Thiruvananthapuram

Innovators fight drought drop by drop

River Payaswini at the northern end in Kasaragod is nowadays not the majestic river that, during most parts of the year, inspires awe in everyone who sees her from far or near. She is just water trapped here and there among rocks. Down south, the water level in Sasthamcotta Lake, which provides drinking water to lakhs of people in Kollam district, has fallen so precariously that the Kerala Water Authority has imposed stern curbs on water supply, to two hours every four days. In Kottayam, the groundwater level has depleted from 1.5 metres to 20 m on an average, forcing the district administration to ban installation of tube wells. At the Munnar wildlife sanctuary, animals are as much hit by water shortage as humans as the perennial Chinnar river, the main water source for the sanctuary, has shrunk sharply.

With early warnings about a scorching summer, the government has moved in with various steps to quench the thirst of the people, animals and flora, but that has provided little relief to large swathes for reasons that are systemic and infrastructural. Amidst this depressing scenario, there are also soul-stirring attempts by very ordinary people to conserve water and beat the heat with traditional and innovative ways of water harvesting, purification and distribution. In Wayanad, for instance, a project that envisages digging of as many as 10,000 ponds in various parts of the district, including forest areas, is already on with public participation. In Thiruvananthapuram, grama panchayats in the district are engaged in a desperate bid to restore local waterbodies that have fallen into disuse and neglect.

Numerous ponds and canals in Thiruvananthapuram district that have become unusable over the years due to the accumulation of silt and algae, as well as domestic garbage, are now being cleaned up as a means of raising the water table in nearby areas. In Kattakada grama panchayat, for example, six such ponds have been cleaned up so far, resulting in improved water levels in wells in their vicinity. Restoration of the ponds will be followed by steps to create awareness among the locals regarding the need to utilise these waterbodies in order to sustain them, says P. S. Maya, president, Maranalloor panchayat.

MGNREGS role

A revival of the culture of bathing and swimming in ponds and lakes is necessary if they are to be preserved rather than being turned into garbage dumps, she says. The use of these ponds for sericulture is also on the anvil. A crucial role in the initiative is played by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), under which unskilled labourers are being tasked with restoration of the ponds, as well as recharging wells and building rainwater harvesting pits. Volunteer groups and residents’ associations have also lent their hands to the clean-up drive, according to officials.

Digging of ponds

The drive to conserve water has a much bigger dimension in Wayanad where, somewhat surprisingly, the District Legal Services Authority has joined hands with the Regional Agriculture Research Station (RARS) under Kerala Agricultural University at Ambalavayal to implement an ambitious rainwater harvesting project that targets to dig as many as 10,000 ponds in various parts of the district, including forest areas. District and Sessions judge V. Vijayakumar, the brain behind the project, says a 300-member task force, to be trained by RARS, would fan out to implement the project using low cost technology.

The first phase of the training programme has been completed and the second phase would commence on March 2. Employing the new technology, a pond with a capacity of 30 lakh litres of water can be constructed at a cost of ₹1 lakh on 10 cents of land. The task force members would assist the farmers and Forest Department officials to dig such ponds. The services of MGNREGA workers would also be utilised. The project also aims at providing an extra income to the farming community by rearing edible or ornamental fish in the pond. The project, Mr. Vijayakumar says, will go a long way in mitigating the human-wildlife conflict in the district as more than 10 per cent of the ponds would be constructed in wildlife habitats. The major reason for the wildlife incursion in human habitat was dearth of fodder and water, especially during summer.

In the coir heartland of Alappuzha, it is the ailing coir industry that has come to the rescue of the villagers. Coir geo-textiles are to be used to strengthen the walls of rainwater harvesting pits that would be constructed as part of the Haritha Keralam Mission. The pits with geo-textiles are expected to have longer life and, with the revised MGNREGS permitting utilisation of up to 40 per cent of the allocation for material procurement, the initiative would benefit both coir workers and the general public. Several ponds in the district have already been rejuvenated by strengthening the banks with concrete walls. Replacing concrete and rubble with geo-textiles would help growth of grass on the banks, strengthening the banks in an environment-friendly manner and providing a long-lasting solution to soil erosion.

Kudumbasree effort

In Kozhikode, it is the Kudumbasree Mission that has taken the lead role in solving the water crisis. At a time when a 20-litre drinking water jar is being sold at ₹50 to ₹₹60, Kudumbasree members in the district are all set to start selling it at ₹20 by end-March. Work on the bottling plant would start soon with the Corporation council approving a proposal for the purpose, said P.V. Ramsi Ismail, project officer, Kudumbasree. “The plan is to start the distribution of drinking water by the end of March as the demand for water is going to be high this time. The plant will come up on a 1,000-sq ft plot near the old Corporation office. An open well is being dug there to fetch water,” he said.

“The cost of the project is ₹25.55 lakh of which ₹20 lakh is in the form of bank loans. Kudumbasree members will pitch in 10 per cent and the Corporation will provide the remaining amount as subsidy,” Mr. Ismail said. Ten Kudumbasree volunteers in two groups would be employed at the plant, which can produce around 2,000 jars of 20-litre capacity. The water from the well would be purified using the latest technology and samples would be tested to check their quality. “A committee will monitor the functioning of the scheme. If we get a good response from the people, two more plants will be set up,” Mr. Ismail said.

Water purification

An age-old application passed down through generations has come in handy for the people of the coastal areas in Kollam to address the serious drinking water problem they face. This application is now found working in almost every house along the belt from Neendakara upwards and it keeps their thirst quenched.

The irony about the water problem in these areas is that even though there is plenty of water in wells and household ponds, the water is unfit to drink and even wash clothes because of heavy salinity and iron content. During the rainy season when the groundwater level stands rich, they do not encounter this problem. This is where the rudimentary water purifier methods of the households have become important. In the past, they used earthen pots, stacked one on top of the other with sand and charcoal being used as purifiers.

Villagers in Upper Kuttanad have been in the habit of rainwater harvesting for the past several decades. They stretch white cotton dhoties in the open space for collecting rainwater filtered through it and store it in large vessels for future use as part of an old system still prevalent in the area. In Kottayam, the local bodies have identified nearly 130 idle quarries which have turned into reservoirs. The water from these quarries are proposed to be used in an emergency. In addition, another 150 ponds have also been identified to be used in an emergency, which appears already here with the district administration estimating loss to crop so far at ₹5.50 crore. More than ₹20 lakh of this loss has been caused by fire in the farm lands. An interim measure, arrangements for distribution of drinking water using GPS-monitored tankers has been made, says District Collector C. . Latha.

In Kasaragod, which stares at what is being described as an unprecedented drought situation, district authorities have decided to set up water kiosks the panchayat level and identify waterbodies in individual plots to help distribute potable water to the needy. The Ground Water Department here has come out with startling figures of depleting ground water level after evaluating the position through its 67 observation wells.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 2:07:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/innovators-fight-drought-drop-by-drop/article17326619.ece

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