being done to cope with the water crisis?
Ranganathan: Bangalore has practically run out of water. It’s going to face a severe crisis in the next couple of weeks. The fast expanding city has multi-storey apartments, gated communities, all running out of water. People call complaining that their bore wells have run dry.

John Daniel:
  We have enough water as far as rain water harvesting is concerned. High-rises and gated communities should look into waste water management techniques, which can take care of some of their water needs. Use pure rain water for potable purposes. It is abundant. The question is how it can be collected, purified, and used. The water crisis is due to mismanagement of water and not unavailability.

Shivkumar: Bangalore has enough resources but careful planning has to go with it. The current supply system has to be overhauled to reduce the loss and regulate the supply. Water supply has to be need-based. That done, we should ensure effective usage of water which comes from several resources like the Cauvery river, ground water and rain water harvesting. Ground water must be systematically tapped. Recycled water can fulfill our needs to a limited extent too. Dual water supply schemes, conservative measures and law enforcement in relation to ground water harvesting or storm water drains should be put in place. Public-private participation is th e need of the hour.

Not all of Bangalore has a problem. There are households in Bangalore that are getting adequate water. Those that face problems are the poor and those in the suburbs, who are not connected to the network. There are also those whose bore wells have stopped yielding water. Bangalore has more than 200,000 bore wells, of which 100,000 are functional. Historically, Bangalore has been a pioneer in developments with regard to water like being the first to use steam engines to pump water into the city or first to use electricity to bring water into the city. In 1944, it became the first city to use meters to measure the amount of water supplied. If we look at all forms of water as an urban hydrological cycle, we do not have a problem for the next 50 years. Out of the 135 LPCD (litres per capita per day), only about 10 litres is used for cooking and drinking purpose per person.

Ramasheshu: The forest cover has reduced drastically from 54% in 1970 to 14%. The water bodies have also decreased from 4% to 0.75%. And this has had a severe impact on ground water. The recharge has reduced, leading to a decline in water table, in turn, reducing yields. Another problem is that of pollution. A mechanism that controls the dumping of wastes in water bodies has to be put in place. A lot of ground water is entering the storm water drains and therefore is getting wasted. If something can be done to stop it from reaching the sewage water, a lot of good water can be saved. While we can conserve rain water we could also pay more attention to that which is available and attend to the problem at its source. The mechanism of treating water which is applied in many countries around the world should be done here too.
What can be done? Is recharge and rain water the only solution?
Vishwanath: Normal recharge numbers for tanks and lakes is about 10 millimetres per day per square metre area; about 10 litres of water recharges in a lake in Bangalore environment. If we make a recharge well in a good zone, the recharge rate is 6,000 litres per day. It is 600 times that of a lake or a tank.

Shivkumar: It is called as accelerated recharge.

Water from the rainfall is about 3,000mld (million litres per day) and the total volume that will come from Cauvery at the end of all schemes is 1,500mld. Our challenge is how we push 50% of this into the ground. Just 50% and you have 1,500 mld from rain water and if you recycle 1,000mld which you can. You have 1,500 mld from Cauvery, 1,500mld from rain water and 1,000mld as recycled water and that is 4,000mld. The idea is also that production cost of ground water. Ground water with rain water harvesting is Rs 6 per kilolitre and Cauvery water costs Rs 48 per kilolitre. It makes ecological and economic sense to use rain water harvesting.

Shivkumar: What we need is action: what can be done immediately to see where all water conservation measures can be taken. From citizens’ side, how best we can account for water we are getting already. Can you divert it to neighbours who don’t get it? Can we pull up our socks and say that we harvest rain and use it judiciously so I can share good quality of water with those who don’t receive it. This is a social issue. If this three-pronged approach is taken up more or less in an immediate situation, things will fall in place. There are so many things – infrastructure, our culture, the way the city is growing – these are beyond anyone’s control. BWSSB is in charge of water, BBMP is in-charge of storm water and forest department is in charge of lakes. They say they don’t want road water and push it to storm water drains. Flooding is blamed on others and they say there is too much water. Can we stop the blame game and have a common institution that takes up responsibility.

