Archive for September, 2011


Sunset times – for undesigned lakes

September 10, 2011

The aesthetics of water

Sunset - on an unmanaged lake

Civilizations have risen around rivers and water. Water has truly been the birth place of our villages and towns. Look around and you see that large cities have multiple lakes and a river running nearby. Hyderabad has its myriad tanks. Chennai had the Cooum and many small ponds. Coimbatore was a city of the river Siruvani but also the tanks. Even smaller towns like Tumkur, Sira, and Mulbagal have had myriad water bodies which supplied the citizens with water and also recharged the groundwater which could be drawn through wells and Kalyanis.

Sadly urban areas have also been the graveyard of water bodies. Rivers and lakes have been filled up, desecrated with sewage and solid waste and turned into filthy cess-pools. As we struggle to revive water bodies, more with functionality in mind, let us also remember that the younger generations deserve the aesthetics and spirituality of water too.

Foam river - cities destroy rivers

A lake is a glorious place especially at sunrise or sunset. With stunning visuals and the sound of nature it is can become a spiritually uplifting place too. The sky seems to take on the colour of water or is it vice-versa? The water  edge becomes a place of contemplation and sometimes, at dusk, a place of melancholy.

Around the outskirts of the city especially during the monsoon the lakes fill up sometimes partially. They have not been developed in the conventional sense with a chain-link fence and a bund lined with stone. Concrete benches have not been placed and boating as yet not introduced. There are as  no tickets to enter and even to see the lake. People are not immersing idols by the dozen nor are they throwing plastic into the water. There are no lights to make the space look like day and no hawkers to help litter the surrounding with left-over eatables.

Sunset - beautiful times after the rains

Go to these places at sunrise or sunset. Go quietly and occupy a space to see the water. Spend time listening , watching and thinking. Watch as the sky changes colour. Feel the breeze. Enjoy the silence or the distant sound of civilization. When you come back leave the place a bit better than it was by cleaning it a little. There is a guarantee that you will return wiser and  charged.

Do this before urbanization quickly over-whelms this water body too. Think also what we can do perhaps to protect this space from people like us. Can we transform our city-scape to include such small pleasures of living or are we so bankrupt of ideas that this sounds utopian?

A water-wise city will ensure the functionality of its water bodies as places to store flood waters, a bio-diversity hotspot, a recharge area and a recreation area. It will also take some lakes and rivers beyond functionality and into the realm of the soul. Into the country my friend lead me.


The Education of water

September 6, 2011

The Education of water


The burden of mismanagement of our land, water and environment will fall on the future generation in no small measure. In our schools therefore we need to inculcate quickly an engagement and a learning by which the younger generation come to understand the situation with water and what they could do about it themselves as young citizens of the nation.

A sterling example was in a small primary school in a village called Byrapura. The school has one teacher and 30 students from Class 1 to 5. On its notice board students regularly and daily write up on the weather conditions. Rainfall details are recorded as heavy, light and traces. The school has built itself a rainwater tank and uses the water in the mid-day meal programme. The water quality is checked daily by students using a H2S strip test bottle, which indicates the presence or absence of bacteria.

Once a month the teacher along-with the School Development Management Committee (SDMC) gets the water tank cleaned using bleaching powder.

The Rotary Club has donated a water filter and all children take turns in filling it up from the rainwater tank. Drinking water is sourced from the filter only.

Safe drinking water at School

A small hand-pump brings water to the mid-day meal scheme area where the cooking happens. Dishes are washed and cooking happens with rainwater only. All children wash their own dishes and glasses as well as their hands before and after every meal and that too with soap.

The toilet built by the government has separate facilities for boys and girls. The teacher forms a committee of students who are responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the facility with the help of a cleaning lady who comes and cleans every-day. They make sure that brush and phenyl is available and that soap is replaced if over and the hand towels are washed and kept clean every-day.

Children are encouraged to understand and participate in every activity. The teacher himself runs a garden in the school after the classes are over. For half an hour, the school children plant vegetables and flowers and take care of the garden with the teacher. Many of the vegetables for the mid-day meal are grown in the school itself.

The teacher ensures that all waste in the school is collected in 2 dustbins. The children segregate the waste and make compost with the bio-degradable waste. This is then used in the school garden.

Children are aware of personal hygiene and a clean dress and also understand the scarcity value of water in their place. They use water sparingly but efficiently.

The school curriculum dealing with the environment is a favourite with all the students. This is a government school and there is much to learn from it for many a private school.

Committed teachers and a good SDMC can make all the difference for our children and their environmental education. A bit of support from the outside community such as the Rotary donating a water filter and another group helping build a rainwater tank only makes the system and the learning better,

In the future generation and their enlightened participation lies the good management of water. Water wisdom is this and no better time to educate when it is raining.


Placing a city in a river basin

September 6, 2011

Placing a city in a river basin


A river basin is a hydrological unit from where any rainwater falling emerges from single point. Many rivers which are now running dry or are carrying loads of sewage are now being sought to be revived. A river basin approach is thought of as the best way to proceed ahead to restore the ecological system of our rivers.

