On the the need to return to a well culture

March 15, 2011

It ‘well’ plays a major role





Open wells talk to us and communicate many things. Now they tell us that summer is approaching with the lowering of the levels, and therefore to use water sparingly, says S. Vishwanath





A classic: The ‘Adalaj-Ni-Vav’ step-well in Gujarat



The open well is one of the oldest hydraulic inventions of mankind dating back to the Harappan civilisation and beyond. In Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, there is a well which is over 2,300 years old and still has water in it. In Dholavira, Gujarat, beautiful old open wells lined with brickwork still exist.

The well has provided humankind with life-giving water but somehow lost its way with the advent of the borewell and the pumping technology.

In Bangalore, on the outskirts and in places where there used to be old tanks, open wells still exist and provide water. Open wells extract water from the annually replenished dynamic water table. This is rainwater percolating through the soil layers and reaching the aquifer.

Open wells talk to us and communicate many things about the natural resource called water. They tell us summer is approaching with the lowering of the levels of water and therefore to use water sparingly.

They tell us about years of plenty when the rainfall has been sufficient to fill it sometimes to the brim. They last for centuries and have actually been designed and crafted to be works of architecture in many places.

No signals anymore

With modernisation and the coming of technologies this signal has unfortunately been broken. The modern consumer of water which comes in taps has no knowledge of the source of the water or whether it is running out.

Be it from a surface water source such as a river or a dam on the river or even deeper groundwater sources such as borewells, there is no information for a wise ecological decision since one is unaware of the quantum of water available.

In a city where the poor are not connected to the piped network it is groundwater sometimes from open wells which provides a service for free. The well has social equity built into it.

In modern times the well can take on a dual role. While in the past it was meant to draw water only from the ground, now as a recharge well it can put back filtered clean water into the earth and the aquifer during times of rain.

This water can then be drawn in non-rainy times. Rainwater harvesting technologies provide for such a dual measure for the wells.

Protection needed

As a city one needs to ensure that wells are incentivised and protected particularly from pollution through sewage leaks.

Wells also need to be covered and protected for safety reasons and to avoid the dumping of garbage into them, a regrettable but common practice when they go dry.

The culture of the well is one of sustainability and equity. It is about limited use of a scarce resource and about replenishing what we take from nature. A well or wells can be beautifully and aesthetically incorporated into any development from a small home to a large apartment.

They can take care of all rainwater on site by recharging them into the ground and if the aquifer permits can allow for water to be drawn when required.

The best time for making one is now, since the rains are only some months away.

That would be the path to water wisdom.





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  1. Very true about the signals that wells give us – we have a 20ft well that almost fills up during monsoons and goes down to 1ft during peak summer. And we could predict the summer situation by just watching the water levels. While we have an electric pump to fill up an overhead tank, my mother doesn’t use it instead she uses her manual energy(she is in the 70s). So when the water goes down, she becomes very very conservative because it is hard to bring it up and the fact that water levels are going down. Needless to say, it is a great workout for your arms, you don’t really need any weights to work out when I am in my hometown.

  2. Thank you for the sharing.

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