The lake and the well – part of a water masterplanJune 19, 2011
When a city adds nearly 3 million people in a span of a decade ensuring water supply to its citizens seems a huge challenge. One critical thing to realize is that the mind-set of ‘providing’ water has to change and become one of ensuring that citizens can access water of requisite quality. Multiple sourcing of water is therefore simply a reality to be respected.
Water will come from such sources as bore-wells, open wells, private water tankers, rain water , bottled water you name it.
In this particular case the Jakkur Lake in Bangalore is being fenced off and protected by the BDA at a cost of nearly Rs 22 crores. The BWSSB has set up a sewage treatment plant upstream and hopefully all of the sewage flow into this lake will be treated . The lake has become a beautiful wetland inviting birds and hosting a large variation of plant bio-diversity.
It is also a recharge structure feeding the beautiful open wells . These wells are a cultural heritage too for they are of a typical kind made by a particular artisan group. Yet it is functional and provides copious water which also is the cheapest because it has such low energy costs associated with it. Why bring water from the Cauvery a 100 km away when the ground below your feet can provide it?
How is this then to be integrated with the city water supply will be a challenge for the water utility. Would it be allowed as a private resource in which individuals can sink their own wells and draw their own water? This would become possible if the the price signals would encourage such behaviour.
The Cauvery water should be priced at cost say around the Rs 24 mark per kilo-litre, its true production cost. The well water which would be as less as Rs 2 a kilo-litre would then become cost competitive.
It could also be that the government uses the new groundwater legislation to appropriate its distribution in a slightly more centralized fashion. It could then ban the drilling or digging of wells in the area, dig its own and then distribute the water. Many such possibilities exist but only if the institution in charge sees it as a resource and builds capacity to manage it.
Managing such a complex interface of surface water, groundwater and waste-water will be a learning curve. Are our institutions up-to it ? Should not the water utility create a hydro-geological cell to help it better understand and manage groundwater as a source in Bangalore ?
There is a need therefore to map both the shallow aquifer and the deeper aquifer as well as keep tabs on the extraction structures and the volume of extraction from groundwater. Recharge and drawal can then be optimised.
One other advantage of this way of managing water would be that urban floods could be mitigated. Many such interesting possibilities emerge when an integrated approach is taken.