John Daniel: RWH is the need of the hour. Another thing is ground water has to be regulated. There are some places where there are 15 to 20 bore wells in 30 ft x 40 ft site, which is being sold by tankers. Water belongs to everybody. It isn’t about making money or selling ground water. We have plenty of water, we need to focus on managing that water. In fact, the city has flooding issues. If you look at places that have less water, like Rajasthan, they have managed water better than places that have ample water. Every one should do their bit. Save or recharge as much as you can.

I discovered while working with the communities that resident welfare associations agreed that we have to reduce the consumption of water. Women piped up and said we end up storing water because there isn’t enough. When I asked them what they do with that stored water once the water comes back in the tap, they said they pour down all that stored water, because they believe that one day old water is stale and not fit for consumption. And these are huge containers of 40-50 litres. Can you imagine the sheer wastage?
One thing that is lacking is that people who build these large apartments do not build them  in a way that is friendly.  You can’t even monitor how much water each flat uses. If you can monitor water going into the apartments, then you can tell these apartment owners that these are the slabs according to which they will be charged for water. The higher the consumption, the more one will have to pay. We believe that some amount of discipline will come in and people will begin to conserve water. How can you change the situation unless the builders do something about it? There are thousands of apartments; what can you do? In fact, some builders have asked me – Water security, what is that? It isn’t our problem, it is the buyers’ problem.

The city is concretised. With the monsoon a month away what can be immediately done to store or recharge ground water?
Only 30% rainfall used to go into the system. Now you see the run off has increased with this concretisation. Eighty per cent of water that falls on rooftops has increased. This can be put back into the ground water system from each house. If possible directly use this water. We never say that put it into the ground because if you use that then you don’t use water from bore well, ground water is saved. If you cannot store, try to put it into the ground. That is what we advocate. It begins by harvesting of rains. Fifty per cent of your water is rain water. Eighty per cent of rainfall is on that so that water can be directly used. By using rain water, 30 to 40% Cauvery water can be saved.

Vishwanath: Add to that, design and make the storm water drains smart. You have make storm water drains so that they do not carry sewage. These storm water drains can be designed as recharge wells and it can handle all the run off generated by rains. Design smart roads, it will help recharge the ground water as well as reduce flooding. Even now you can put recharge wells and pits, in storm water drains, immediately. That is what the authorities’ in charge should do.

Isn’t it difficult to enforce rain water harvesting on the whole population? Do you think it can work effectively?
All the houses have to manage by themselves and not depend on the BWSSB. There is no political will to raise the prices. Every family that consumes up to 25,000 litres a month gets a subsidy of Rs 1,000. Rationing will come with only pricing mechanisms, legislation mechanisms and through information education and communication. The citizen of Bangalore can be responsible if he is given the right information.

Ranganathan: In the US, the cost of water that comes out of a house is more than that of the water which is supplied to the house due to the recycling charges. People then automatically think of conserving. The subsidy on water has to be removed; people should know the value of water.

Ramasheshu: A comprehensive solution has to be arrived at after carefully examining the various aspects. People should be made accountable for every drop of water they use. There has to be stricter rules and regulations. The government has to take into account the amount of water available and accordingly use water. Proper management has to go to make this possible.

Ranganathan: People facing water shortage sometimes have to rely on tankers that provide water which actually is in some cases diluted sewage water. The government has to make provisions to check the amount of water every building consumes and then control the use.

Shivkumar: If there are no bore wells then Bangalore will go dry. There should be sustainable use of bore well water. Reuse of water can happen through bore wells. Open wells have to be recreated and then larger problems will by themselves find solution. Most people don’t know how much water they use or how much they are being charged. There is no accountability.

Compered by: Prahlad Rao
Reported by: Odeal D’Souza

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