S Vishwanath is a pioneer in rainwater harvesting. He is the founder of Rainwater Club, a city-based group that promotes and provides information on rainwater harvesting. Vishwanath has been working in the areas of urban planning, ecological architecture and water management for the past 25 years. Rainwater Club was one of the winners of the 2009 Namma Bengaluru Awards. In this interview with Citizen Matters, Vishwanath speaks about the desperate water scene in the city and suggests what immediate measures can be taken to address the issue of shortage.
When you hear of water shortages in Bangalore, what is your first reaction as a water expert?
What a tragedy…with better management we can all be self sufficient for water. Plug the leaks in the system, put in place good management practice for tanks and ground water, harvest rainwater, reduce consumption through demand management and finally recycle water and there should be no problems.
What is the one thing the city administration must do to improve the water availability situation that they most often overlook?
Plug the leaks in the system which are close to 50 per cent. Reduce it to 10 per cent.
When water board officials are aware of the level of water loss because of faulty pipes, why is this not being done? What could be a starting point for this to take it up on a large-scale?
That is indeed tricky. At the official level there is no incentive to reduce leakage and no accountability. A pilot scheme was already tried out but the results of the benefits are not known, if only it were in public domain. This could be taken up initially in ten wards of the BWSSB and then spread to the remaining 54 wards. Both physical losses and financial losses have to be plugged.
To cut down financial losses involves identifying and disconnecting illegal connections or regularising them.
To cut down physical loss, elaborate leak detection work is taken with the pipes fully pressurised, usually in the night, and with the help of sounding rods and other detection techniques, leaks are identified and pipes/valves replaced. This has been done by the BWSSB itself in the Vasantnagar zone, if I remember right, with good results. It has also been done in towns like Navi Mumbai and Jamshedpur in India where losses have been brought down, though I do not have the figures exactly.
Has there been a history of water shortages of this sort in the city before (10-20 years timespan) and how did the city get out of that earlier? (i.e. is this a chronic issue or much recent)
Water project investment is lumpy. You have periods of surplus and periods of shortages . This cycle has been around since 1894 in Bangalore. The city always got out of it through a new scheme and supply side projects of more water from a farther source. This time around we have reached ecological limits and Civil Engineering can no longer provide the more water answer.
Vishwanath says that if resources are used wisely, a population of 35 million can easily get around 100 litres per person per day. Here’s how:
Cauvery = 1500 MLD (After 4th stage 2nd phase)
Rainwater + groundwater = 1000 MLD
Recycled water = 1000 MLD (50 per cent of the above)
Total = 3500 MLD
"This requires planning, resources and implementation", says this water expert.
The state government has decided to dig 15 borewells in every assembly constituency? Is it wise to do this?
If this is a solution it is but temporary. Only about 6 to 10 per cent of rain that falls on the city reaches the groundwater. More drilling of bore wells will simply empty groundwater faster. We must increase recharge of groundwater to atleast 50 per cent of rains, clean up our lakes and make them recharge structures and prevent sewage flowing in storm water drains.
What are the kinds of complaints you have been hearing from citizens in the past few weeks about water supply/shortage? What have they been telling you?
It is the irregularity and limited supply of water from pipelines. The failure of bore wells particularly from the North and East of the city and from apartments…and the increased dependence on private water tankers and the high cost therein with no assurance of quality.
What must residents associations and apartments do over the coming months to address the issue of water shortage?
Reduce demand to the optimum, harvest rainwater, meter their bore wells and price water at at least production cost and recycle water as much as possible. Do not get into competitive drilling of bore wells but dig a few and invest more in recharge fof groundwater.
Looking at media reports and the current political pressure, what would you suggest be done within the next few days/weeks to supply adequate water to all (or at least as many as possible)? Apart from rainwater harvesting of course.
Identify and take over private bore wells which yield good quanity of water from within the city and the periphery. Distribute this common property resource to all in the city. Launch a massive drive to plug leaks in the system as well as a major connection drive to connect all to the city water especially the poor. This will in turn create pressure on the BWSSB to find the source and to fill the pipe. Some water for all and not all water for some should be the mantra.
One option today is to buy water. Tanker water has become expensive. As an expert who has been working closely with regard to water-related issues, how does such a scenario affect low-income groups in a city like Bangalore? Do they end up paying a high price for water, with no other choice at all?
Indeed, the poor pay the highest price for water. Whereas the middle class and the rich pay Rs. 6 and Rs. 9 per kilo-litre i.e 1000 litre of water, the poor pay Re. 1 to Rs. 5 per pot of about 15 litres. The poor pay upto Rs.300 per kilo-litre. They also pay through health costs in terms of the bad quality of water and sanitation they have.
What has the response been like with regard to rainwater harvesting. Are more people doing this because of a genuine concern to manage water or just because a deadline has been set by the government?
Most people are doing it for fear of the law but there is a small percentage say 10 per cents who do it for the general good of the environment and because they are respectable and responsible citizens. We at the rainwaterclub see ourselves not as contractors but as catalysts of sustainable ideas around water. In terms of enquiries alone more than a 1000 people must have called up after April 1 many of whom we redirect to Labournet. ⊕
Excellent interview. And very valuable inputs by the expert Mr. Vishwanath. Hopefully concerned officials will accept some of his brilliant recommendations and try resolve the issue.
Thanks for this report!