In a Bengaluru neighbourhood, workmen dig a recharge well in order to replenish the underground water supplies drained by unregulated wells. Photo credit: Patralekha Chatterjee
Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore, a metropolis 11 million people call home in India, contains thriving start-ups, software giants and multinational corporations (MNCs) like Amazon.com, Oracle and Samsung. But the growing technology sector not only represents India’s economic vitality and increasing urban upward mobility; it also epitomises the threat to one of the nation’s most critical resources: Water. Bengaluru’s water supply is running out.
Part of the issue can be attributed to the drought that struck India earlier, plunging reservoir levels down to dangerous standards. But the problem has been exacerbated by the unchecked and unregulated extortion of precious groundwater that is draining subterranean aquifers.
Those who have the financial means to drill a borewell in order to draw up groundwater has done so, and it is particularly common in the newer areas where the tech enterprises are bundled closely together, and where many of the employees reside.
Concern about the water running out is growing. “I fear the day when I will have soap all over my face and there is not a drop of water coming out of the tap,” Krishnaraj Rao, one of the employees for a tech enterprise, said in an interview with Citiscope.
Now, Rao has joined an innovative programme with two goals titled the ‘Participatory Aquifer Mapping Project’ that toils to make sure that does not occur.
One such goal is to involve and educate citizens about the boreholes around them so that the water managers can better understand what is going on with the aquifers underground and how they can respond to it. The second is to teach the residents about the finite and unseen underground resources, and get them to strategise methods in which they can go about using it more efficiently and prudently.
The programme had first been formally initiated in 2015, the first of its kind in urban India. Now, the project has extended to include schools, residents, local businesses, slum communities, and service providers like plumbers, well diggers and water-quality testing laboratories.
Social media have become essential avenues where locals can discuss and debate various strategies that can be used to conserve water.
Rao stated that the project had educated residents and locals a lot more in groundwater and where it comes from. “We started monitoring all water leakages and also tracking out daily consumption of water,” he said. “Through this new water management strategy, we hope to become much more self-sufficient in water. It is just that we lacked awareness earlier.”
A community taking part in this project is the Adarsh Palm Retreat, an affluent gated residence for many of Bengaluru’s employees.
A water solution had first come upon the residents in the form of an annoyance. During the annual rainy season, homeowners would often find water flooding their basements, the result of an overflowing shallow aquifer no one had any knowledge about. Their borewells were extracting the water from deeper aquifers while this source of water went undiscovered.
Biome studied the issue and soon presented the residents with a solution; instead of continuing with the method of obtaining water from the deeper aquifers, the residents could take their water from the recently-discovered shallow aquifer with the installation of a new system of “recharge wells”. And no new boreholes would be dug to the deeper sources.
To keep replenishing the water in the shallow aquifer, rainwater would be collected from the community perimeter and channelled underground to the recharge wells supplying the aquifer. The residents would still be taking water from the ground, but they would also be refilling it.
“We woke up when some of us had our basements flooded,” Rao, who is a resident of the Adarsh Palm Retreat and a member of its water management committee, said. “The good news is that we have discovered that this area is blessed with shallow aquifers that we can tap.”
Another community taking a comparable route named Rainbow Drive actually began before the ‘Participatory Aquifer Mapping Project’ was initiated, with the community developing into a water self-sufficient one from their original water-stressed roots.
“Rainbow Drive never got municipal water, but we did not care,” K.P. Singh, a resident of Rainbow Drive, said. “Unmetered and free water was one of the sales pitches used by the builder to attract people to the area.”
But what no one comprehended at the time was that the “free water” mentioned signified deep boreholes extracting water from the deep aquifers, slowly draining them.
“In 2002 [to] 2004, we started a residents’ welfare association. We had realised that this groundwater was a resource we were mining from below and it will eventually get scare if we did not do anything else. That was the early awareness and education,” Singh added. “We were in touch with Biome, which ran a rainwater club. Biome made us understand about the need to harvest rainfall, and about sustainability.”
The community welfare association elected to dig recharge wells in 2007, along with installing water meters in homes and installing a pricing system that charged according to the rate of consumption. It had cost each homeowner about 25,000 rupees (USD$366).
“Earlier, many people kept taps running, washed cars frequently. Lots of wastage,” Singh said. “Today, we are the only colony in this area that does not have to worry about water.”
It had not been easy to convince the residents to change their lifestyle. At first, majority of the Rainbow Drive residents did not wish to contribute their money to the building of the recharge wells, but they had been persuaded in the end.
“People understand the language of money,” Singh said. “I said, ‘If you want your property to have any value, you have to have your own water. Otherwise your property value can come to zero. Invest now in recharge wells and you don’t have to depend on water from private tankers. The value of property which is water self-sufficient is higher’.”
Director of Biome Solutions, Viswanath Srikantaiah, stated that instances like these display the fact that Bengaluru has the tools, resources, and ability to resolve its own water issues. People would be ready and inclined to assist once they understand how reliant their lives are on water, and how limited groundwater is.
“We wanted to involve everyone in the conversations around groundwater use – well diggers, tanker operators, residents of rich gated communities, government schools,” Srikantaiah said. “We are not in the business of creating a plan or a map. We are in the business of triggering necessary conversations. We are nudgers. Communities do the work. We want people to say, “We did it ourselves’.”