Vishwanath Srikantaiah: An integrated water MGMT is necessary to prevent a disaster in Bengaluru

There is enough water, but only if it is managed properly, according to renowned water conservation expert Vishwanath Srikantaiah, who spoke with The New Sunday Express as Bengaluru was experiencing a severe water crisis and the government was considering Mekedatu or drilling more borewells as solutions. In addition to the urgent need for an integrated water management system, the creator of Rainwater Club, Director of Biome Environmental Solutions, and Trustee of Biome Environmental Trust said that the implementation of Jala Samvardana Yojana Sangha 2.0 and a wastewater policy are also imperative.

How bad is the situation with the water?

There is no actual crisis for the 1.1 million people who have a link to the Cauvery water system. 1,470 million litres are pumped daily (MLD) by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). A minimum of 25–30% of the populace depends on groundwater, either from water tankers or their own borewells. There is only so much crisis for them. For the last three months, there has been a problem, particularly on the city’s outskirts.

To what extent does the situation exist outside of Bengaluru?

It is very serious. However, there is no crisis because of the high groundwater table caused by the treated wastewater that is being sent to Kolar and Chikkaballapur. There are severe water shortages and droughts in other areas.

Should Bengaluru follow Cape Town’s lead?

The water reservoir that supplied Cape Town began to run low and eventually dried up. However, Bengaluru is reliant on four water sources. KRS and Kabini are two of them that deliver water directly. Harangi and Hemavathi provide a backup. There are around 43 TMC feet of water, according to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC). It won’t be dry out in the dams until July. About 10.8 TMCft of water are needed in Bengaluru. If water is utilized wisely, there will be enough of it in the reservoir. No, we won’t turn into Cape Town. However, for areas that rely on groundwater, we must act swiftly to find answers.

How did Bengaluru end up here?

Bellandur and Varthur have been drained of water and have not been desilted for the last five years, which is one of the reasons there is a problem in the eastern and south-eastern areas of the city. There has been a one-year delay in the Cauvery 5th Stage, which is expected to provide 775 MLD. There would not have been a catastrophe if the lakes had been desilted on schedule and filled with rainwater or purified wastewater. Bengaluru is in for the ideal storm right now.

Would this issue exist if the government took rainwater harvesting (RWH) seriously?

It would have addressed a portion of the issue. Participation of residents in RWH is crucial. RWH structures number in the neighborhood of 1.8 million, some of which are defective. At least ten million buildings need to exist. November was the last month it rained. There has been a protracted dry spell.

To what extent do sewage treatment facilities (STPs) provide aid?

36 BWSSB STPs that are able to treat 1,440 MLD are now only getting 1,059 MLD. BWSSB is renovating STPs with an investment of Rs 1,600 crore. We have to work out a location where Bengaluru can also access wastewater. We have policies for treating wastewater, not for reusing it.

What is Bengaluru’s situation with regard to traditional wells?

Numerous wells had stopped working. They have been cleaned up, and community wells in Malleswaram, Basavanagudi, Basaveshwaranagar, and other places have been replenished with rainfall thanks to traditional well diggers. In Bengaluru, around 12,000 ancient wells have been revived. 2.5 lakh recharge pits have been excavated by well diggers in Cubbon Park, Lal Bagh, and other areas of the city. This momentum ought to increase since the city still needs more than a million recharge stations.

Have recharge pits improved the groundwater table to a sufficient degree?

Recharge wells have shown instantaneous benefits wherever they are applied concentrated. For instance, at the Indian Institute of Management and the Rail Wheel Factory. outcomes are quick when sub-aquifers are identified and thoroughly recharged; however, outcomes take time when the process is diffused.

What safeguards must we put in place right now to make sure that a water crisis doesn’t happen again the following year?

In Karnataka, there are 36,000 lakes and tanks. In 2008, the World Bank funded a scheme known as Jala Samvardana Yojana Sangha (JSYS). This led to the desilting of 3,900 tanks, the cleaning of feeder canals and catchment regions, and the formation of tank user organizations. However, it’s now forgotten. JSYS 2.0 is critically needed right now. Building capacity to better understand groundwater and aquifers, replenish them, and then control groundwater is one of the many solutions required for metropolitan areas. As of the present, BWSSB lacks a hydro-geologist. All cities and towns should establish groundwater cells, and Amrut 2.0 funding should be used to create groundwater management plans. We can prepare for drought and climate change by using treated wastewater and groundwater responsibly.

