Observing water in nature

January 24, 2008


Observation – The key to good water sensitive design


As large sites are taken up for development designing sustainable water systems becomes both an art and a science. While at the individual household level water management is relatively simple, involving such elements as installing water conserving devices , designing for water harvesting, arranging for water efficient gardens, ensuring recharge of ground water, reusing grey water and possibly recycling sewage water things are a bit more complex at layout levels or at development levels averaging over an acre.
Scale: The scale of the solution can be at individual household level, at the community level and at the city scale. The term community encompasses streets or wards, neighbourhoods or even gated communities of flats and apartments. Generally the principle of subsidiarity prevails, try to find the solution at the lowest possible level of ownership. Escalate the solution only if it is inevitable.
Community level actions for water have been numerous and are worth emulating. In a small town close to Bangalore a community of volunteers got together to clean an old ,large open well. This well had become a dumping ground for garbage and water seeping through this garbage was further contaminating the ground water. Citizens came together slowly and gradually, working on Sundays and cleaned up the well. The process has moved on to other such open wells and these citizens are now engaging with the authorities to ensure the revival of as many such water bodies as possible. It was the observation power of one concerned citizen that lead to a town wide movement to engage with open wells.
In Chennai citizen groups have come together to revive many temple tanks aided by organizations such as the Rotary and several Civil society groups. In Jaipur a multi-national corporation has come forward to help restore an old ‘Bawdi’ – a step well dating centuries. All these examples are of individuals or groups thinking beyond self for taking action.

Within the boundary: At a very large scale development in Mysore, a project is under development and expansion for a software company. It is a residential campus covering more than 200 acres of land. A typical design for a water system would have looked at the piped water option coming to the campus and designed the water supply around it. To cater to the pollution control norms a sewage recycling system would have been set up and the treated water used for landscaping purpose. At times when the piped water failed to arrive, private water tankers would have brought in the emergency water requirement.
A walk around the campus with an eye for water however revealed the presence of a spring on site. For those with a internet connection http://youtube.com/watch?v=3_qmbgiUkIQ will give a flavour of how a spring looks.

Conversations with the locals revealed that this was perennial. An old well with water indicated a good shallow aquifer. A pump test confirmed a reliable and reasonable yield. It was clear that a discharge zone existed on site and that the recharge area needed to be clearly identified and steps taken to enhance recharge.

Observation, walking around, talking and looking out for the right things helped take appropriate water harvesting and water management decisions. Three wells were dug and over 200 kilo litres of water are available through them daily. Recharge structures are being designed to enhance shallow aquifer content and keep them full. The spring is a good and reliable indicator of the water in the shallow aquifer as well as base flows.

At a city scale: Understanding the water cycle from source to sink for a city is crucial. How many know what is happening in the catchment of source rivers which provide water to a town? What will be the impact of climate change? It would be therefore important to look at the water features around a town and enhance their storage and recharge capacity. It would also do good to be observational and feed in to the system the management of all surface water bodies and ground water structures such as wells.

The management of water on a large site is not merely engineering in solution but also involves hydro-geology and an understanding of the land and its characteristics. With multiple sourcing of water a reality in present times, a holistic learning around water and its management needs to evolve. This involves a cultural, ecological, hydro-geological and technical approach. Only when we bring in all these sensibilities will sustainable water management become a reality. This is water wisdom.


One comment

  1. What one has learnt, (and conciously a lot of it of late) is that different people relate to water (or anything else in nature) differently. And observing water in nature is really about this relating to water.

    I remember playing as a child, with my cousins, in my uncle’s farm in a brooke with knee deep water. We spent a lot of time there. Sometimes little weeds would get stuck between the toes. And the farm labourers would wash themselves in the brooke and we would play with them splashing water. And the cows would come there. And it would irrigate the paddy field. Today the brooke has gone almost dry. The paddy is gone – its arecanut irrigated by a borewell. My nephew also loves playing with water. Its a little tub with water he sits and splashes around in, in the bathroom most of the time.

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