Dear BBC, Bengaluru isn’t running out of water soon. Here’s why!


Puttenahalli lake Pic: Kennedy Wirth

A recent article on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website listed Bengaluru among the 11 cities that will go out of water soon. The article said:

” Local officials in the southern Indian city have been bamboozled by the growth of new property developments following Bangalore’s rise as a technological hub and are struggling to manage the city’s water and sewage systems.

To make matters worse, the city’s antiquated plumbing needs an urgent upheaval; a report by the national government found that the city loses over half of its drinking water to waste. Like China, India struggles with water pollution and Bangalore is no different: an in-depth inventory of the city’s lakes found that 85% had water that could only be used for irrigation and industrial cooling.

Not a single lake had suitable water for drinking or bathing.”

There is no joy in the way things are currently managed in Bengaluru. However, the article is wrong for Bengaluru city. The article is way too simplistic and does not understand how the city functions vis-à-vis water.

Rain, waste water among the assets Bengaluru has

Bengaluru may not run out of water so quickly. Here is why.

Reason 1 – solid water planning for the city: Bengaluru never has depended on its lakes and tanks formally for its water supply since the commissioning of the Hesarghatta project in 1896. It now gets its waters from one source, the Cauvery river at Torekadinahalli. 18 tmcft of water has been allocated currently to Bengaluru out of the 270 tmcft allotted to Karnataka by the Cauvery water tribunal.

This is just 6.7 % of Karnataka’s allocational share of the Cauvery water. Another 10 tmcft will be further used by 2023 if all things go well. That is, 28 tmcft out of 270 tmcft, about 11%. This is assured water, even in the worst year of drought in the Cauvery basin because drinking water has first priority over all other water uses according to National Water Policy and the State water policy.

All four major reservoirs on the Cauvery stretch, with a live storage capacity of 104.55 tmcft i.e. the Kabini reservoir, the K.R.S. reservoir, the Hemavathi reservoir and the Harangi reservoir act in tandem to provide water security for the city as well as the towns and villages dependent on the Cauvery. The current live storage as on date is 30.48 tmc, at a monthly demand of 1.8 tmcft good enough for 17 months. (Source: )

Reason 2 – rains: Bengaluru has an average rainfall of minimum 800 mm, spread across its 1250 of metropolitan area. This translates to 2740 million litres per day of water available as rain (if the 800 mm water for 60 rainy days is spread across 365 days). Even if we imagine the population of Bengaluru metropolitan area to be 2.5 crores, the rainwater itself will come upto 109 litres per head per day!

Of course we don’t use all that rainwater currently. Harvesting rainwater has begun slowly but surely across the city, from individual buildings to lakes and aquifers. This year, following heavy rains after a year of severe drought even wells have filled up.

Reason 3 -waste water treatment : Waste-water treatment and recycling is picking up, thanks to sustained pressure from civil society and courts. This will ease the burden on fresh water resources.

Reason 4 – unaccounted water isn’t lost:  It is a mistaken notion to argue that the 49% non-revenue water is lost to the citizens completely. A half of it at least is financial losses, meaning the water is getting to people but is either not billed or is ‘stolen’. It is a financial loss for the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) but not a complete loss to the citizenry at large – someone uses the water somewhere.

BWSSB has been well-aware of the losses and is working to reduce the losses to under 16%, with a project that started in 2011. The UFW work, taken up with financial assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been completed in many areas of Bengaluru and BWSSB has termed it a success.

This apart, the physical losses caused by leakage of pipelines actually recharge groundwater. Most of the doomsday predictions actually do not take into account that the groundwater table is pretty high in the city centre. This is due to the availability of Cauvery water and leakages getting recharged in the ground. This too is broadly extracted as groundwater from wells and bore-wells.

What does Bengaluru need to do?

This of course does not mean that we sit on our haunches and believe things to be hunky dory. People of Bengaluru need to do the following to avoid the doomsday totally even in the remote future.

  • Push aggressively and quickly for the protection of the catchment forests in Kodagu and Hassan for the tributaries Kabini and Hemavathy as well as the Cauvery to flow freely and unpolluted.
  • Clean up our lakes and bring them into play as we have done for Jakkur /Rachenahalli / Puttenahalli/ Kaikondarahalli. Not like Bellandur and Varthur.
  • Push for rainwater harvesting across all buildings old and new in Bengaluru.
  • Treat waste-water to such levels that they can be used to fill lakes and give this lake filling first charge. Surplus treated waste-water can then fill the lakes of the neighbouring dry districts, providing water to farmers for cultivation as well as enhancing bio-diversity in at least 500 lakes and surrounding areas. (This is already being done – the treated waste water goes to Kolar and Chintamani from Bengaluru.)
  • Understand and manage aquifers better. Recharge and use them as groundwater banks.
  • Push for the pro-poor policy by ensuring universal connection for water and sanitation to all households in Bengaluru.
  • Lastly draw up plans to bring water from the Sharavathy reservoir as quickly as possible. A city with a 392 thousand crore economy (annual GDP) and a population of 11 million expected to go upto 20 million deserves to be water secure.
About Vishwanath Srikantaiah 7 Articles
Vishwanath S is a Bengaluru-based water expert.


