Archive for March, 2015

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World Water Day March 22

March 14, 2015

March 22nd is celebrated globally as World Water Day. Simply to bring focus on this life giving substance which has made planet earth inhabitable and which is at risk. The theme this year is Water and Sustainable Development, an all-encompassing one and perhaps relevant to governments and institutions one would believe but think again.

Water is one substance which touches our lives daily. As the slogan is coined it is everybody’s business. Without it there would be no health, no hygiene and no safe sanitation. There would be very little agriculture and no growth in the economy.

In the old days in many parts of India there was a concept called the ‘pyaoo’. This was a water point set up in summer by philanthropists to provide cool water to the thirsty. An edict of the Emperor Asoka in Dhauli, Orissa urges the populace to plant trees and dig wells, particularly on roads were a weary traveller could rest in the shade and quench his thirst. Though some of these water places continue to exist much has become commercial to the point that now you insert a coin and water is dispensed for drinking.

There are many things one can do to secure water starting from being conservative in use and not wasting it. A house owner incorporated a rainwater harvesting system. Storing part of the roof rainwater in a sump and recharging the rest through a small open well. Five years of rain has helped the water table in the local area and not only his bore-well but that of his neighbours are full.

Though one must do what one can for oneself, Thinking beyond the self is crucial. A Government aided school saw individual donations which enabled it to get two sets of toilets, one for boys and for girls. Another assistance provided rainwater harvesting systems to collect rooftop rainwater for both storage and recharge of an open well in the school premise. This enhanced water security and in a do-it-yourself spirit the boys and girls of the school actually worked to build the toilet themselves guided by their teacher.

In the spirit of community informal groups called Friends of Lakes are forming all over the city. They gather every Sunday adopt and clean up the local lake. They also work with authorities to ensure that the lake is preserved and maintained. Slow but important steps of thinking beyond the self. Working with institutions and pressuring them to provide water as a right to those who do not have access to it is also part of the caring.

Nature and bio-diversity should also become part of our thinking around water. While a revived lake will provide for flora and fauna, even a small bowl of water placed out in summer and replaced regularly so as to avoid mosquito breeding, will provide succour to birds in hot summer. The smaller insects such as bees will need just some damp sand and soil to draw their water sustenance.

Worldwide, our rivers, our lakes, our wells need help and World Water Day reminds us of our duties and possibilities. As the famous naturalist Dr. Jane Goodall said ‘Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help will be saved “

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Locating small town India in a watershed

March 8, 2015

The tankers have started plying and it is not March yet. Small towns in semi-arid India see a crisis of water come summer. The months till the advent of the monsoon are going to be long and hard and full of fights for water in many places.

The next 90 days are sure to be trying ones. What can be done to redress the situation? For one, towns should start to place themselves in a watershed.

What is a watershed? Any area of land where the rainwater falling exits at a single point such as a river or a lake is called a watershed. It is a basic hydrological unit which can be planned for water collection and recharge. The map below shows some of the sub watersheds around the town of Devanahalli north of Bengaluru. Each area bordered by a red line is a sub-watershed usually culminating in a tank .

Devanahalli_24X20

The town of Devanahalli, the birthplace of the legendary Tippu Sultan,  in the centre red area used to draw water from bore-wells from a small tank to its North (in a circle) called the ‘Seehi Neeru kere’ or sweet water tank. The tank is now dry as are the bore-wells located there.

As can be seen from the map, there are 5 tanks  upstream of this sweet water tank. If all of them are de-silted and the channels connecting them kept in shape and without silt or encroachment come a good monsoon the tanks should fill up, overflow and eventually fill the sweet water tank. This will appropriately recharge the aquifers below and enable Devanahalli town to have good water. Unfortunately the jurisdiction of Devanahalli town ends with the Seehi Neeru Kere and does not extend to the tanks North of it. These come either under the purview of the Zilla Panchayath or the Minor Irrigation Department.

Only a coordinated District Plan encompassing the entire watershed upstream of Devanahalli and involving the inor Irrigation Department and the Zilla Panchayath can reasonably hope to provide water to the town as well as the villages and  innumerable townships springing around it.

Down to the South is another circle which shows the large Bettakote tank. This tank gains water from  run-off of rain falling on  the runway of the International Airport. The watershed of the Bettakote tank if maintained well can provide substantial recharge for groundwater. This too can be a source of drinking water for the town of Devanahalli as well as the surrounding villages in an area where groundwater levels are precipitously declining. Thanks to some de-silting works undertaken using the MGNREGA funds this tank has some water and the aquifers including open wells are recharged. A massive upscaling of the de-silting work to encompass all tanks would be most useful to the water situation in the area.

The time to plan for water is now in the summer and to execute tank rehabilitation as well as channel repair works and prepare for the rains. Adopting and understanding the bigger picture of the watershed will enable all users of water to get their fair share.

Planning for water at the appropriate scale is water wisdom.