Reducing water problems: How builders can get it right

As another International World Water Day is observed on 22nd March, here is a list of what architects-builders can do to make their apartments and layouts reduce their water footprint.

When we talk of water supply, water shortage, water conservation and everything else WATER in Bangalore homes, there are generally three subjects of focus:

  • The water consumer – you, me and everything else that needs water
  • The water supplier – Government, BWSSB, water tankers, bottled water agents
  • The water source – Cauvery river, lakes, wells, borewells, rain

As end consumers, much of the onus on saving water is on individuals. A household of four in India uses about 600 litres of water a day (for drinking, cooking, washing vessels and clothes, flushing, bathing, etc.) and tips on how to we can reduce this are abundantly available.

Much like in the 1970s, when we were bombarded with messages of “Small family, happy family” (aimed at our parents, but so etched out in our then young minds), 40 years later “Save water, save life” is on top of the minds of our children. Thanks to environment science lessons in school, children are taught about how they can help save the world by using water wisely. And many try to follow what they are taught, in the process teaching their parents and grandparents too!

In independent houses, residents have the power to make themselves more water efficient without much dependence on anyone else. They can modify their homes, choose their water appliances, change their water-using habits and adopt water-conservation measures, of their own accord. But quite a few of us do not live in independent houses but in apartments and private layouts, and this is where the fourth subject of focus emerges – the architect-builder.

In cities like Bangalore where apartments and new layouts are sprouting like Salvinia on a lake’s surface, architects and builders are the key towards making people water-wise, just through sensitive and practical design features in their constructions.

Manicured lawns and gushing fountains amidst promises of paradise look very pretty in marketing brochures. They are also water-guzzlers.

Also see:
Solving water woes in apartments
Water management in large, multi-storied apartment buildings is challenging. Why do we continue to consume more than we should? What can be done?

Eventually, any apartment or private layout is going to be “run” by the Society/ Association of owners, and this should be the basis of any architectural design. A few things that architects-builders should keep in mind before they decide to sell people paradise on earth:

  1. Once owners move into the apartment/ layout, they expect the facilities and systems that the builder promised them and which they have “bought” to enjoy. The facilities and systems put in place by the builder are the ones that get accepted by the owners, by default. There is always resistance from the owners to changing these, even if they are environmentally inefficient.
  2. Modifications to make the facilities and systems environmentally friendly are technically challenging. Retrofitting is difficult and expensive.
  3. The Society/ Association will be responsible for running the apartment/ layout. With regard to water, “running” would mean providing uninterrupted clean water flowing in the taps, flushes and other water points in the house, water in common areas for washing vehicles, gardening, etc.
  4. In any Society/ Association of about 250 homes, there will be only 5-6 selfless souls who will volunteer their time. The design of facilities and systems need to be easy and economical to maintain, to be sustainable in the long run.

End point: DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME – DURING THE DESIGN STAGE.

Living in different kinds of housing in different parts of India, and actively participating in the running of a building Association, gives one reasonable experience of life “after the builder goes”. As another International World Water Day is observed on 22nd March, here is a list of what architects-builders can do to make their apartments and layouts reduce their water footprint.

Forget the fountains and waterfalls. Pic: Abhay Chetan.

1. Forget the fountains and waterfalls.

After all, how many independent homes do you find with a fountain? Apart from needing water and electricity, they need to be regularly operated to be kept in good condition. If not well maintained, they breed mosquitoes and there is always the hazard of children falling into the water or getting electrical shocks from leaking connections. Many buildings that have fountains and waterfalls have more-or-less abandoned them.

Forget the lawns. File pic

2. Forget the lawns.

Lawns need regular watering. If treated water is used on them, their use is restricted to just a visual sight. Plant trees (that will provide natural cover) and other low-maintenance low-water-consuming shrubs instead. Children can use the space to run and play freely without being guilty of ruining the lawn.

3. Design the overhead storage tanks and underground sumps optimally with interconnecting valves and pumps.

Water in the fire tanks and sumps are usually isolated and they remain stagnant unless the fire fighting equipment needs to be used. Valves/ separate motors can ensure that water circulates between the fire tanks/ sumps and other tanks/ sumps so that at no time will water have to be discarded because it is “old”. This will also facilitate periodic tank/ sump cleaning without wastage of water.

4. Make provision in the piping to collect grey water from areas other than the WC separately.

Water from the kitchen, toilet basins, bathing area, washing machine can be treated separately and used for the garden, toilet flushes and other appropriate uses.

5. Direct the water from the swimming pools, if any, for reusing in an appropriate way.

Provide a proper rainwater harvesting system. File pic

6. Provide a proper rainwater harvesting system.

Water from the roofs, terraces, balconies should be collected and with basic filtration can be used for cleaning and gardening purposes. The system could also make the water suitable for use in homes. RWH storage tanks could be placed at intermediate levels, ground level, basement, depending on the final design. Water from pathways and other ground-level areas should be directed to recharge wells to replenish groundwater and feed the borewells.

7. Dig the borewells to sufficient depth.

The borewells often are the only source of water provided by the builder. They would need to last for the lifetime of the building. They should be provided with recharge wells.

Construct the mandatory STP to proper capacity. File pic.

8. Construct the andatory STP to proper capacity.

Many builders cut costs by installing “name-sake” STPs that are below-par with respect to capacity and/ or efficiency. Get the genuine clearances before giving it over to the Society/ Association.

9. Fix water meters.

Measure the water consumption of every home and the common facilities. Conservation is often a consequence of cost. Most often, the water conservers subsidise the extravagance of others. Work the piping in a way that all consumption is recorded. This will put water at par with the other utilities like electricity, gas, telephone, internet and cable TV – you pay for what you use.

10. Fix water-efficient sanitary ware to reduce water usage.

Taps, showers, faucets, flushes should be simple to use and simple to fix. Use low-flow taps and showers, flushes of low capacity or two button flushes. Put in valves to adjust water pressure and isolate leaks. Let pipe joints be easily accessible to fix leaks. Avoid bath tubs.

End point: WATER THAT ENTERS THE PREMISES WILL BE USED WISELY AND WILL NOT LEAVE THE PREMISES.

With insufficient Cauvery water and borewells going dry, where will the water come from? Tankers? But they are filled from borewells too!

An imminent water crisis faces the city. End consumers will need to:

  • Reduce consumption
  • Reuse water after its first use
  • Recycle water – rely on treated water and the rain to recharge the borewells.
    Builders, do your bit!
About Arathi Manay Yajaman 33 Articles
Arathi is a trustee of Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) and an active citizen.

1 Comment

  1. No need to sacrifice the lawns and gardens if we take care to recycle waste
    water (both black & grey) after treating it with ‘BIOMAGIC’ – a biotech powder which kills odor instantly on application and turns waste water reusable for gardening, after about 12 hours’ retention time, without mechanical aeration. More info. on BIOMAGIC can be had from +91 99 529 88 540 or vkr7755@gmail.com

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