Water Sensitive Cities
In the hierarchy in which a city moves as regards its water management a water sensitive city is the ultimate goal. Along the path a city has to first become a water supply city where piped water reaches most if not all of the population, a sewered city where sanitation facilities reach a vast majority of the population such that public health and hygiene are no longer issues, a drained city where all storm water is adequately handled so as not to allow vector borne diseases to prevail or for flooding to occur, a waterways city where the aesthetics of water such as rivers and lakes become points of recreation and bio-diversity for the citizens to enjoy and the step before becoming a water sensitive city is a water cycle city where the entire urban hydrological cycle is managed sustainably with as low a footprint as possible. ( After A/Prof Rebekah BrownAdj Prof Mark Pascoe – Transitioning to water sensitive cities )
A water sensitive city would ensure high quality of water 24/7 to all its citizens, assured sanitation, well maintained water bodies and ground water with no pollution and a well-managed drainage system so as to eliminate flooding and be self-sufficient for its water needs through processes of recycling and reusing water , managing rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge.
In the case of Bangalore for example, the city will have to straddle all options at the same time as it grapples with myriad problems around water. Some issues are at a meta level and therefore escape the limelight. Do we have the right institution say for example to manage all our waters? Is there enough skill set to engage with all problems, plan accordingly with a vision and then translate the plan to action?
Take groundwater for example, in the absence of any legal framework and institutions to manage it carefully for the community a free for all reigns. People sink bore wells all over the place and commercial operators exploit the scarcity of water in the market and sell water of dubious quality and source to the people at large. Nearly half of the city’s water supply may actually be coming from bore-wells from essentially private sources. Water in the city has already been commoditised and privatised with no control or regulation. A water sensitive city will need to put in place a framework of management which will ensure sustainable and equitous use of the resource.
Take the artificial lakes or tanks in the city as another example. In the absence of a catchment management plan and any form of control on the drains bringing water to these tanks, managing it seems to take the role of a civil engineering endeavour sans rhyme or reason. In a water sensitive city the tanks would have a multifarious role such as recharge of groundwater, flood management, a recreational space , an ecological space, a space to receive and manage flood waters and a rainwater harvesting place not to mention a space for receiving treated waste water.
Universal access and equity is another failure. While the well-off access piped water and piped sewerage the poor who pay the most for both have to make to do with limited water of dubious quality. Access to sanitation remains a mirage and floods are endemic in low lying areas in any rainfall event. A water sensitive city would give universal access to water and sanitation as a human right and ensure adequate drainage so that there shelters are not subject to the vagaries of rain. Pricing of water would ensure access to all but also cost recovery to maintain the systems and wise and judicious use of water.
It is time that we set ourselves the vision of a water sensitive city and chalked out the policy, regulation and institutions required to make the vision a reality. We need to bolster our institutions with the required skill set such as hydro-geologists to manage groundwater, hydrologists and ecologists to manage surface water and community workers to ensure that the poor’s needs are articulated, incorporated in plans and then met on the ground.
That then is the path to water wisdom.