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Killing our groundwater- with apathy

April 3, 2011

Why this apathy?

 

S. VISHWANATH

 

 

The pollution of groundwater in Bangalore is death by institutional and legal apathy, says our water expert S. Vishwanath

 

 

 

 

Hard facts: Groundwater once polluted is impossible to clean up easily. So, great care should be taken to protect it.

 

The recent report released by the Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Karnataka, on the state of groundwater quality and pollution in Bangalore city does not come as any surprise to those in the sector.

What is surprising is the complete inability to see a response apart from pointing out the technical issues such as industrial dumping into groundwater, lack of sewage management resulting in nitrate contamination and bad management of borewells resulting in iron contamination. The pollution of the lifeline groundwater in Bangalore is death by institutional and legal apathy.

Institutional framework

There is no institutional ‘owner’ or ‘manager’ of Bangalore’s or for that matter any city’s groundwater. There are only peripherally involved institutions such as the Mines and Geology Department which monitors and reports on the quantity and quality occasionally.

There is the Central Ground Water Board which also has monitoring wells and piezo-meters and tracks mostly the fluctuations in the water table and the draft.

There is the Pollution Control Board in theory responsible for the discharge of industrial effluents and hence the prevention of contamination of both surface and groundwater sources of water.

There is the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board which tracks the number of borewells in the city. And at last count it had well over 125,000 numbers from which it extracts Rs. 50 every month as sanitary cess.

There is the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike which sinks borewells of its own to provide water to the public. There are many players but no one with responsibility and accountability.

The legal framework

Under the archaic Easements Act, groundwater remains a private property or asset to be used by the owner of a property and not a community resource. The recently passed Groundwater Bill in the State gives an opportunity for better management of groundwater but only if the right institutions are notified as the empowered authority.

In the case of a city like Bangalore, groundwater is primarily a drinking water resource; and an authority which is in charge of drinking water supply as well as waste-water management should be capacitated to manage groundwater. The BWSSB is the ideal authority to be responsible for it in Bangalore. The time to act is now especially while remembering that there could be as many as 400,000 borewells in Bangalore, one of the largest for any city in, drawing perhaps as much as 400 million litres of water per day.

The individual level

The responsibility at the level of an individual or an apartment or even an institution is manifold. For one, groundwater quality should be constantly monitored. A schedule of once a month check for all parameters of water quality should be a must.

New borewells must have a log-sheet of drilling which should be preserved carefully. This is true for even old ones. Borewells should be metered and monthly readings taken to see the nature of exploitation of that particular place. PVC pipes should be used as casing instead of iron pipes to eliminate rusting and iron contamination of groundwater.

Rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge from rooftops through recharge wells must be mandatory for every borewell. In the principle of ‘enlightened self-interest’ every borewell owner must become a stakeholder in the sustainable management of its water quantity and quality. After all he has invested the money and has the largest interest in its not drying up or becoming spoilt with contamination. Such good behaviour as limited withdrawal of water and recharging must be rewarded through economic incentives. The biggest benefit would flow when piped water is priced at marginal cost instead of being hugely subsidised.

Whistleblowers, especially for industrial pollution, must be encouraged and stringent action taken on the polluter on a fast track to act as a deterrent. The BWSSB must take up the collection and disposal of sewage in a time-bound manner and should set up a squad to help open well owners or borewell owners who report sewage contamination in their wells. At every ward office of the BWSSB, information centres should be available to help borewell owners troubleshoot their problems and find solutions. A groundwater cell for the BWSSB is an urgent necessity.

The report of the pollution must act as a wake-up call for fast action especially at a time when the city faces a huge water scarcity. In any shortage scenario it is the poor who pay the first and the heaviest price since they have no alternatives.

Groundwater once polluted is impossible to clean up easily and great care should be taken quickly to protect the uncontaminated sources as a community resource. In that lies water wisdom.

(The author is a practitioner and disseminator of sustainable water practices based in Bangalore)

Ph: 80-23641690

 

* * *

 

* The time to act is now since as many as 400,000 bore-wells in Bangalore, one of the largest for any city in India, draw around 400 million litres of water per day.

* Rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge from rooftops through recharge wells must be mandatory for every borewell.

* The biggest benefit would flow when piped water is priced at marginal cost instead of being hugely subsidised.

 

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One comment

  1. Very true and the best I like the phrase that the person who has dug a borewell to be considered a stakeholder.That is the only way we can look at overall sustainability.



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