  1. This article is a joke, right ? These facts are only on paper. Few households in Bangalore have cauvery water connection, it is costly to get,and people wait for years. Nearly all of the new households/flats depend on borewells, or water tankers, who also get water from borewells. And all these are linked to the lakes and ponds in the city. Every summer, the water mafia increases rates, because the rains stop and the reservoirs dry up. Cauvery water issue with TN causes violent protests and destruction. How the hell can you ignore these facts, dear water expert ?

    • How the hell do you ignore pleas by BWSSB to install RWH at homes?
      Bangaloreans do not deserve a drop of Cauvery Water.

  2. Need to map out all the water tables, protect them for residents and prevent speculators (think T Boone Pickens) and greedy MNCs from buying rights to these reservoirs anf selling them back to residents in bottles.

  3. The best answer for water problem is construction of Desalination plant at Mangalore and pumping it to Bangalore and for agriculture in metered basis.

  4. This report is true. My area near Hegde nagar Bangalore. No cauvery water.borewells dried up.depend on tanker water.many places in greater Bangalore no cauvery water..

  5. There is a saying in Gujarati – which says – ‘padi gaya tho bhi tangdi uppar’.

    Translated it means – even when we have fallen down, we say that my leg is still up.

    The truth Mr Vishwanath is that we are down and out. The BBC article is on the dot. No point being an Alice in wonderland, that things will all be fine and we will have ache din, as far as water is concerned.

    Forget clean water, we cannot even manage our sewage. BWSSB does not even manage the sewage of 1/3rd of Bangalore. I can understand that getting water from Cauvery is difficult. But am unable to fathom that we cannot even manage our waste water.

    Speaking of city centre having a good water table is very snobbish comment. The city has expanded far and wide. Vast majority of the city is outside the so called ‘city limits’ or BBMP limits.

    The depth of the borewells have been continously falling, incidating that the water table is continously dropping year after year.

    Yes, we do have water. But it is like a retired person living on the money earned in his life time. The savings is slowly but surely depleting. It may not show up on the face of it, but one thing is for sure, that the water stored over the years is depleting. At 1200 feet, we are already selling the family jewels to sustain ourselves.

    As we have concretised more and more area, the soil portion – which absorbs the water is reducing. The lakes used to be a repository of rain water, but they have becomes sewage water tanks. It is already true today, that our lakes are sewage dumps of Bangalore.

    Check out areas near ORR near Marathahalli, sewage is openly flowing through the gutters.

    The buzzword in Bangalore is Outsource. BWSSB is doing just that. Outsource. Sewage treament is outsourced to the citizens. People dying while cleaning sewage chambers are not the fault of individual apartments. It is the colossal failure of the BWSSB.

    We need not wait for the Future Shock. The Future is already here, Mr Vishwanath.

  6. You make a compelling case. Except that my family hasn’t had running water for the past 3 days. We receive cauvery water once every 2 days for an hour. And the BWSSB is forever digging and re-digging our roads to replace pipes, fix blockages and leaks and do forth, none of which translates into more water for the household.
    So you see, your eloquently worded article belies the ground reality. I’m sure our politicians will gladly hang on to your every word though…

  7. The article is short-sighted and doesn’t take the following into account:

    The rising population of Bangalore. Thousands of people are moving to the city everyday. Who is going to account for that? Are there detailed studies done by the govt to even assess future water requirements of the city? I don’t think so.

    Dwindling water supply. Yes today we have rivers that supply water. It may not be the same in the near future. The overall water levels in the dams are decreasing year after year due to lack of rains in the hills. Thr entire forest range in the hills has been replaced with coffee estates. Plus it is foolish to expect healthy rainfall every year. A few years of drought can set the water levels back by a huge margin. Also remember that only a fraction of the water from KRS is middle available for Bangalore. A huge part of it has to be flown into Tamil and as well to meet their farming needs.

    Bengaluru has rains. But we cannot and should not harvest every drop of rain water. Maintaining a healthy underground water content is as essential as having enough water for drinking. So we should allow a significant amount of water to reach the ground.

  8. Dear Sir, pl look into how we are handling current water supply in Bangalore, its not sustainable for long term. Using Rai water and the lakes in Blr is a wise decision but already most of the lake water is not in usable condition and no.of lakes are drastically coming down. In future i am seeing Cauvery issue will come between Mandaya farmers and Bangalorians.

