Digging up fossil-water is dangerous water-strategy. NASA & reports from IWMI have sounded out loud on India’s disproportionate dependence on groundwater, using satellite data to mark water-stressed parts of India. We are the world’s largest user of fossil-water (China which comes second uses only half the amount of groundwater we use), using about a quarter of the of the global total, says a World bank report cited in this Times of India article, Can Groundwater Use Be Charged?

There are nearly 5 lakh illegal borewells in just the national capital for extracting groundwater. A National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study says almost 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t have sufficient drinking water throughout the year.

The court passed the order on a PIL filed by Ramesh Ailwadi seeking a direction to governments to price the groundwater resource as is done in the case of water being supplied by local authorities.

“Undergroundwater forms part of natural resources and of which government is the guardian and has the responsibility to ensure that the same is distributed to subserve the common good. It is further the case of the petitioner that wastage of this precious resource by those who have been able to obtain groundwater installations violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.

 

Almost everyday, newspapers are replete with urban centers overdrawing their borewells — and most of this water goes towards construction and industry, leaving residents and the countryside thirsty.

Trivandrum: Builders dig up trouble with borewells

Major builders associated with construction of flats and villas have been found to have committed grave violations with regard to drilling of borewells and tube wells in the city. The groundwater department has received 40 complaints against various builders currently engaged in construction of apartments and flats, mostly in areas like Kazhakkoottam, Menamkulam, Attipra, Malayinkeezhu and Koliyakkodu.

 

Inspections conducted by the department following complaints from local residents against the builders have revealed that many realtors have used various ploys — from defragmentation of land to concealment of borewells — to tinker with the law.

Chennai, where the city takes water from the farmers:

Metro Water has built collection tanks in the villages, to which pipes laid across the farm lands will supply water. From the tanks, the water is pumped to pipes along the roads to Chennai. The villagers in Velliyur say that the water level is now at around 95 feet. “At about 100 feet, there are rocks. So only about five feet water is left. Gone are the days when which ever place we sunk a well, water will be available at just 20 feet,” says another villager, D Chandrasekar.

Lucknow: is it going dry?

With the city getting 60 per cent of its supply from groundwater, a report released by the UP groundwater department on Wednesday has led to alarm bells ringing — the city’s groundwater level has gone down by an average 3.6 m between 2006 and 2014 and an average of 2.5 m between 2012 and 2014.

Kolkata: Sucking up groundwater is leading to multiple issues, including risk of arsenic and fluoride poisoning

Though the supply of surface water has increased to 345 million gallon per day, the rising demand of water has led to indiscriminate boring — of both deep and shallow tube wells — in and around the city. Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) itself owns more than 264 deep and 10,000 shallow tube wells. By a conservative estimate, more than 400 million litre is being pumped out daily. But the actual figure is more than this.

According to the Centre for Groundwater Studies, a sharp drop in the number of waterbodies has raised dependence on groundwater across the city. Moreover, since groundwater has been tapped without any concern for quality, a majority of the population is using water with excess levels of arsenic and fluoride.

 

Of the 144 wards that the city is divided into, as many as 77 have ‘high’ levels of arsenic in groundwater, shows a study by the School of Environmental Studies (SOES) of Jadavpur University. In 32 of these 77 wards, the arsenic level is ‘dangerously high’, and traces of the deadly metalloid were found in samples drawn from 32 more wards, but the level was within permissible limits.

 

In Kolkata, there is hardly any exposed area through which groundwater can be ‘recharged’. Trees serve the purpose to a great extent. But destruction of greenery and rampant concretization of open areas have minimized that possibility as well. On an average, there is depletion of groundwater by 2 feet each year. Accordingly, the depletion will be 20 feet in next 10 years, said Somendra Mohan Ghosh, who has been working on groundwater contamination.

How should a city or an urban center manage its water? How do groundwater and surface water play with each other?

How can planning and nurturing multiple water sources prevent over-dependence and hence depletion of any one?

S. Vishwanath sums up the situation in South India and offers a strategy:

The news has not been so good on the urban water supply front. Bidar town is set to get water only once a week thanks to depleting storage in the reservoirs. The water supply to Bengaluru comes from the Cauvery river, fed from the KRS reservoir. The levels here are low as is the inflow. Chennai is bracing for water shortage and tapping into aquifers from the Neyveli mines and Tiruvalluvar district as its reservoirs reach precariously low levels. The situation is the same in Hyderabad with both the Himayatsagar and Osmansagar reservoirs nearly reaching dead storage levels. In Mangaluru the problem was of a different kind. A pipeline damage thanks to some debris being piled up on it, caused the city to have no water supply for five days.

All these examples indicate the frailty of depending on a single source of water. In Mangaluru, the good old open wells that dotted almost every house in the city came to the rescue. In Chennai, thanks to the yeoman service rendered by the Rain Centre, groundwater actually showed a rise in the city overall. Chennai also has two desalination plants running to supplement its water needs. Hyderabad wants to link its rain-fed reservoirs to the Srisailam Dam built on the Krishna. Bidar has taken up extensive desilting of tanks and wells in a large way so as to be able to harvest every drop of the remaining monsoon.

While the big ticket actions such as desalination plants and linking to far-off dams is a safety measure they have huge water and energy footprints. Looking at the local aquifers, managing and nursing them well, harvesting rainwater for recharge, recycling and reusing waste-water are all steps that not only government but many citizens can take. Mangaluru can seriously look at the Chennai example and encourage house-hold level wells and recharge of the wells through rainwater harvesting.

A point to note is a constant monitoring and feedback loop that initiatives such as river revival, tank desilting and well rejuvenation need to be put to. It is not merely a question of intervening once and creating a capital asset but monitoring with data how they are performing, the benefits accrued and then fine-tuning things for optimal performance.