On groundwaters – management and regulation in BangaloreNovember 7, 2011
Groundwater Legislation and Management in Bangalore
- Groundwater is the traditional way Bangaloreans accessed filtered drinking water from lakes and tanks .It is as much a cultural, social and historical construct as a technical construct.
- The poor depend on groundwater in a disproportionately larger manner than the rich who are connected to the mains supply
- With a high density of bore-wells the nature of managing and regulating groundwater in urban areas of Bangalore are much different from regulating groundwater for irrigation
- From an open well groundwater can be extracted at no energy cost. Embodied energy is the lowest for groundwater and the shallower the well the lesser the embodied energy required to use the water,
- Lakes and tanks are traditional systems of holding surface water and also recharging groundwater. They are the recharge structures whilst wells and bore-wells are extraction structures.
- At least 5 % of land-use should be devoted to surface storage and recharge in every watershed from the micro to the macro watershed.
- Keeping surface water bodies from sewage and other pollution is as important as storing water in them.
- The same goes for groundwater. Pollution can destroy more than recharge can create.
- Industrial areas and zones need to be heavily patrolled to prevent contamination of groundwater.
- The science and knowledge of groundwater in the urban context is a nascent science and needs to be invested in more heavily than at present so as to keep the lifeline flowing forever.
- We need to bring back a culture of groundwater which built the art of well construction, developed a science around it, respected it spiritually and drew only limited replenish-able amounts from the aquifers.
- The institutions we create to manage groundwater should be facilitating institutions rather than licensing and controlling institutions. Capabilities and skill sets of these institutions should be built accordingly.
- The rainwater harvesting bye-law which has made it compulsory for every building to harvest rainwater provides an opportunity to replace groundwater use or to recharge and enhance groundwater replenishment.
The Karnataka Ground Water (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Act, 2011 was passed recently by the Assembly apparently without much or any debate. The Rules are now being notified for its implementation. This is the crucial management aspect of the Act and needs to be carefully thought through and debated before it is gazette and enforced.
The objective of the groundwater bill in so far as the city is concerned would be the equitous and sustainable distribution of groundwater with access to all since groundwater is a common property resource and is to be held as a public trust by the government. In the absence of the government providing water for building construction groundwater is frequently used for the same.
It should also be remembered that the poor and the economically disadvantaged have the maximum dependency on groundwater since they are not connected to the piped network.
There are some advantages that Bangalore starts with as regards groundwater which can easily be leveraged. This is the only city which charges Rs 50 a month as sanitary charges for groundwater through the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board. The BWSSB there fore has a record of the bore-wells in Bangalore wherever it supplies water. This is a wonderful database which can easily be leveraged. Secondly the BWSSB bill collectors visit the premises every month to give a water bill. They can easily verify and monitor the bore-wells as the connections are extended over the city.
The BWSSB responsible for the provision of domestic, commercial and industrial water for the city should be made the responsible institution for managing groundwater in the city and officially recognized as such. A hydro-geological cell should be created within the BWSSB and all collection of monies from bore-wells and groundwater should go to strengthen the knowledge base and the management and regulation of groundwater alone. The BWSSB currently collects nearly Rs 10 crores annually from bore-wells. This money should ultimately be invested in mapping aquifers at micro-level and in the de-silting of lakes and tanks to ensure recharge of the groundwater.
Every bore-well dug in Bangalore must have a recharge structure too, something which is the extension of the rainwater harvesting bye-law being implemented by the BWSSB.
It is not also right to treat private tanker operators as villains and use blatantly high tariff mechanism on them alone. They also serve a purpose and most of their water supply is for construction purpose. More than 950 registered water tankers operate in Bangalore. By merely charging them Rs 40 per kilolitre would simply transfer the costs to the consumers.
It is better for the city to think holistically, meter all bore wells, levy a volumetric charge in an increasing block tariff exactly as is being charged for piped water supply by the BWSSB and take steps to ensure recharge of groundwater. At a conservative figure of 250 million litres per day being pumped out and at Rs 10 a kilo-litre Rs 25 lakhs can be collected daily to be invested in tank rehabilitation and recharge.
Bangalore can show the way to the nation in the management of its waters and groundwaters and the opportunity is now.
Ultimately the BWSSB should morph into a Bangalore Urban Water Management Utility responsible for all waters in the city including piped water, ground water, recycled water, lake water and rainwater. This is where we should head with the groundwater bill and the rules and regulations