Cricket grounds, huge apartment blocks are all sucking up enormous quantities of groundwater with little scope for replenishment. It's time to curb such practices, says water expert S. Vishwanath
Visiting a lovely cricket ground, actually three grounds next to each other, on the periphery of the city was an eye opener. Games were on and the white flannels on the green, lush grass was idyllic. This was a state-of-the-art place. Pop-up sprinklers would water every inch of the ground. The young lads playing could dive around for catches and fielding without hurting themselves. This of course came with a price and that was water.
All the water requirements for the grounds come from borewells. One of them had just given up its ghost. The other was now challenged to supply the 600,000 litres of water needed daily to keep the grass green. Like in many parts of India, this is unsustainable. Only about 8 to 10 per cent of the rain that falls in semi-arid India reaches the underground aquifers on an average.
When we draw more than this we are actually tapping into fossil water, groundwater accumulated over the years. The cricket grounds are unlikely to stay green without sucking up the groundwater in an entire zone.
Another phone call came from an apartment. The lady was trying for solutions to a water problem they faced. The borewells in the densely built area that she was staying were all drying up. The city utility supply was a trickle and insufficient for the demand. Rainwater harvesting provided but little water since the roof area per person in a multi-storeyed building is very less.
Could she use treated grey-water for recharge was the question? The answer was a ‘no'. One simply cannot pollute the groundwater with treated waste-water and in India this is not permitted by law anyway. What then to do except to depend on tanker water which was unavailable and if available was expensive? Again the answer is ‘nothing'.
The city is undergoing repairs for its main pipeline and there will be no water or limited water for three days. This throws a lot of citizens into a panic. What is to be done? Water is to be stored and used sparingly. Borewells become the only source and private water tankers make hay while the sun shines.
Another example comes from a residential school for the blind on the outskirts of the city, run heroically and completely based on charity and groundwater. The borewells, the only source of water for the children, goes dry. What is to be done when there is no water in the ground till 1000 ft.?
Groundwater Management Plan
In all cases we need a groundwater management plan. Especially the city and its periphery needs an institution to plan, implement and manage the groundwater so that it is available when needed.
Users of groundwater have to understand its limits before the drill and start extracting water in large quantities. We are all entitled to the water limited to what is annually recharged.
Aquifers have to be mapped, understood and plans drawn so that all users from that aquifer behave in a responsible manner with a full understanding of the availability of the precious resource. Reckless over-exploiters need to be controlled and good behaviour has to be rewarded. For that we need institutions that have the requisite skill-set, finances, responsibility and accountability.
We cannot have cricket grounds which guzzle groundwater unsustainably, we cannot have dense apartment blocks with no possibility of water supply and we cannot have a Global Investors Meet in which cities are allowed to grow economically and populationwise without answers to how they will get water in a sustainable fashion.
It is about time we started developing groundwater management plans for our cities and villages.
It is time we invested heavily and wisely in the lifeline water for India which is below our feet. Otherwise, if a monsoon plays truant, we will be in a very, very vulnerable situation.
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Keywords: rainwater harvesting