The Kamaths dug their huge percolation pit in the drainage channel that carries the run-off during the monsoon.
ASEVEN-ACRE farm near Puttur in Karnataka has achieved sustainability of water resources by low-cost rain harvesting methods, something that couldn't be achieved with 15 bore wells dug over a period of one and a half decades.
The previous owner, failing to get sufficient water after drilling ten bore-wells, finally sold it. The present owner, Venkatesha Kamath, continued to test his luck with more bore-wells, to no avail. This prompted him to consider selling the property. Today, a concrete house is under construction in a corner, a sure indication that the Kamaths have no more plans to dispose off the farm. "We suffered a lot for years together, but now it seems as if the trying period is over, we have learnt a way to reduce the water crisis," he says.
The technology that made this incredible transformation, rainwater harvesting, is low-cost and sustainable.
Venkatesha Kamath is a busy businessman at Puttur. He had no idea as to what rainwater harvesting is all about. Nor did he consult any expert. By chance, a regular customer who had visited the shop narrated how he had attended a seminar on rainwater harvesting. The brothers were so desperate for water that they would try any method to improve the situation albeit knowing that it's an experiment. The next day, both of them combed the farm in search of ideal locations for recharging groundwater. Near one of their bore-wells, there was a deep trench in which run-off flowed during the monsoon. There was considerable flow because one more such trench was joining this, bringing the runoff from the hill. Another channel from their neighbour's farm also was emptying run-off to this trench. The Kamaths decided to have one of their percolation pits right inside this drainage channel. So, inside the deep channel, another trench covering an approximate area of 1 metre x 16 metres x 2 metres was dug. Another spot was near the other bore-well. There was no drainage channel nearby. Some amount of run-off from 2-3 sides was joining at a point. A well-like pit with 6 feet diameter and 16 feet depth was dug. By selecting the spots near the bore wells, they hoped that the yield of the bore-well would improve. Both the pits were filled with filler materials several alternative layers of slightly bigger unshaped stones and sand. In the round pit, a few layers of charcoal made out of coconut shell were placed.
During the monsoon, both the pits performed well. Plenty of water got percolated there. Both the percolation pits have totally cost the Kamats around Rs. 20,000, including the cost of labour and filler materials brought in the lorry. One bore-well costs more than Rs. 25,000 to 30,000, excluding the price of pump and fittings. One of the bore-wells was deepened in the meantime.
The Kamats cannot say if there is any increment of water in the bore wells, but there is considerable increase in their tank. This tank, the only water source of the farm, used to dry by the end of January for many years.
Recalls Vasantha Kamath, Venkatesh's brother, "the year we bought the farm six years ago, only one bore-well was yielding a little water. In January we used to lift water from the bore well with a jet pump and were filling the dried up tank. Then we had to do a second round of pumping from the tank for all our domestic needs."
A dug-well situated in front of the house had gone dry long ago. Today, it acts like a dustbin. This year the tank has a good water level even by end May. "By the grace of God," Venkatesh says, "the water would suffice for another month too."
Their success in rainwater harvesting has brought confidence to the Kamaths. Now they are consulting people with experience. Advice they have got for the next year is to utilise the tank water in the beginning and to start using the bore-well only at the end. To implement this, some changes have to be made in the pipelines. There have also been suggestions to harvest rain at some other points around the farm. The present rate of sprinkling water for three hours in five days is advised to be reduced to two hours. "This year, after several years, the trees are irrigated somewhat properly; in the forthcoming years, we are sure that the situation will improve." Now they have realised some of the problems in their system. One is that both the pits get clogged with silt. "During the last monsoon, several times we had employed a servant to get down to the pit and to stir the water for better percolation." Now, they know that silt traps dug slightly before the run-off reaches the big pit would reduce clogging from silt. "Now we are slowly realising that the bore-wells cannot sustain us for long. This seems to be the right way," the excited brothers tell visitors. Paraneer, the name of the farm in local Tulu language means old water. If the rise in the water table in a year is any indication, when more there is more rainfall (average: 3,600 mm), the possibility of their dug well giving drinking water once again can't be totally ruled out.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karnataka.
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