  9. In my area all the borewells are dry. We depend on water tanker for everyday consumption. Even though we have rain water harvesting in the apartment it did not last till this month. Again this year the monsoon was pretty good for Bangalore. I fully agree with UN report. Bangalore has to take measure similar to Israel in utilisation of water for self sufficiency.

  10. Good we know our strength. Still we have to be alert about our resources. We will consider this UN servey article as pre warning. Drink enough water without fear.

  11. BBC’s remarks cant be ruled out. The claim of enough water supply being made now is in the interest of Real estate goons. Authority must discourage unpresidented thronging of people to settle here. Enough is enough.

  12. Reality is different, though all calculations show we are rich in water, many places in Bangalore depends on purchased water tanks. Where is water in white field, Sarjapur and many other places. Only old Bangalore has sufficient water. One year less rain fall will aggravate situation.

  13. The report was made by UN… it was broadcasted by BBC… I am a resident of Bangalore n no matter what article that comes out as the above … we the denizens will suffer one day…every one can try to hush the matter for personal benefits..but the UN report is something to take action.

    • UN says, what US wants. It’s a thumb rule.
      See, if they are successful in spreading any deadly rumour or make people panic then it will be helpful for US. How, because of the IT industry and the jobs moving out of US and landing in Bangalore.
      This is my assumption on very less awareness of Bangalore and it’s water availability and consumption.

  14. I still wonder why Bengaluru became the captial of Karnataka.
    It has no water source.. it depends on other non city based river for Easter. Too far for many people in Karnataka itself.

    Anyway, having said that, the way it’s growing , it’s not possible to fulfill the water.. as of today only 30% of actual city covered with Kaveri water for drinking purpose.. if they cover 100% by 2019 then water from Kaveri and Kahini both are not the sufficient!

    I wonder who write This article?

    Instead of simply blaming the report, start writing article on how to make understand people for better or of water and how not to waste water..

    • Mr. Basavaraju, I hope you have heard of Arkavathy, Vrishabhavthi and Dakshina Pinakini. These rivers were alive and kicking when Bangalore was declared the capital of Karnataka. There are 1000s of apartments with RWH and STPs in Bangalore. Kindly do not generalize with little idea of things. I hope, you have RWH installed at home.
      Warm Regards

  15. We have a problem with criticism. Accept the problem and both citizens & govt should resolve. If we don’t do anything (more likely scenario as seen in last 20years), this will come true. We already have places in Blr which are 100% depending on tanker supply.

  16. A good analysis slightly on over confidence side. Bengaluru is far too high a dense city with burgeoning population and no amount of rains can satisfy even 25% of the water needs with the lakes are all being either eaten up, encroached or let with sewer water making them a cesspool where ever available.
    Storm water harvesting is not done in a scientific way allowing the water to drain away from the city and getting wasted. Rain water harvesting by individual households should be taken up seriously and to be mandated .
    If the city plans to get it’s 50% requirement through rainwater harvesting and lakes management, then of course it can be said future can be secured with water.

  17. The BBC report is based on scientific studies conducted by the U.N
    Ignoring/ridiculing it is suicidal
    And impractical all water in the lakes as well as the ground water is toxic and useless. Rainwater cannot flow into the water bodies because of real estate development …

  18. Truth always hurts, let’s accept the fact that Banglore is way behind other developed metro cities. Look at in terms of metro connectviy, roads condition, lake’s conditio and traffic chaos. If nothing is done soon, Banglore will be in one of the dirtiest and chaotic cities list. Think about it.

  19. Well, IMHO there are three major catches:

    First, let us focus on the >50% population that still has to rely on groundwater.
    Regardless of what happens to Kavery waters, this population will grow at 8% CAGR. And these borewell are not going to recharge at the same rate.
    With time, many of them will go dry. Many of them already have contaminated water. In almost all well,s the water level is receding at alarming rate. We will have new problems like heavy metals when the depth increases. BWSSB has no plans for this group at all.

    As regards the rainwater, only what falls on our roof can be used. The rest gets mixed with sewage and is discarded to Tamil Nadu, where it is used as fresh water.

    Let’s assume the median apartment size is 1500 sq ft (150 sqm).
    This precipitation is divided in 10 floors (assuming a 10-floor apartment).
    Assuming 900mm rain, each house gets (15 sq m*0.9 m)= 13.5 kl.
    This is sufficient to last for 13.5/0.7=19 days (not even 3 weeks).

    Given the capability of our agencies, it is reasonable to expect that rain falling in the rest of areas will be lost.

    Speaking of Bellandur+Varthur areas, BWSSB has not located their STPs to revive any of the 96 upstream lakes. There are no wetlands planned for these lakes. So the groundwater recharging scenario is not going to change.

    In the rest of Bangalore, the situation is not likely to be different.

    BTW Kaikondrahalli lake is created by bypassing the incoming sewage. That’s not a good model. Now Ibbalur lake, Deverabeesanahalli lake and Agara lake have joined the same model.

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