110 villages, 101 water woes

A boy drink water from a bowerwell near SPV Circle in Kalaburagi on Friday. ... To go with Ravi Balutgi story... - Photo/ Prashanth HG

Bengaluru’s punishing summer break from its celebrated weather has hit everyone hard. But for those precariously perched on the city’s periphery, still awaiting the first Cauvery drop, the scorching heat has snowballed into a major crisis. Beyond tankers and dried up borewells, is there any hope?

Depleted beyond the danger levels, groundwater is no longer a rescue option. For years, private water tanker operators had dug thousands of borewells to make it a lucrative business. This is no longer an option as the water demand has soared far beyond supply constraints.

Yet, this has not stopped the borewell-diggers. In Bellandur, for instance, residents even drilled these wells on footpaths, risking the safety of pedestrians. On several days this March, many apartments in the area went without water for over 18 hours.

Tanker troubles

In Whitefield and surrounding areas, tanker operators are extracting water from unauthorized borewells and supplying at high costs. The Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had to step in, making trade licenses compulsory for the tankers.

But the desperation to exploit the scarcity has led some tanker operators to draw water from temporary ponds of about 30,000 litres capacity. These ponds were dug in parts of Ramagondanahalli without consent from the Palike. Several illegal borewells were drilled on the lake bed of Muthanalluru, before they were filled up.

For some residents, water tankers are the only saviours. “We cannot rely on the supply from BWSSB as they are totally unpredictable. They delay at least by three to four hours after we call up. The office goers and school children cannot adjust to their timings. So, we find these private tankers helpful,” says Shashikala, a resident of Sarjapur Road.

BWSSB network

But the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a different story. Says the Board’s Chairman, Tushar Girinath: “We are ready to supply 20-30 Million Litres Daily (MLD) of water in the BBMP villages where the pipeline network is ready. Once we get the application for connections, supply can start in a month.”

Under the Greater Bangalore Water and Sanitation Project (GBWASP), all pipeline-laying had been scheduled for completion by May 2019. “There have been issues related to land acquisition for pumping stations and storage tanks in about 20 villages. But water can now be given in 77 villages. Catering to 2,000-4,000 connections is not an issue at all.”

Reduce, reuse, recharge

However, in the absence of a working supply system in these villages, despair has turned to panic. Many have pressed the conservation button with renewed vigour. For the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (BAF), the stress has been to reduce, reuse and recharge water judiciously.

Explains the Federation’s General Secretary, Srikanth Narasimhan, “As part of the ‘reduce’ strategy, we had launched a campaign to retrofit taps with aerators. This reduces water flow to about 60 to 70%. Two weeks back, we launched the #HalfBucketChallenge, asking people to take bath with just half a bucket, reducing consumption by half.”

Smart water meters

The Federation is also pushing for the installation of smart water meters. “These meters track consumption on an hourly basis. The meter is connected to an IoT device and monitored through a mobile App. It can also remotely track leakages. We have seen a 30% saving in water, and more importantly, a behavioural change in water consumption,” Narasimhan points out.

In a unique online petition addressed to the citizens themselves, BAF has urged everyone to take a pledge to conserve water. As part of its ‘Reuse Waste Water’ strategy, the recommendation is this: “Collect RO (Reverse Osmosis) wastewater in a bucket for mopping/cleaning, use STP treated water for gardens and car wash, install dual piping to use STP treated water for toilet flushing.”

Groundwater recharge

Groundwater recharge is a key conservation strategy. Installation and regular maintenance of a Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) system is critical to make this effective.

At the forefront of a RWH campaign in the city for years, Vishwanath Srikantaiah is confident that the nine million citizens served by one million connections of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) will not face any overwhelming water issue till July. But, he says, there is a clear prospect of water running out for the 2-3 million residing in the 110 BBMP villages.

Depending on local resources such as lakes cannot be a solution, says Vishwanath. “Lakes and RWH can only be supplements. Of course, RWH can build up groundwater stock. But in the long term, there is a need to fast track the next stage of Cauvery that will bring in 775 MLD (Million Litres Daily).”

Million Wells

Last year, Vishwanath, as part of the Biome Environmental Trust and Friends of Lakes, had launched “A Million Recharge Wells” project to rejuvenate the city’s long lost traditional wells.

The project has the potential to eventually provide about 1,400 MLD to the city. “At least 10,000 wells are now functional. The project has caught on well. The Bellandur Forum is adding another 2,500 over the next one month,” informs Vishwanath.

In some of the 110 villages, BBMP had stepped in with its own network of borewells. The BWSSB Chairman notes that the Palike will have to continue its supply this year before the GBWASP project network is fully operational after testing next year. The message is clear: The next two months will be a test of endurance for lakhs of residents.

(Inputs by Rakshitha R)

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