Water security for residents of apartments & gated communities in Bangalore - An article by SS Ranganathan

Bangalore has grown phenomenally over the last 25 years and the pleasant ‘rural scenery’of what once were the ‘outskirts’ of Bangalore has given way to forests or jungles of concrete. These are the multi-storeyed apartment complexes which have mushroomed all over, with gated communities making a break in this concrete jungle. One wonders where the residents of these complexes and communities will find the water to live a reasonably normal life.

Mr. S.S. Ranganathan, author of this guest post, is a retired senior executive of Ion Exchange and currently a consultant based in Bangalore.

He can be reached at: ss.ranganathan@gmail.com , +91-9343734229

WATER SECURITY FOR THE RESIDENTS OF APARTMENTS & GATED COMMUNITIESS.S.Ranganathan

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Bangalore has grown phenomenally over the last 25 years and the pleasant ‘rural scenery’of what once were the ‘outskirts’ of Bangalore has given way to forests or jungles of concrete. These are the multi-storeyed apartment complexes which have mushroomed all over, with gated communities making a break in this concrete jungle. One wonders where the residents of these complexes and communities will find the water to live a reasonably normal life.

Let us be very clear, only a Water Management Consultant like me would wonder about the availability of water whereas those who are going to be or have already become residents of these complexes and  communities believe that all it takes is to drill a bore well and water will gush out in perennial abundance!

Over the past year or two, worries about their water security have begun to surface among some of these apartment complexes and communities and they have reached out to people like me for help. Most of these, particularly apartment complexes have reached out when they experienced either a drastic decline in the yield of their bore wells or a bore well running dry. A few of them have seriously started thinking of what could be done if they begin to experience serious shortages of water. Water security has become more than just jargon for these residents.

I have been called by many Residents’ Associations of apartment complexes in two different types of situations:

  •  The builder has asked the Residents’ Association to take over the entire property as they have completed the one year of looking after the property (this is the one year defects liability period) and operate the water and other infrastructure that had been built. Now that they have been asked to take over, they are not sure what they will be taking over and hence have sought expert help to sort things out and tell them if they are getting what they have paid for.
  • The Residents’ Association has taken over the property and is now finding lots of things going wrong. They are now looking for an expert or consultant to study the situation and give them a solution to the various problems they are facing. In most cases they have a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) that does not work, quite a few have Water Treatment Plants that do not work and a few have dysfunctional Swimming Pool Purification plants (SPP).

These are my findings after visiting numerous properties to sort out the problems that the Residents Association has listed. In fact I have also done a detailed technical audit at over a dozen properties at the request of the builder who had completed the one year defects liability period and wanted to hand over the properties to the respective Residents’ Associations with everything in working order.

Fresh water Resources

Every single one of the properties visited had only ground water from bore wells as the only source of fresh water. In a few cases bore well yields had declined so drastically that tanker water was brought in daily to take care of over 50% of the daily requirement. In most of these cases, close to 10 or more tankers of water was being delivered daily into the main water storage tank into which whatever was being pumped from the declining bore wells was also being stored.

Water requirements for each property has been calculated based on CPHEEO (Central Public Health & Environmental Engineering Organization) guidelines for ‘liters per capita daily’(lpcd) at the rate of 150 lpcd per person. However not a single property had even a water meter at the various tank inlets or outlets to measure water filled in or pumped out daily. Attempts to ascertain if the Residents’ Association and the agency operating the water infrastructure knew the total water consumption got some very vague responses. In a few cases, water meters were installed to verify and after a week of monitoring consumption, the total consumed daily was found to be at least 15 to 50% more than the figure given by the associations.

This exercise also showed that volumes delivered by each tanker varied from tanker to tanker and from supplier to supplier. In all cases the quality of water from each tanker supplier varied depending on the source of water and quality was uniformly worse than what each property was getting from its own bore wells.

It was pointed out to each property visited that they urgently needed to put in place measures to conserve water, and, that this was not possible unless they were able to measure the daily consumption. WHAT CAN NOT BE MEASURED CAN NOT BE CONTROLLED OR CONSERVED.

