The culture of the well by S.Vishwanath

Article and Image Courtesy: The Hindu

The well represents a culture and an ethic that is crucial to the sustainable use of water. A well taps only the dynamic water-table, which is annually replenished. A look by our water expert S. Vishwanath

Water Wisdom: Drawing water from a well called for effort, and so water use was efficient and minimal

What is a well's relevance in a city now? It represents a culture and an ethic which is crucial to the sustainable use of water. A well taps only the dynamic water table which is annually replenished.

It gives fresh clean water if the surroundings are kept clean and the well itself maintained every year. It represents an understanding of soil and the ground which resulted in the first scientific approach to understand where to dig for it, how deep to dig, how wide to dig and how to line it. It was the meeting point for exchange of information and a daily walk or two and exercise in lifting the water. Because it called for effort, water use was efficient and minimal. You would hardly want to lift more water to waste it. This, in current parlance, is called demand management. The water from the well was free, the human right to water.

The well talks to you if you care to listen. It tells you that summer is approaching as water levels fall. You are asked to be prudent and conserve water. It tells you that this year the rainfall failed and is a drought year so there is very little water available. It also tells you about years of plenty when sometimes the well filled to the brim. Demand and supply was, therefore, based on ecological availability of rain and water and was dynamic.

Contrast this when man is distanced from the source of water with a utility as an intermediary. The borewell and the pipelines hardly converse with you and water is now distanced to be consumed as a commodity. When the resource runs out there is a feeling of betrayal and panic.

The culture had its ills. Wells were caste-based in certain areas with certain people not allowed to use it. It became polluted easily if not taken care of. Certain disease like cholera could spread easily if the water was not treated and people committed suicide in it.

Modern recharge wells

It is therefore heartening to see the revival of the well culture.

Rainwater harvesting being made mandatory has seen a proliferation of recharge wells- structures 3 to 5 feet in diameter and 10 to 30 feet deep are being dug and rooftop rainwater filtered and led into it. A recent visit to an apartment of 24 flats was enlightening. The occupants had dug seven recharge wells and made sure that every drop of water falling on the site was diverted to it. Over time the water levels had come up and could be seen in the open well itself.

The borewell, 200 feet deep, which had gone dry had revived and was yielding better than old times. Every time it rained the occupants would check that the system was functioning and that water was flowing into the recharge wells.

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