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Don't cloud the issue

USHA RAI looks at some success stories in rainwater harvesting that should convince those of us who are still sceptical.

THE country may have had its share of the monsoons, but it still is a good time to look at that great panacea — water harvesting.

Is it happening? Remember the hue and cry about water harvesting two years ago when the Prime Minister inaugurated a conference on the issue? May be the tremendous energy of that period has not been fully channelised. But a beginning has been made and there are enough success stories from the heart of India to spur those on who have been lagging behind.

Of course there are a lot of people who still prefer to pay for a tanker of water when in dire straits rather than make a long term investment in a more lasting solution. These are the people who have to be convinced about the tremendous benefits of rain water harvesting. With ground water levels falling steeply all over the country, the kind of crisis that could loom ahead is brought out by this little story from Jharodakalan in South West Delhi. What is heartening is its solution.

At Jharodakalan, water is brought by tankers. Last year, the acute scarcity of water almost led to water department officials being beaten up by the villagers. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) stepped in and took on the responsibility of recharging and sustaining ground water in at least a dry tube well through water harvesting. The results are there for all to see, says Mr. Manu Bhatnagar of INTACH.

Yamuna Apartments in Alaknanda, South Delhi, are concrete blocks with pretty green spaces. But there is a major difference between Yamuna Apartments and other residential buildings. The 195 members of the Residents Welfare Association are environment friendly and conscious of their responsibility in not only conserving water but also in boosting the pathetically low, 30 metre deep ground water level in the region. So in November 2001, when the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) advertised its services for residents interested in water harvesting, the RWA — Yamuna Apartments, sought its help.

The CGWA has prepared 688 designs for water harvesting to suit almost every need. Currently 70 residents' welfare associations, largely group housing societies, are implementing water harvesting schemes designed by the CGWA.

Fortunately Yamuna Apartments has its own storm water drain and the water from here could be diverted to the two large pits (10 m deep and 10.5 m by 2.5 m) that were constructed near the two main gates. There are pipes that divert the water from the storm water drain into the pits. When one pit gets filled, water flows into the second one. The cost worked out to be Rs. 3 lakhs and each resident contributed Rs. 3,000. The water for the use of the residents is stored in RCC tanks in the basement. Every day it is pumped up into overhead tanks for three to four hours. There is monitoring of the daily use of water. Since the inception of water harvesting, the association has been able to increase water supply to houses to six hours a day. The capacity of the tube wells, which have been recharged, has gone up from 10,000 litres a day to 15,000 litres.

Thanks to water harvesting structures, on May 27, the day it rained heavily this summer, both the pits were filled.

According to the Officer In-charge, Delhi, CGWA, Dr. S.B. Singh, every day, 650 million gallons of water flow into the sewers and is wasted. Yet, the average ground water level is receding every day. In the Chattarpur basin area for instance, it has dropped from five metres below the ground to 40/45 m now in a span of a few years. In fact, water below 40 m is saline. To prevent people from sapping the earth dry, tube well sinking has been stopped in South West and South Delhi. The Jal Board of Delhi thought there were 1,600 tube wells in Delhi. When people were asked to register their tube wells, one lakh were registered. But Mr. Singh feels there may be three-lakh such wells. With public cooperation, the CGWA is confident that all the precipitation during the rains can reach the aquifier.

The effort to harvest rainwater has been started on a macro level by INTACH and other organisations, and at the micro level by residents of welfare associations. In fact it is now mandatory for all group housing societies to have a water harvesting structure as a part of their building plan.

The sprawling, upmarket Vasant Vihar area in Delhi too has got into water harvesting in a big way, though, initially, residents could not visualise the benefits. They expected to see water gushing out. They did not understand the concept of recharging the groundwater. But with 1,350 plots, most of them with tube wells, the exploitation of groundwater was enormous. The CGWA notification making it mandatory for those with bore wells to undertake water harvesting on their premises or face having their tube wells being sealed spurred residents into action. Work soon began on public lands and structures owned by the Delhi Jal Board, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).

The president of the V.V. Residents Welfare Association, says the joint venture projects on bagiadari (sharing) basis have helped recharge abandoned tube wells and keep seven parks of Vasant Vihar green. Eleven projects have been completed on public land and 30 more are currently on.

Water harvesting projects have begun in A1 street, the MCD horticulture nursery, the DDA woodlands, adjacent to C6 Steet, the DDA District Park in addition to a recycling project of non-sewage water nallah, running parallel to "A" block. The last project is yielding about 200 litres of irrigation water per minute to several parks of "A" block. A private telecom operator and a multinational bank have contributed money for the water harvesting on public land. The technique was simple — just laying speed breakers around a park to direct water into abandoned wells or digging a hole (which is covered with a jali ) and making a channel two feet wide and a foot deep and connecting it to a tube well in the park. There are about 55 parks in Vasant Vihar.

INTACH has been doing macro water harvesting since 1995-1996 and can boast of creating a bird sanctuary on a 11-km stretch of water body that formed the Najafgarh Nallah. The 51 km-long Najafgarh nallah starts at Dhansa and joins the Yamuna near Wazirabad. Thirty kilometres of the drain is in rural Delhi. With the help of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of the Delhi Government, the drain was desilted to increase its storage capacity and then using regulators at Kakraula and Dhansa to retain the water. In fact the brackish water is improving with dilution, says Manu Bhatnagar.

By retaining the water in the drain, the aquifers have been recharged. There is more water now for irrigation. Farmers, six kilometres away from the drain, are now growing crops. Tube wells in the area have been discharging water copiously and in two years the water table is up by a metre.

Water harvesting has also been taken up on a three kilometre stretch of the Central Ridge near Ashok Hotel. The Barapullah drain near Defence Colony is to be converted into a water harvesting channel. The recharging of ponds — 500 small water bodies — has also been taken up. Thirty ponds have been converted into storage structures. Three hundred abandoned stone quarries in South Delhi are also seen as having potential for water harvesting. The Asola and Bhatti mines are being afforested by the Government.

INTACH is also trying to increase the capacity of a horseshoe lake near Wazirabad that dries up by the end of the summer. This will be connected to the Yamuna.

In all, some 700 government organisations are putting up water harvesting facilities — these include school buildings, hospitals and even the flyover near Dhaula Kuan. From the flyover, vertical pipes will channel the water into pits in the ground.

Through water harvesting, water can be made available at a fourth of the cost it would be available from big dams, says Mr. Bhatnagar. One Bhatti mine will provide more water for Delhi than several group housing societies, says Suresh Rohilla, a water harvesting expert from the National Capital Region Planning Board. Bhatnagar echoes these sentiments — "one marco job on water harvesting can do more than one lakh households tapping water." Yet it is important to involve as many people as possible in water harvesting so that it becomes a people's movement.

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