City's water supply matrix

Water woes

City's water supply matrix

Bangalore has had it’s share of water problems. Michael Patrao digs up the history to trace the water supply saga and estimates the statistics involved

Perennial supply of water, either by nature or by man-made infrastructure, has never been Bangalore’s strong point. However, in the past, ruling chieftains and later the British regime made much efforts to provide water to a city which does not have the support of any major rivers.

If there is a water crisis today, it is because past efforts have been nullified by tampering with water bodies, burgeoning population and lack of a good plan for future. Open wells, which were very common in the past, have now become defunct. Borewells have run dry. The water supply of Bangalore has never kept pace with other developments. Concepts like rainwater harvesting and borewell recharging have been taken up only in recent times.

History unearthed

Kempegowda I of Yelahanka, the founder of Bangalore, foresaw the growth of the City and supported Bangalore with a wide and effective network of tanks and wells.

Kempambudhi (in Gavipura), Dharmambudhi (the present Kempegowda bus stand), Sampangi tank (now Kanteerava stadium), Siddikatte Lake (now City Market), Kempapura Agrahara Tank and Halasuru Tank provided water besides kalyanis and open wells. When it rained, the water flowed into the lakes and tanks. But today, the rainwater has nowhere to go and inundates the low lying areas of the City.

The origin and development of Bangalore water supply epitomises the growth of Bangalore itself — from private wells at home, kalyanis, large tanks to filtered water supply for an initial population of just two lakhs in 1896, and then boosting the supply in stages. On the negative side, due to the expansion of the City, the network of tanks and open wells were neglected.

These require proper care, desilting and periodic rejuvenation which was not done. Indiscriminate sinking of borewells also led to the depletion of groundwater table.

When Bangalore became a cantonment occupied by the British soldiers and other Indian immigrants, water sources were not adequate for Bangalore. Sir L B Bowring, the British Commissioner of Bangalore in 1873, built the Miller Tanks, which were a series of three tanks, to supply water to the cantonment, because the water pumped from the existing Halsur, Shoolay and Pudupacherry tanks (now part of Cooke Town and St Thomas Town) was insufficient.

Today, a host of buildings have come up in the Miller’s Tank bed area.

In 1882, the Chief Engineer of Madras Sappers and Miners, Lt Col R H Sankey, built the Sankey Tank in Sadashivanagar, the northern part of present day Bangalore, to augment the drinking water needs of the Civil and Military Station. This tank was connected with Miller’s Tank through contour channels so that when Sankey Tank overflowed, water would flow into Millers Tank. Heavy downpour of rain would not cause stagnation of water in the City as it does today
The karanji system of supplying water existed in the Fort area by which till 1894,  unfiltered natural water was supplied from Dharmambudhi and Sampangi tanks, supplemented by water from ponds and wells. Water-carriers with tanned skin bags carried water drawn from kalyanis and tanks and supplied it to the people.

In the early part of the 1900s, there was a great drought in the City. A betel leaf merchant and philanthropist, Yele Mallappa Shetty, devoted a large part of his earnings and wealth to the construction of a tank on Old Madras Road (now known as Yele Mallappa Shetty kere) so as to harvest rainwater and provide succour to people for drinking water as well as for farming needs.

Later, Arkavathi River, which originates from Nandi Hills, became a dependable source of water supply for the newly set up cantonment. Under the guidance of Sir K Seshadri Iyer, the Diwan of Mysore, a plan was drawn to build a dam across Arkavathi river in Hesaraghatta.

Byata and Kakol tanks which were in the Arkavathi catchment area were the source of water for Arkavathi Tank. The work was begun in 1891 and completed in 1896. The Chamarajendra Water Workshop built near Hesaraghatta, 18 kms from Bangalore started supplying water to the City in 1896. As much as 36 MLD (million litres a day) of Water was supplied through pipes from Hesaraghatta lake.

Numbers involved

Bangalore’s population was around 1.80 lakh in 1891. Hesaraghatta dam was designed to supply water to 2.50 lakh population at the rate of 60 litres per capita consumption. The anticipated population was reached in 1921. The monsoon failed in 1924 and 1925 and the 1926 monsoon too arrived late, leaving the Hesaraghatta reservoir almost dry and causing a shortage of water in the city. Therefore a new project had to be thought of to augment supply of water to Bangalore.

