The haphazard manner in which the City has developed over the last few decades — one that has largely followed a system of convenience, rather than sustainability — has claimed quite a few causalities. But one of the most pressing problems that Bangalore faces due to this is its rapidly depleting water supply.
The City faced one of its most severe water crises earlier this year. The arrival of the monsoon might have blunted the worst of the problem, but it’s far from a permanent solution.
In fact, the precarious system of dependency that the City has evolved on its two major sources of water — the Cauvery and groundwater supply — is at best temporary. The irony is that for the last several decades, Bangalore has had a much more reliable and efficient source: its lakes. Historically, the City sustained itself on a system of inter-connected lakes, designed in such a manner that they fed each other in groups of three or four. But rampant and largely unplanned construction has destroyed this system, leading to a bulk of the water-related issues that Bangaloreans complain about today.
“A number of factors related to unplanned development have affected the status of our lakes. As the population in Bangalore increased, the number of lakes has dwindled thanks to building activity encroaching on to lakebeds. It isn’t just the private building lobby either; for instance, Majestic Bus Stand, National Games Village and HSR Layout are all constructed on lakebeds,” explains Suresh Nair, the executive director of United Way Bengaluru.
The crux of the problem, in his opinion, is that planning authorities didn’t take cognisance of Bangalore’s existing lake system before allowing builders to construct in certain areas. “Historically, the City has survived on a man-made system of clusters of lakes. They’re all interconnected so the first feeds the second, the second the third and so on. But because we’ve built on lakes, we’ve killed that system — those downstream don’t get a water supply when it rains. Consequently, we have problems like flooding on the roads, which never existed before,” he adds.
Excessive construction immediately around lakes also contributes to the problem, since it doesn’t allow lakes to draw rainwater that falls in the vicinity. Bhargavi S Rao, from the Environment Support Group, explains, “The land around any lake is like a sponge — it absorbs rainwater. But by putting up huge concrete structures on this land, there’s no way rainwater can soak into the natural soil system. Historically, people understood the topography of the land but now, development is largely unplanned.”
Cutting into the natural drainage system isn’t the only way in which development has killed our lakes. There are two other problems that have cropped up in areas that are witnessing huge growth — the demand for water has increased, which attracts the water-supplying lobby and borewell mafia; and the influx in population has led to more sewage generation, which has to go somewhere.
“Unfortunately, because Bangalore isn’t located on the banks of a river, sewage output is often drained into lakes. The sewage treatment capacity of the City isn’t very good — around 30 per cent of out waste ends up in lakes, effectively killing the flora and
fauna,” says Suresh.
Not surprisingly, it isn’t going to be easy to correct the haphazard policies which have led to the depletion of our lakes. But Suresh is convinced that a combined effort can bring about a positive
“The challenge is to get people involved, get funding from the government and push back on the lobbies that have created the problem. This is something that the citizens and the government have been more than willing to do — Kaikondrahalli Lake, on Sarjapur Road, is an example of this. A trust formed by the residents collaborated with the BBMP and have maintained the lake beautifully. Ten years ago, it was a dry bed but today, all the birds and the fish are back. The situation is not beyond repair,” he concludes.