In which river basin is Bangalore located? A common misconception is that we are fully in the Cauvery basin. A rude shock came to the water managers of the city when the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal indicated that only 30 % of Bangalore was in the Cauvery Basin and hence was eligible only for a limited amount of water from the Cauvery. Unfortunately the planners for water, in the absence of river basin thinking, have created a complete water architecture dependant on the Arkavathy and the Cauvery. The Arkavathy is of course a tributary of the Cauvery and in the broader context part of the Cauvery Basin.

What came as a surprise is that a large chunk of Bangalore was actually in the Dakshina Pinakini or South Pennar or Ponnaiyar as the many names by which the river is known by. Apparently the Tribunals point was that this section of Bangalore has to make arrangements for its water from this basin for the section of the populace living here.

As Bangalore expands it is likely to move into the Palar Basin and the North Pennar basin too. Sitting on a ridge leaves it the uncomfortable choice of being upstream in all the river basins it spans. The Nandi Hills being the highest point in the region is the origin of 6 rivers.

Starting from 1894 till date the single point dependence on the Cauvery shows a singularly risky management approach. The city utility will now have to plan for water supply understanding its position in a river basin or basins. It will have to look at its role in the river basin planning. How much of resource will it draw or is allowed to draw from the river?  How much of catchment management will it do to ensure that the river flows freely and at least with adequate water for drawal for the city’s need? How will it ensure the health of the basin by ensuring no pollution of the river either through sewage or even through solid waste dumping in the catchment?

The river basin as a unit of hydrology and hydrogeology will increasingly become the unit of water resource planning. Water supply providers will all have to factor in what happens in the basin and the possible impact it can have on the future sustainable provision of the resource.

Since we as a city live upstream the responsibility on the city is all the more towards the rivers. It cannot be that we only appropriate fresh waters from all resources available, dump sewage and abandon reservoirs are dry to run to farther fresher water bodies. This is unsustainable.

We need River Basin Institutions that will look at the rights to water in the entire basin and also look at the need for the river itself to flow apart from ecosystem needs. We need to move quickly on this one.


Chlorination of water during the monsoon

September 6, 2011

Disinfecting water


The monsoons are a particularly favorable time for the spread of waterborne disease. As streets flood and groundwater tables rise they tend to contaminate open wells and bore- wells alike. Even piped water supply lines which are empty can pick up contaminated water. There is no tolerance limit for the presence of bacteria in the form of either total coliform or faecal coliform in potable water as far as Indian Standard for drinking water quality is considered.

For over a century chlorine has been used by Engineers as a water disinfectant. A residual chlorine of 2 parts per million is considered the best way of disinfecting water.  Four kinds of chlorine agents are used for water disinfection chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite and chlorinated iso-cyanurates.

While Chlorine gas is extremely dangerous and requires specialized handling the typical form of using chlorine in India is through bleaching powder which is Calcium Hypochlorite or sometimes liquid chlorine which is Sodium Hypochlorite.  The available chlorine in bleaching powder varies between 25 to 60 percent and for sodium hypochlorite between 6 to 12 %.

Chlorine kills bacteria by transforming itself into hypo-chlorous acid when dissolved in water. Chlorine works best when the water is slightly acidic i.e. when the pH of the water is between 5 to 7. It is best therefore to test the water from the bore-well or in the sump and ensure that the pH meets this requirement before using bleaching powder or liquid chlorine for disinfection.

While the authorities such as water supply utilities ensure a higher residual chlorine in water during the rains it is for the consumer to manage the disinfection of water if the source is from private water tankers , bore-wells or open wells.

It is good to get sump water and bore-well water checked in a lab for the presence of coliform bacteria. More and more bore-wells report the presence of either total coliforms or faecal coliforms even from depths of 600 feet in Bangalore. If the bore-well water is smelly this too may indicate the presence of bacteria.

For bore-wells shock chlorination is recommended. A high dose of chlorinated water using bleaching powder thoroughly dissolved in 2 to 5 buckets of water is poured into the bore-well. Using a hose pipe more water is poured into the bore-well so that the chlorine is thoroughly mixed into the water. When the bore-well water is pumped out it should smell of chlorine. This should be allowed to act for about 24 hours. Water from the bore-well should not be used during this time. Shock chlorination may be necessary a few times if the contamination continues or even continuous chlorination may become necessary for the deep bore-wells.

The Japanese company Shikoku has come out with a very interesting set of products called Neo-chlor where the available chlorine can be as high as 90 %. The product too has a shelf life of 2 years making it possible to use it for long after purchase. A slow release granular form of powder is best for sumps while for blre-wells it may be possible to use a little amount of the powder form dissolved in water.

Products which are safe and easy to handle, have a long shelf life, which do not cause scaling, which are not harmful in accidental contact and handling and also products which come with detailed instructional manual for use are the necessity of the day in India where water quality is increasingly compromised with bacterial contamination. Customer education is paramount with a good reliable product.

Organo-chlorines are a negative externality which will need to be considered but for the moment the good impact of chlorine may be more apt for the Indian water sector. Using it wisely and carefully is the road to water wisdom.