A committee chaired by Sir M Visvesvaraya was formed by the Mysore Government to find a solution to Bangalore’s water problem. The Chamarajasagar Dam Scheme, popularly known as Tippagondanahalli Dam was planned and designed in 1925. It was built across Arkavathi and Kumudavathi rivers at a confluence point near Tippagondanahalli.

Chamarajasagar dam which was commissioned in 1933 is located about 28 kms North of Bangalore. It used to supply 27 million litres of water to Bangalore every day. The Dam gradually increased its potential to supply about 135 MLD of water to Bangalore.

When Hesaraghatta supplied water, it was initially taken by gravity through a 42 inch diameter Hume pipe to the Soladevanahalli pumping station. Water was then pumped, initially using steam pumps and later electric pumps, to the Combined Jewel Filters (CJF) plant at Malleswaram for treatment and supply.

Water started to become not only scarce, but also a precious commodity. Therefore in the 1930s, Bangalore was the first to meter its water connections.

The Tippagondanahalli dam was designed for a population of 4.5 lakh expected in 1951. But the population actually rose to eight lakhs in 1951, when several public sector industries like HAL, BEL, ITI and HMT were established here. Once the Tippagondanahalli became operational, Hesaraghatta was neglected.


An expert committee constituted by the government in 1958 examined four alternative water sources and recommended Cauvery water source as the best suited alternative for growing Bangalore. The other sources examined by the Committee were Arkavathi, Hemavathi and Shimsha. The Government implemented the Cauvery Water Supply Project in 1964. To implement this project the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) was established in September 1964.

Treated water was supplied from river Cauvery to Bangalore in stages. Government of Karnataka approved the Cauvery Water Supply Project in 1964 and BWSSB took it up implemented it in stages.

The first stage Cauvery water supply project – to draw 135 mld of water, was taken up in November 1971 and implemented in December 1974 incurring an expenditure of Rs 80 crore.

The second stage of Cauvery water supply project was started in April 1980. It was commissioned in December 1983 to bring in additional 135 mld of water to the city. The total cost of this stage was Rs 135 crore.

The third stage project to draw 270 mld of water was executed at a cost of Rs 360 crore. It was executed in a span of five years between June 1989 and March 1993.

The IV stage of Cauvery water supply was taken up in two phases. Phase I was taken up in December 1997 and completed in September 2002 at a cost of Rs 1072 crore. It added 270 mld of water to the city. This stage was augmented with 100 mld of water in 2008. With this BWSSB was supplying 900 mld of water to Bangalore.

But Bangalore’s thirst was increasing day-by-day. The City had grown and there are 110 villages from the seven city municipal councils of Yelahanka, Byatarayanapura, Bommanahalli, Mahadevapura, K R Puram, Rajarajeshwarinagar and Dasarahalli an one town municipal council, Kengeri became a part of BBMP in 2007.

BWSSB commissioned its 34 billion Cauvery water supply scheme Stage IV phase II to provide an additional water supply of 500 mld. After a delay of nearly a year, the scheme was implemented in October 2013. Raw water is being drawn from the river at Shiva Anicut and conveyed through a 2 km open canal to Netkal Balancing Reservoir. The water is being treated at a treatment plant at Thorekadanahalli using dissolved air floatation process.

This treated water then gets pumped into the city which is almost 920 metres above sea level through a 70 km long transmission main line with pumping stations at Thorekadanahalli, Harohalli and Tataguni. The water, before entering Bangalore branches into two, one towards the east and the other towards the west at Vajarahalli. The total length of the mainline within the city is 84 km. BWSSB has also constructed six reservoirs under Cauvery Stage IV phase II scheme.

The cost of implementing this water scheme was so high that it had to be funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency up to 85 per cent of the total cost of the project while the state government and the BWSSB shared the remaining.

Despite all these efforts Bangalore’s water crisis is far from solved. The Government has now proposed the new Stage V of the Cauvery Water Supply Scheme. The BWSSB is yet to decide the areas that will be covered by the fifth stage. There is also a limit for drawing cauvery water.

Bangalore's population is projected to be a little over 1.05 crore by 2021. The requirement of water for industrial and drinking purposes by 2022 is being worked out. As of now, BWSSB is feeding Bangaloreans with 1,400 mld of water. It is estimated that the City would need about 2550 mld of water by the end of 2036. BWSSB, even utilising all its resources, may face a deficit of 1050 mld by that time.

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