The role of the lake in the city ecosystem, the need to preserve it and the benefit it brings are facts that have to be subconsciously embedded in the minds of children, advises water expert S. Vishwanath

Water literacy, knowing all about water in nature, its role, its function, how we use it, how we abuse and what needs to be done to respect it are something best taught at a young age. This became abundantly clear when one led a bunch of 16 excited school children around a restored lake in Bangalore.

Much work had been done to fence the lake, create and strengthen the bund, make islands for the birds and zone it in such a way as to have a complete wetland area near the inlet and a water body towards the downstream part of the lake. The recharged waters had filled up a well full of fish. The lesson to the youngsters became clear. If you work on a recharge structure, the lake, you will have clean water in your wells throughout the year.

The well itself talks to you and communicates the need for behavioural change. It tells you about the approach of summer, when the water levels recede. You then as a user have to be careful how much water you draw. Well water can be drawn without electricity; it has therefore very low embodied energy. There is a science, a skill, an art and effort in understanding where to dig for a well and then to line it with stones. This skill has been mastered over centuries.

The fish in the well keep it free from mosquitoes, and also indicate the quality of the well water. If you pollute the lake or the surrounding or throw garbage there will be no clean water in the well. The need for protecting the catchment and the well itself becomes clear.

Ours was a city of lakes. 262 in the year 1961, now down to 80 or thereabouts. The role of the lake in the city ecosystem, the need to preserve it and the benefits it brings such as the huge number of birds, water for irrigation, recharging the groundwater and a place for recreation for fishing, swimming and boating was something the children could easily see.

A discussion with the local fishermen with their coracles taught them about livelihoods based around lakes.

Waste-water recycling

Then we walked to a sewage treatment plant. That each one of us, when we used water, generated sewage was clear but how was it treated? The process of primary treatment and secondary treatment using the Up-flow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket or UASB was something the children were seeing for the first time.

This treated water was then being released into a wetland where the flourishing plants further treated it and improved its quality. The water then reached the lake and by the time it infiltrated through the ground and emerged in the well the earth had filtered it clean. Waste-water was now well water ready for use.

Ignited young minds

Questions emerged thick and fast. Why were we not protecting all our lakes? Why did we not have sewage treatment plants with all our lakes?

Why was there waste-water flowing in drains? Was it OK to wash clothes in the lake? Why were people throwing plastic in the lake? Young restless minds were ignited.

The city has been doing wonderful things such as pumping water from a distance of 100 km. to quench the people's thirst. It has also set up a beautiful rainwater theme park just to educate and communicate water literacy.

If every citizen becomes water literate and especially if school children see wonders of nature at work as well as the possibility of human beings cleaning up their act and protecting the environment, then there is hope for sustainable water management for the city and for the country.

That is water Ph: 23641690

Keywords: water scarcity