Water quality: a wake-up call

Borewell water pumping out at Old Airport Road, Domlur in Bengaluru. DH photo/S K Dinesh

The problem of dangerously dipping groundwater levels and its implications for human health has been underscored by a recent incident of water contamination in Prestige Ferns Residency, an upmarket apartment complex on Haralur Road in Bengaluru. Some 20 residents, mainly children and the elderly, had to be rushed to hospitals for treatment after they complained of vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. The cause of their illness was traced to the water they had consumed; all the victims were residents of Floors 10 to 17 of one tower of the apartment complex, which has a separate water connection. Water for these floors is reportedly sourced from borewells and water tankers. It was found to be contaminated. The apartment complex is located in Bellandur, a neighbourhood that has been in the news for its lake, which is notorious for the deadly foam it routinely spews. Bellandur Lake is known to contain a high level of toxic and inflammable chemical substances, thanks to the sewage and industrial effluents that are being emptied into it. It does seem that Bellandur Lake’s toxic content is poisoning the groundwater in and around the neighbourhood.

Data on groundwater levels in 1,774 borewells maintained by Karnataka’s Groundwater Directorate revealed a couple of years ago that of the state’s 177 taluks, groundwater levels in 143 had depleted seriously. Such depletion was particularly serious in Kolar district, where groundwater levels dipped by 55% over the past decade. Private water tanker companies and households are digging deeper than ever for water. This isn’t safe as deep groundwater contains harmful fluorides, radionuclides and heavy metals. With most of Bengaluru’s residents depending on tanker supplied water, the lure of huge profits is driving the increasing depth and density of borewells. People are drilling borewells near septic tanks. Such water is very likely to be contaminated.

Summer this year has been particularly brutal and water scarcity in the state has touched grave levels. Unscrupulous water tanker companies will supply residents with contaminated water, unmindful and uncaring of its consequences for public health. Cholera, jaundice and diarrhoea are among a long list of diseases caused by contaminated water. The government must monitor the quality of water that water tanker companies are supplying. This will not be easy as much of the tanker trade is illegally conducted. Still, officials must carry out surprise checks to assess if the interior of the tankers are cleaned and if the water they carry is safe. Importantly, the public needs to be more vigilant on the quality of water they consume. Bengaluru needs to put in motion a comprehensive and sustained strategy to address the water scarcity and contamination problem. 

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Water quality: a wake-up call

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