How severe is the lake encroachment in Bengaluru?

Bad. There is construction waste being disposed of. Builders are relocating into lake regions and dumping dirt there. Lakes are still in horrible condition even with judicial attention.

The Cauvery catchment region is impacted by the lack of rain. How will it affect Bengaluru?

The Cauvery basin and its forests are seeing a sharp deterioration, according to reports from IISc and other sources. Bengaluru cannot exist without Cauvery. Bengaluru have the duty to address the Cauvery watershed rather than focusing just on lakes. A management plan and a River Basin Institution do not exist.

Regarding the Yettinahole project, what are your thoughts?

Mekedatu and Yettinahole have catastrophic ecological effects. Nothing has come to us from the Rs 20,000 crore that the government has spent in Yettinahole. Local waterways and conservation are important considerations.

The government claims that Mekedattu is the answer to Bengaluru’s water issues. Is it really the case?

The Supreme Court has allotted 284.75 TMCft to us. However, the city is already using 19 TMCft, or 6.67% of the Cauvery water allotted to Karnataka. We will need an extra 775 MLD, which equates to 11 TMCft. According to our deputy chief minister, six more TMCft are accessible. Thus, it represents 30 TMCft, or 11% of Karnataka’s allotment. At 6.30 am, water is pumped from Thorekadanahalli, also known as TK Halli, and it arrives at your home at 7.30 am. It’s in the STPs by nine a.m. It arrives at Kolar about 11.30 a.m. Bengaluru is only a stopover for water from the Cauvery. Bengaluru further contributes 600 MLD of groundwater, which is lost as effluent. We should ask ourselves whether we would rather utilize that 2 crore liters per acre of sugarcane or use it to feed the impoverished year-round. The Cauvery has an abundance of water. Future dam construction is not necessary if it is properly managed.

What can be done to educate kids about the need of conserving water?

Schools may have rainwater collection systems installed. Give kids a water quality testing kit and a rain gauge. With the assistance of their instructors, sixth-through eighth-graders can determine the amount of rainfall and whether the water is drinkable. It’s a practical and exquisite tool for improving water literacy. This educational initiative need to be made widely available.

Has it been implemented elsewhere, and if so, how did it go?

In some schools, it is what we do. Children were requested to gather samples from ten villages eight years ago at a school in Pavagada with a high fluoride concentration since all of the students would be traveling from those locations to the school. With the assistance of their instructor, collected water samples were plotted and subjected to fluoride testing. The report was sent to the DC, who forwarded it to the government and requested that RO (reverse osmosis) facilities be installed or that fluoride mitigation measures be taken. This is the practical education of schoolchildren’s power.

How about the mafia behind private tankers?

Private tankers are an example of a failed state. Tanker operations are similar to a market economy. Instead of restricting the pricing of private tankers, the government could enhance the supply of water via its own tankers if the costs of private water tankers need to be kept under control.

How can the pressure on water be lessened?

We don’t need to be very concerned. In the next three months, Cauvery will provide us with around 2,270 MLD. plus 660 MLD from subsurface water. We have processed wastewater in 2,000 MLD and 500 MLD from rainfall. Around 5,000 MLD is the total. For a population of at least 40 million, there is more than enough. We don’t need to go far if it is handled correctly. However, the government’s sole intention is to transport water from Yettinaholle, Mekedattu, Cauvery, and Linganamakki.

Is utilizing water from the TG Halli reservoir helpful?

It most certainly will. A significant amount of money has already been spent on establishing a 135 MLD STP. At V-Valley, we have a 150 MLD facility. We will have an extra 135 MLD in addition to Cauvery water if the water from this area is utilized to fill Arkavathi, let it run, create a wetland, and let the rain fall naturally. A DPR had been developed by a Singaporean business. However, it only takes one minister or official to express disapproval of a proposal. All we have to do is put our report into action.

