Water crisis needs careful management

There was a grand plan in pre-Independent India, 1936 to be precise, to link all the major rivers in the country. Had this plan been carried out, would we have avoided the recent Uttarakhand debacle? Or is it the basic human greed that drove the mud slides due to extensive de-forestation in the area? I think the answer is both.

The need for water is ever increasing with increasing population. Deforestation is resulting in diminished rains. So today, with both these entities out of our immediate control, we need to find a solution for stretching the available water to go the extra mile. This valuable resource once considered in abundance is becoming rapidly scarce throughout the world.

I have tremendous interest in agriculture. India is 70 per cent agrarian. When I started my weekend agriculture activity in 2004, the water table in south Bangalore was at 220 ft Ample water could be tapped from this source for all the agricultural purposes. Today the same water table is at 400+ ft. In a matter of one decade, we have depleted this resource by indiscriminate use. We all know that the farmer’s needs are few but they must time and again be educated that the ground water source is not infinite. The good old trench or flood irrigation methods are no longer viable in today’s times. The available water with the help of drip irrigation can be stretched to irrigate three times the acreage compared to what it can support today.

Underground storage

After the washing machine completes the first two rinse cycles, the water that is further used in washing clothes can be used for many purposes other than drinking, like gardening, washing cars, cleaning and even to recharge the ground water. A simple sensor can divert the soap free water away from the sewerage and send it to an underground storage to be used later.

Today, electronics can help you make intelligent decisions that can save energy, another valuable resource. Your water heater turns off once the water reaches a particular temperature, same with your refrigerator. Consumer electronics battery chargers save energy by going into energy save mode when not in use. The same principle can be applied to water. One can adopt crop watering based on soil moisture, time of the day and crop specificity, to name a few parameters. There is no point in watering a plant everyday if it requires watering only twice a week. An embedded system designed with the help of agricultural sciences can help achieve this goal. The water saved can be used for multi cropping that can benefit the farmer economically.  These examples take the decision making point away from human beings and can benefit mankind for generations to come. The water pump which is not required to run at full capacity all the time can also be controlled using electronic motor drives that pump only the right amount of water based on need. This also improves the longevity of the pump.

Generations of knowledge on agricultural methods, coupled with modern science and technology can greatly benefit the world in eradicating hunger. The new smart grid technology that is being implemented can take energy generated from any source (wind, hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, tidal, etc.) and make it available to the consumer. These embedded applications like smart grid, point of use solar power, point of need water delivery, both at metropolitan and village levels can elevate our standard of living. Can one imagine the amount of water and energy that can be freed by taking the decision making ability away from human beings?

Just having an energy efficient battery charger can save a country like India over 200 mw in one night. A deep ground water bore well that pumps 15,000 litres per hours for 8 hours (120,000 litres) can bring three times the agricultural area under cultivation. This can definitely reduce the farmer’s dependency on timely rain. The list of benefits is endless.

All along we have applied ourselves to make our cars run farther on a litre of fuel, bring more clarity into our television sets, earn degrees on line so one does not have to travel to the schools anymore. I ask why we are not applying ourselves to make water management a priority. One day, not in a very distant future, we can get crude oil by drilling miles into this earth but we will fail to get a water source. At that point all the other innovations are mute, aren’t they?

(The writer is director – power management, Texas Instruments India)

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