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Lifeline under threat

Backwaters of Thippagondanahalli Reservoir  

The Cauvery river water sharing issue has reached the Supreme Court and has become the bone of contention for the four States in the basin area. For the city of Bengaluru, the link with the Cauvery basin has been a long one. Without it, the city would not have existed as it is now. In 1894, the city first reached out to a tributary of the Cauvery, the Arkavathy. A small tank on the river was expanded and the Hessarghatta reservoir built.

Steam engines were used to pump water to a hill and then to the city. In 1904, electricity came to the city from Shivanasamudra hydro-electric project on the Cauvery. This electricity was then used to pump water to the city. In 1935 the next reservoir came up at Thippagondanahalli further downstream of Hessarghatta on the Arkavathy itself. This too was not enough for the growing city. So the city created the first specialised water and sewerage institution in India – the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) – and then designed a magnificent water supply project called the Cauvery Water Supply Scheme Phase -1. Water was diverted from the river at Shiva Anicut, went to the Netkal balancing reservoir and then after treatment was pumped up 300 metres and a distance of 95 kilometres to reach the city, giving us the costliest water in India for that time.

A common question in the 70s and 80s for any new house owner during the house warming ceremony was “do you have Cauvery water?”. The water of the river has imprinted itself on the city dweller and the Cauvery is their own. The city would not have been the international city that it is, if it were not for the Cauvery. Bengaluru owes its growth completely to the river and its waters.

Wrong move

Unfortunately, the city sent its waste-water to the river itself, mostly untreated. The Vrishbhavati, a tributary of the Cauvery, now carries raw sewage. The Bairamangala reservoir on the Vrishbhavati was built by Sir M. Visvesvarayya himself. Collecting fresh water, it provided water for irrigating sugarcane and paddy and vegetables. Once the dirty waters of the city reached it, the reservoir began supplying raw sewage. Farms and drinking water sources were polluted. Industrial waste also started flowing in the river, contaminating it further.

The constitution of a tribunal for the sharing of waters between the States caused the first turmoil to the city. It found that only one-third of it was in the Cauvery basin. As the tribunal was to adjudicate for only the river basin, it allocated waters only to the portion within the basin, giving a little over 1 tmc ft. of water when the city needed 18 tmc ft. already. Of course the State could reallocate waters and provide for Bengaluru within its allocation of 270 tmc ft., yet this was disconcerting to the planners.

Citizens’ duty

What can the city do now to re-establish its link to its mother river? Every house, every apartment, every neighbourhood is connected to a river in some way. The institutions governing water have to learn and design the city to wean itself from this single-point dependence.

The rainwater falling on the city will need to be harvested in every home, apartment, school, hospital and industry. The city will need to clean up its lakes and make sure that the extra run-off of rain is collected and allowed to infiltrate into the aquifers. Waste-water will need to be treated and reused directly as well as to fill lakes.

Each city in India has its own Cauvery. Re-establishing the relationship in a positive fashion will determine how conflicts will be avoided in future and how sustainable water use can be ensured.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 11:06:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/Lifeline-under-threat/article16071227.ece

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