Dealing with water shortage in Bangalore

When I first heard that two-thirds of our body is made of water, I was stunned. How could that be? When I have so much water in my body, how come I can stand erect and have so much strength? These are some very intriguing questions that bothered me as I grew up. Little I know about the strength and importance of water. Till almost my teenage, I took water for granted, because we lived in a secure Government township, where water supply was never a problem. Once, we came out and started living in a busy locality in Bangalore, I realized after all everybody is not lucky to get uninterrupted supply of water and power! We had very severe water shortage back in 1970s, when Bangalore’s population was just 1.62 million while as per the 2011 census, it stood at 9.62 million. Over a period of 30 years from 1970 to 2000 the population grew by 244%, while in the ten years between 2001 and 2011 itself, it grew by 47.18%.

In the 1960s, the number of tanks and lakes was 280 in Bangalore, which dwindled to less than 80 by 1993. While the water needs of the city were met by these tanks and lakes, the number of lakes kept coming down due to development and encroachment and hence since 1970s, the scheme to pump water from the Cauvery river by raising the water up by 500 metres was introduced. Way back in 2001, the demand for water was 750 million litres per day, while the actual supply was only 570 million litres per day and the per capita usage was about 105 litres per day as against the national standard of 150 litres per day. These figures must have gone up by leaps and bounds in the last decade because of the sporadic development activities and increasing encroachment of land by land sharks. Of the 280-285 lakes that Bangalore once had, 7 cannot be traced, 7 are reduced to small pools of water, 18 have been unauthorisedly encroached by slums and private parties, 14 have dried up and are leased out by the Government and 28 lakes have been used by the BDA (Bangalore Development Authority to distribute sites and build extensions for residential areas. Even the remaining lakes are in fairly advanced state of deterioration. (All these facts are as per Wikipedia)

The topographic setting of the city has radial slopes towards east and west with a smooth ridge running north to south; rainfall over the ridge area gets divided and flows east or west into the three gentle slopes and valleys of Koramangala–Challagatta, Hebbal and Vrishabavathi. Doddabettahalli 1,062 m (3,484.3 ft) is the highest point on this ridge. These naturally undulating terrain of hills and valleys, lends itself perfectly to the development of lakes that can capture and store rainwater. Small streams are formed by each valley starting with the ridge at the top. A series of shallow tanks varying in size are developed. The gentle topography has also good potential of groundwater development.

Bangalore, with annual rainfall of 900 mm (3.0 ft) with three different rainy seasons covering nine months of the year. June to October is the rainy season accounting for 64% of the total annual rainfall in the S-W monsoon period and 324 mm (1.1 ft)during the N–E monsoons (November – December.).[10] It has a salubrious climate with an annual mean temperature of 24 °C (75.2 °F)with extremes ranging from 37 °C (98.6 °F) to 15 °C (59.0 °F) .[9][12] The streams between ridges and valleys have been dammed at suitable locations creating a cascade of reservoirs in each of the three valley systems. Each lake stores rainwater from its catchments with excess flows spilling downstream into the next lake in the cascade.[9] The storm water runs off through drains only. These drains often carry sewage in it, which results in the lakes getting polluted. Many lakes have reportedly springs at the bottom of the lakes, some of which are stated to be choked due to silt, which also feed the lakes. It is sad that such a beautiful city, blessed by nature has been destroyed so much.

It is stunning to see that most of the prominent stadiums like the Kanteerava Stadium, the Football Stadium and the Hockey Stadium and many of the residential localities stand over murdered lakes.

This is the case of just one city, caught in the madness of the so-called development, which is nothing but man digging his own grave at jet speed. All of us do understand that development needs sacrifice of nature but not to this extent. A beautiful city of lakes and gardens is reduced to a city of garbage, rubbles and concrete jungle writ with severe problems of water scarcity and power shortage. The beautiful English weather that Bangalore enjoyed until 1970s has become history. We all lived without fans comfortably and tourists in fact used woolen clothing in Bangalore summers. Honeymoon couples rushed to Bangalore. But today, it is impossible to live here without a fan and many of the people have started using air-conditioners. The summer duration too has increased and Bangalore which used to get rains almost thrice a year suffers from failure of rains very often.

Every citizen of Bangalore loved greenery and had small gardens with at least a couple of coconut trees. Today, even huge complexes cement the entire surrounding areas. Added to that, the beautiful old trees along most of the roads of Bangalore have been felled heartlessly to widen the roads. Even the two lung spaces called Cubbon Park and Lalbagh have not been spared and concrete buildings or infra-structural constructions are gobbling up these parks from all sides like an octopus. Rainwater flows into the drainage causing floods in the lower areas. On the whole, Bangalore has become a big mess.

What could be done urgently?

All building owners, especially the huge apartment complexes, malls, office buildings and multiplexes have to be compelled to harvest the rainwater and use solar lighting/heating systems.

The existing greenery should be saved at any cost by proper planning instead of giving in to greedy short-sighted plans. Environmental scientists should be on the board of development committees and their suggestions should be seriously considered.

Owners of houses who grow trees, harvest rainwater and help in conservation of energy and water should be given incentives by way of tax-rebates.

A rule should be strictly enforced that every house should have at least a few metres of soil around the building to help water to percolate and improve the groundwater levels.

Unwieldy increase of bore-wells should be checked immediately.

Encroached lakes should be immediately recovered and the lakes developed with the cooperation of the local citizenry.

Land encroachers should be severely punished.

BWSSB should keep a tap on leaky pipes, repair them immediately. They should make surprise visits to houses and fine people not attending to leaking taps. Each citizen should be conscious not to waste even a drop of fresh water.

Parks and apartment complexes should be compelled to grow trees instead of maintaining ornamental gardens and lawns which only use more water and are of no help in eco-protection.

Reuse of wastewater should be introduced in all possible places for gardening, washing vehicles and bathrooms.

In public places, toilets with Indian commodes should only be built because the Western commodes use up more water, are not properly used and become unhygienic in such case. In most of the public toilets, the flush lever never works and people mess up the seat and the surrounding areas.

All the politicians, planners and citizens should think not just of today but the future and realize that fresh water is a scarce commodity and all of us have the responsibility of saving it for our children.

It is disgusting to see leaky water supply pipes unattended for days on end. When people in the slums are not supplied even drinking water free of cost, it is atrocious to see people in higher classes filling their sumps and tanks from the public taps in front of their houses through long hose pipes.

The importance of urban greenery to check air and noise pollution, improve groundwater resource, bring down the heat in the atmosphere and maintain bio-diversity is being highlighted time and again but the planners seem to totally ignore this point. Individuals do not need trees inside their compounds, outside their compounds on the roadsides, around malls and shopping complexes or parks. They get carried away by neat ornamental gardens, little realizing the damage that such gardens do to the ecology. Instead, a balanced mix of flowering shrubs and fruit yielding trees, medicinal plants and trees and ornamental climbers and creepers would do more good to the city.

Water scarcity is a serious problem and one that will lead to so many other problems like unhygienic living conditions, outbreak of epidemics, crime due to fights for water, etc. Let us all awake and start doing our best to save every drop of water.

Sudha Narasimhachar

E-mail: wordsofsudha@gmail.com

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Sudha Narasimhachar
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Harvesting rainwater, having a few metres of soil around every building, reclaiming lakes, growing trees, attending to leaky pipes and reusing wastewater are few remedial steps.
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