Building water security

Let’s be water wise for a secure future

A couple of months back when Virat Kohli, the Indian cricked captain was fined by Municipal Corporation, Gurugram for washing his cars with running water from a pipe, one of my friends could not believe that this was an offence liable for penalty. Her reaction was obviously based on the assumption that water is a free commodity or gift of nature to be used willy nilly by all.

Not any more. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. As per Niti Aayog, India is facing a water crisis with around 50 per population experiencing high-to extreme water shortage. By next year, 21 Indian cities will run out of ground water.  And by 2030, if proactive water management steps are not undertaken, 40 per cent of India would have no ground water and no access to drinking water. Globally, India is ranked 120among 122 countries in the world that are facing an acute water crisis. 

It’s not very difficult to understand why we reached this situation. With average decline in rainfall in most regions of the country year-after-year and reckless extraction, ground water has been falling drastically. Rivers, lakes and wells have been drying up. The fact that forests are being cut, and green cover reduced, does not help either. Besides, there is no water management — India does not even store one-tenth of its annual rainfall neither is there any focus on recycling grey water and rejuvenating water bodies. What is worrisome is the fact that there are growing inequalities in water availability– people in villages in Marathwada walk for several miles to get a bucket of water while in cities some continue to pilfer and waste it.

Cut to Gurugram. The story is the same except that it is heightened by several times.  Ground water is falling drastically – by 1 to 3 metres every year – faster than the Indian average due to rampant extraction for construction, industrial and residential use through illegal borewells. Ground table has fallen from 15 feet in 1990 to 80 feet in 2010 in the city. Because of heavy concretisation, enough rain water is neither absorbed nor the run-off water gets accumulated in disappearing water bodies.

Buildings have been built right on a dried water body or else water bodies have been reduced to waste dumps. Natural drains have been concretised or have ceased to exist. Storm water drains are clogged and their carrying capacity has become limited. Besides, the pipeline infrastructure is faulty and has leakages due to which a substantial part of water gets wasted in supply.  There is very little recycling of grey water. Overall, there is no focus on conservation, restoration, recharge or reuse.

The city and community level solutions to water management are largely well-known. At the city and community level, sealing illegal borewells, ensuring rainwater harvesting compliance, restoring and adding water bodies, saving Aravallis that is a natural acquifier and water recharge zone, installing decentralised waste water systems for recycling, improving maintenance of pipes and pumping stations and ensuring water metering are some of the steps that need to be taken. Water efficiency alone can reduce water demand by a significant 25 per cent.    

At an residential level, putting waste RO water to use in gardening, not using pipes to clean cars or to water plants, opting for bucket bath instead of a shower bath, using water more judiously in cleaning utensils, installing rainwater harvesting systems and maintaining it, not allowing water tanks to overflow and using water efficient fixtures and appliances are some of the measures to save water.  

These solutions will now be reinforced with greater vigour by the centre and local municipalities. Nationally, the government has launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) to rejuvenate the water sector, much on the lines of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Covering water-stressed blocks in 255 districts across the country, the JSA focuses on a) rainwater harvesting, b) reuse of treated waste water, c) rejuvenation of water bodies, and plantation. Urban local bodies (ULBs) will have to ensure that government and public buildings, institutions and all group housing societies have rainwater structures. Strict enforcement of building bye-laws with respecting to rainwater harvesting also needs to be taken up. Treated water can be used for horticulture and toilet flushing, agriculture, construction and industrial activity. The National Urban Sanitation Policy 2008 mandates reuse of at least 20 per cent of treated waste water. Besides, each city must initiate action to revive at least one water body under JSA. Plantation near water bodies, public spaces, parks and on roadside to improve green cover needs to be undertaken. The focus will be on citizen’s participation and funds are being allocated by the centre to the ULBs.

Gurugram has had a headstart in launching its water restoration programmed titled “Gurujal” under the aegis of JSA. A helpline number 18001801817 to register water-related complaints, suggestions and feedback has been launched. Data collection for all borewells in the city is underway. Teams have been formed to check illegal extraction of water and compliance of rainwater harvesting systems. Awareness drives with RWAs, schools, NGOs, panchayats, builders and corporates are also being planned.

Interestingly, in one of the manuals of Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Garden Estate Colony of Gurugram features as a case study for best practices in rainwater and surface-run off harvesting features as a best practice. The colony has captured 46 per cent of the rainwater harvesting potential and improved its water table by 1.7 metres. If Garden Estate can do it, other too can. All it takes is willingness to turn a downward cycle into a positive spiral. 

In 2016, Gurugram water table hit so low that it was declared a dark zone. Its high time we become water wise — conserve water, spread awareness for water consciousness, help revive a water bodies, plant trees and also be more vigilant and report water wastages just as the aware neighbour of our esteemed cricketer dared to do. After all, it will take everyone’s effort to turn the tide.

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