Abusing ground water

At many of the properties, it was possible to get from the Residents’ Association the detailed reports on the bore wells giving the recommendations on what would be the maximum daily yield from each well, what should be the maximum rate at which water should be pumped out, the duration of each pumping and the rest/recovery period to be allowed after pumping is stopped for each well. Invariably each and every report shown to me on the bore wells ended with a final recommendation that the well should be recharged with harvested rain water.

Without exception, in every property I have visited and which was able to show me reports on the bore wells used, (abused would be more appropriate) the wells were operated in total violation of the recommendations in the report for the well. I  have observed  that a well or wells with the best yield is pumped for 8 to 10 hours at  a stretch and wells with lower yields were hardly being used, except when the over-pumped wells have failed (gone dry). It comes as no surprise that wells go dry with such amazing regularity.

By and large the maximum depth to which wells have been drilled is approximately 600ft (approx 200 meters). Attempts to drill deeper have not met with any water until drilling reached depths of 1000ft or more! The quality of water drawn from such depths is not fit for human use without extensive treatment (usually Reverse Osmosis); add to this the cost of electricity to pump out water from such depths, and the total cost per liter of water becomes  prohibitive.

Rain Water Harvesting


In virtually all the properties visited, builders have shown the residents the pipes that bring the rainwater from the rooftops to the ground and have connected these to the storm water drains telling the residents that this is how ground water would be recharged. Many residents’ associations have believed this because they do not know any better!! There was one property where the builder had piping installed to take all rain water to the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP)!!! No wonder the residents complaint was that the STP seldom worked but the worst period was during the monsoon!!

Water Treatment Plants


A majority of properties had water treatment plants (WTP) comprising a water softener preceded by a sand filter. Uniformly, all were cheap units assembled with poor quality components and wrongly designed. None of them were ever operated correctly at any time and none of the agencies operating them had test kits to test if the softener was giving properly softened water at any time.

Sewage Treatment Plants


One of the most critical and important parts of the water infrastructure of a residential or for that matter a commercial property is the STP. It is here that ALL builders barring a couple of small environmentally conscious builders cheat the buyers of their property shamelessly. They team up with small companies who do not know a great deal about STPs. These ‘partnerships’ install the most basic (read this as crude) STPs which in all cases were under designed and in actual practice seldom worked. Many properties therefore had partially treated sewage stored in their tanks from where the water would flow to the flushes in the toilets. Whenever toilets were flushed, the stink was unbearable and the colour of the ‘water’ that came out of the flush tank was black. Residents were so disgusted with this nuisance that their associations would call companies that were prepared to take away in tankers the untreated sewage and dispose of it ‘suitably’.

This, I discovered, meant that the tanker is taken out on one of the many roads leading out of Bangalore and, at a spot where there was open land, the tanker would empty its load when no one was looking! Some other residents would either use fresh water from the bore wells or buy tanker water in quantities sufficient to dilute the so called ‘treated  sewage’ and then use it for toilet flushing!
 
Sewage treatment, particularly that which treats domestic sewage is called the Activated Sludge Process and was developed many decades ago. This is basically an Aerobic process that requires large quantities of air to be made available to the STP. Most builders install the badly designed STPs in the basements of their properties where it becomes difficult to operate (lack of adequate volumes of air) and an absolute nightmare to maintain.

Quality of Manpower used for operation of  WTPs, STPs and SPPs

There are any number of Agencies/companies that ‘specialize’ in operating such plants.

They use the cheapest manpower available (now increasingly uneducated and illiterate workers from UP, Bihar, Orissa and MP); these untrained ‘operators’ cannot operate any system the way it is supposed to and end up just pumping water through the WTP/SPP. With STPs it becomes ‘sewage in sewage out’. Resident Welfare Associations have become addicted to such low cost agencies that they simply will not consider the professional agencies that have the required technical expertise and trained manpower simply because they say they are too expensive. Hence in a way Residents Associations are in a mess simply because they want everything at the lowest cost.

My message to all prospective buyers of residential property is “ Buyer Beware!!!”.

- S.S. Ranganathan

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Related Links:

More of Mr. Ranganathan’s writings can be seen on Ask A Question where he is a frequent advisor to people with water problems.

Rainwater harvesting resources

A primer for people buying an apartment

Angiogram of a Borewell: Ever looked deep inside a borewell? Ever wondered how water magically appears every day when you pump a borewell?

Click here to watch unique video footage inside a borewell

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