EVENT Water Matters was an interesting panel discussion on practical ways to save and recycle water
“We talk about the right of people to water, but what about the duty of the people towards water?” asked Usha Rajagopalan one of the founders of Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust. The question formed the essence of the panel discussion Water Matters, held in Max Mueller Bhavan to mark World Water Day on March 22. From the discussion emerged suggestions on ways to conserve and recycle water. So while M.N. Thippeswamy, ex-Chief Executive Engineer at BWSSB, spoke about the dire water crisis in the city, Vishwanath Srikantaiah, Sekhar Raghavan and Usha Rajagopalan, highlighted practical solutions to counter the water crisis.
Rohini Nilekani, chairperson and founder of Arghyam, observed that reviving our lost water sources is not beyond our control, adding that saving water is the responsibility of every citizen, from the middle-class to the poor. “Water is not an entitlement, it’s an absolute responsibility. We need to develop a culture of using our water resources properly. There maybe complex problems, but there are many creative solutions,” she concluded.
M.N. Thippeswamy in a detailed presentation highlighted the stark reality of the city’s declining water sources. He spoke of the drying up of the main water supplies of the city. “Bangalore is located 920 metres above sea level. We pump water from 100 km from the Cauvery River everyday. There are other concerns as well, water quality, for instance, is very important. We have to look at what kind of water is supplied from catchment to consumer.” Thippeswamy also highlighted the need for waste water recycling. “Most of the storm water drains carry sewage mainly because our sewarage system is in a bad state due to change in land use patterns and other factors. The strengthening of the sewarage network is very important.” Thippeswamy contended there are ways to resolve such problems such as alternate water sources, waste water recycling and rain water harvesting both at the micro and macro level and saving the city's lakes. He pointed out, “Today there are more than 50 lakh vehicles in Bangalore and precious water is wasted washing them.”
Vishwanath Srikantaiah, also known as Zenrainman, of Biome Environmental Solutions spoke of an effective and traditional way to save water—building wells.
“I suggest Bangalore should be a city of open wells. Metaphorically speaking, wells talk to us because it makes groundwater visible. The tap, on the other hand, doesn’t tell us where the water is coming from, whether it was of good quality or not. Wells, Zenrainman further pointed out, is a 6,000-year-old tradition in India. “Lothal, Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Kalibanga, all had community wells. It is the most sustainable technology,” he said.
Sekhar Raghavan of Rain Centre spoke of how Chennai tackled acute water shortage. “It all started in 1992-1993 when Chennai faced a drought-like situation. Thereafter the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority insisted that every house should show what kind of rain water harvesting systems they were using. In 1995, I started a door-to-door campaign in Besant Nagar. In June 2001, when AIADMK came to power, they prioritised on rain water harvesting. A high level committee was formed and I was brought into the committee. The state was willing to work in the society. There was political will.”
Rainwater harvesting was made mandatory in Chennai, Raghavan informed. An unexpected good monsoon spell between 2003 and 2004, transformed Chennai's water woes.
“There was a phenomenal rise in ground water levels; it rose by about six metres. Wells that remained dry for many years were full, this was the impact of only 50 per cent of Chennai's citizens knowing the correct way to harvest rain.” Even temple tanks that had gone completely dry were all full by that year. “You can’t fill a temple tank with water from outside; it can only be filled if the ground water levels increase.”
The involvement of State and society helped solve the situation, Raghavan said. “Government officials should be passionate about these issues. Establishing a rain centre, to me, would probably be a good idea to bridge the gap between society and state,” he concluded.
Usha Rajagopalan’s inspiring talk underscored that there is a lot that ordinary citizens can do without having to depend on the Government. Her desire to save the Puttenahalli Lake led her with other residents of her apartment to find creative ways to save the Lake. “I thought let’s the save the lake. If I am going to die of thirst some day, it shouldn’t be I will die without fighting.”
Usha and her team got BBMP to take over the administration of the lake, but over time Usha realised that BBMP didn’t have the man power to monitor the lake, which led her team to assume the role of unofficial custodians of the lake. They thus registered Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust.
“The onus is on the people who are using the lake, so all our activities are directed to advising people to participate to maintain the Lake, as it the people's Lake.”
A photo exhibition, Fluid Frames , curated by Korkai, featuring scenes of dry and cracked land and the effects of water crisis , further drove home the point that saving water is not a problem to be solved later, but immediately.
The exhibition is on display at the Bhavan till April 6.