Increasing groundwater dependency and declining urban water quality – A comparative analysis of four South Indian cities

This paper by the Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC) examines the extent of groundwater dependency and quality status in four South Indian cities viz., Hubli, Dharwad, Belgaum and Kolar cities. Widespread water shortage problems have resulted in increased dependency on groundwater with tapping the resources to unsustainable levels. In Karnataka, out of 208 urban local bodies that come under Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board, 41 depend on groundwater.

The paper is divided into four sections. First section gives a picture about the groundwater dependency in all the four cities. Second section addresses the impact of extraction on the quality issues and its status in the respective cities while the third section specifies the emerging trends and issues; followed by conclusion in the fourth section.

The research study sums up the following points –

  • There has been a lack of adequate attention to water conservation, efficiency in water use, water re-use, groundwater recharge, and ecosystem sustainability. 
  • In this context, various institutional mechanisms have been evolved and efforts made to tackle the situation. However, most of the problems are attended to only when these problems are acute and brought to the limelight during critical situations. 
  • The household survey in the four cities indicated dependency of 30, 51, 37 and 100 percent while the quality analysis indicated 45, 42, 22 and 97 percent as non-potable in the above cities respectively. Water markets captured a turnover of Rs. 50 crore in Hubli, Dharwad and Belgaum whereas in Bagepalli taluk, Kolar district alone, was Rs. 120 million/annum.
  • The Government and the public have invested heavily on creating and maintaining of assets for tapping groundwater mainly because of the unreliable and inadequate water supply. The public has been forced to look for alternative arrangements for meeting the water requirements without even questioning the authorities concerned. This, in turn, has made more provision for water business with poor regulations on exploitation.
  • There is a lot of interdependence, co-ordination problems and conflicts between agencies involved in the drinking water sector. To address this it was considered important to have a single institutional set up and currently Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB) is responsible for the management of water completely. As KUWSDB focuses only on water management, it has organised its work in a professional way in addressing the issues of water. 
  • There is adverse impact on the local environment due to the indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater. Quality impacts on the environment and health of the people have been awfully neglected. It is imperative that a holistic approach towards water management is implemented as per the designed guidelines.
  • The matter requires serious attention of the policy makers, environmentalists, academicians, NGOs and concerned citizens as a coordinated effort to make the water institutions accountable.

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