Why is the City at this point, where is the BWSSB mismanagement, and why are we talking about it?

The government has continuously underinvested in BWSSB. They planned to seek World Bank support while Vidya Shankar was chairman, and they conducted research on the number of personnel required for every 1,000 connections, among other things. They set a limit on hiring. However, Bengaluru was rapidly expanding at that time. It was then that they need highly skilled engineers to be able to plan comprehensively. There are no hydrogeologists there. Therefore, BWSSB does not have groundwater. The social development unit does not exist. Thus, for BWSSB, slums don’t exist. Strong institutions with competent heads are required. They rely on the Japan International Cooperation Agency for investments since they lack financial stability.

Who then has to answer for their actions?

Instead of saying “Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board,” some refer to BWSSB as “Cauvery Water Supply and Sewerage Board.” The BBMP oversees lakes, the Groundwater Authority manages groundwater, and the Minor Irrigation Department is in charge of wastewater. Where is the city’s comprehensive institutional strategy for water? The BWSSB has to be strengthened by the government. It lacks the necessary resources to handle the issue as it stands. That’s what I think.

Could you fairly describe the steps involved in creating an integrated system?

Having human resources and establishing a groundwater cell is a very fast and simple answer. It needs skilled hydrologists who can draw up a groundwater management strategy. Consider all groundwater laws, refilling, use, and costs. Establish a wastewater reuse cell staffed by experts who understand the quality and dependability requirements for the 59 STP treatments as well as how they will be used, first for Bengaluru and then for the other districts. It will work out if you first complete these two tasks correctly. It won’t take much, only 20 people to get started on this.

What about the price of the water supply? Is hiking appropriate here?

The administration has been considering the plan for the last three years. According to the BWSSB computation, it costs Rs 42 to deliver one kilogram of water to us. However, the price per kilolitre increases to Rs 95 when operating and maintenance costs, capital costs, debt payments, and sinking fund are included. For the first slab, a residential household must pay Rs 7 per litre, for the second, Rs 11 per litre. If the amount exceeds 20,000 litres, a subsidy of Rs 1,650 per month is provided. Not even the expense of gathering water and sending it to STPs for treatment is covered.

What difficulties lie in desilting a reservoir? The deposition of silt has reduced the capacity in Krishna and Cauvery.

Numerous studies have been conducted. Indeed, CWC has a report. One way to construct a reservoir is to establish a dead storage. It is concerning if that is crossed. Somewhere above the sluice gate is where the silt is. The silt load in some reservoirs is being exceeded. The problem of desilting reservoirs has to be solved. Pushing it down the river is one method as rivers and the delta need silt.

To provide us with water, the government plans to dig additional borewells and tubewells. Is what I’m doing the proper thing?

That is how crisis management looks. You won’t obtain water in the borewell you dig if the groundwater table has dropped. The nearby borewells will run out of water if the borewell fills with water. There is no net benefit to the community.

So what is the procedure?

Ensuring that the aquifers are replenished to provide water to the current borewells is the best course of action. According to the government, 6,900 of the 13,000 borewells are dry. Five lakh borewells are owned by private individuals. We are not discussing the proportion of dry ones here.

Will a strong monsoon increase percolation, or will extensive rainwater collection be required?

Large-scale RWH harvesting is required. It is essential that all apartment buildings and ridge lines force the water downward. Our lakes must be kept fresh and free of silt in order to collect rainfall.

For good percolation, how many monsoons are necessary?

Because of the extreme shortage, the top soil will be the only one to retain moisture after the first few rainfall. For it, two or three days of continuous rainfall totaling 100 mm are required.

But B’luru will flood from that!

Localized flooding occurs. Not floods, but water logging due to poor roads and other factors. RWH is the answer to floods. According to the handbook, a square meter of land may hold sixty liters of water. Therefore, there won’t be any flooding if it is followed. The government must invest in lakes to receive the excess water from roadways and make sure that sewage does not end up in stormwater drains. The government must make sewage network investments in order to prevent flooding.

What message do you want to convey?

Use water sparingly. Share water with others and practice mindfulness of it. Use aerators on faucets. Make the state take accountability for its actions. Holding elected officials responsible is important.