The need of the hour is formulate a strategy that takes into account nature based solutions in conjunction with the large reservoirs that we build.
Manasi Nikam | March 22, 2018
Day zero fast approaches Cape Town, one of the wealthiest towns in Africa. It’s been three years since the city has not received proper rainfall. The water reservoirs are depleting fast. The municipality will soon cut-off water supply. Rarely has any modern municipality in the world faced a water crisis of such severity. In 2008, Barcelona came close. And it now seems that even Sao Paolo, Brazil’s burgeoning city, will soon go down the same path unless the rain gods decide to favour them.
Speaking of cities, how does our very own Bengaluru cope with water challenges? The IT hub draws heavily from the Cauvery river, with more than 50% of the water that is reserved for domestic use in Karnataka diverted to fulfill the city’s needs. This water pumped from a distance of 100km and lifted up to a height of 540m by the BWSSB caters to 11 million people. Till 1896, unfiltered water was supplied to Bengaluru via multiple tanks within the city. In 1884, the river Arkavathi was identified as a resource and a reservoir was built near Hessarghatta. As water demands increased, a new reservoir was built at Chamraj Nagar. When the supply of water from Arkavathy fell short, the Cauvery River was identified as a resource. Expansion of the city and rise in population gave birth to Cauvery Stage I, II, III and IV projects.
Climate change made rainfalls an unreliable source of water. Thus citizens started banking upon underground water. The district irrigation plan of Bengaluru urban district shows that the net annual groundwater available is 11,723 hectare metres and actual groundwater consumption is 16,703 hectare metres. The stage of groundwater extraction in Bengaluru ranges from 128%-176%, varying as per taluk. This over-exploitation of groundwater is compounded with contamination. Reports by the Central Ground Water Board and Ground Water Directorate, Karnataka indicate that harmful chemicals such as nitrate, fluoride, arsenic are present beyond permissible limits in Bengaluru. The plummeting groundwater level and contamination can be attributed to concretization of the city. Lack of open spaces and wetlands in the city limit the ability of water to percolate into the ground.
The question arises: To what extent do we use our natural water bodies? Bengaluru’s lakes remain unutilized at best and polluted at worst. Bengaluru’s founder Kempegowda, keeping the in mind the city’s undulating terrain of slopes, made utmost use of the terrain by building lakes to support domestic and agricultural needs of the city. In 1962, there were 262 lakes in Bengaluru. Today, only 81 remain; golf courses, residential colonies, playgrounds and bus stands now occupy the space that once held lakes. The quality of water within the lakes has also degraded. A study by the Karnataka Pollution Control Board tested the quality of water in the lakes in November 2017. The lakes were classified into five categories, category E containing lakes with the worst water quality. None of the lakes were classified in A or B category. Moreover, 35 lakes were categorized into category D.
Lakes, wetlands and vegetation help recharge the ground water in the adjacent area. They can also be a source of drinking water and other household needs. The theme of World Water Day 2018 is nature based solutions (NBS) for the water challenges we face at present. The theme emphasizes on NBS like restoring forests, wetlands, grasslands reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses to help manage the quality and quantity of water.
In that context, there is a definite requirement to have a repository of all the existing water bodies to plan and allocate resources effectively. Public Affairs Centre (PAC), a Bangalore-based think tank where I work, has recently submitted a report to the Advanced Centre for Integrated Water Resources Management (ACIWRM). The report is based on the status of water resources, their development, management and governance in Karnataka and is a part of the State’s Action Plan on Climate Change, which aims to conserve and minimize wastage of water and ensure equitable distribution of water within the state. One of issues identified by the report was the co-ordination between the different government bodies that manage water bodies. As of now, there is an overlap of responsibilities as well as jurisdiction. Another problem identified by the report was that though participation of communities in managing local water bodies is a part of policy, there is no established framework that will allow citizens to work in tandem with civic authorities.
The citizenry of Bangalore have shown that they are more than willing to take ownership of the lakes in their vicinity. One such active citizen group in Bengaluru is Jalamitra coordinated with the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP), Karnataka Lake Catchment Development Authority (KLCDA), BWSSB (Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Company to clean up the Rachenahalli lake, Jakkur. Similar efforts have been made by other groups such as Friends of Lakes, United Bengaluru and Resident Welfare Associations like the Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Trust and the Yelahanka United Environment Association. The campus of my workplace - Public Affairs Centre too harvests rain-water and uses it for gardening purposes.
However, fragmented efforts by citizens and organizations are not sustainable in the long run. The need of the hour is formulate a strategy that takes into account nature based solutions in conjunction with the large reservoirs that we build. A more conscious citizenry and political will remain undoubtedly a pre-requisite for the better governance of water. Otherwise, it will not be long before Bengaluru encounters the same fate as Cape Town.
Manasi Nikam is a program associate with the Public Affairs Centre, a not for profit think tank based in Bangalore.
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