April 13, 2024

‘Bengaluru could become worse than Cape Town if poor water management continues’: TV Ramachandra | Bangalore News

With Bengaluru facing a water crisis and the drought of the Cauvery and groundwater resources, the industries, institutions and residents of India’s Silicon Valley were equally affected.

TV Ramachandra, Coordinator, Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, spoke to The Indian Express about the prevailing water crisis in Bengaluru and what has led to shortages in the region that have caused severe distress to its residents.

Ramachandra also explains why the water crisis could be worse than the one in Cape Town, South Africa, and how the actions of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) have only proven to be a water management disaster . Parts:

How do you interpret the water crisis that has ravaged the city of Bengaluru?

Bengaluru currently has a severe water shortage. Forty percent of Bengaluru’s water needs come from groundwater resources and 60 percent come from Cauvery. The Cauvery basin, due to deforestation over time and climate change, has lost its ability to retain water, which is further aggravated by irregular rainfall.

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In the last five decades, the Cauvery basin has lost 45% of its forest cover and today we have only about 18% of the forest cover in the region. Our study shows that wherever there are forests in the watershed area, water is available throughout the year. However, with very low water retention in the river basin and due to deforestation, all the water is rushing towards the ocean, causing a shortage in the Cauvery basin this year.

What led to the depletion of groundwater in Bengaluru?

Groundwater is available underground only when you allow recharge to happen. Groundwater recharge only happens when the landscape is porous. The landscape is porous when it has vegetation cover and water bodies. However, the landscape of Bengaluru has changed drastically over the years. In the 1800s, Bengaluru had 1,452 water bodies and 80% green cover. Today, we have around 193 bodies of water and less than 4% green coverage.

Bengaluru Water Dr. TV Ramachandra, Coordinator, Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

If we look at the last five decades, in 1973 Bengaluru’s landscape had 68% green cover and less than 8% paved surface. For any city to be livable, you need adequate oxygen and water. There is oxygen deficiency in the region (Bengaluru) due to less tree cover in the region. According to a study, Bengaluru has one tree for seven to eight people, while scientifically we should have seven to eight trees for one person. As a result, we did not allow water to infiltrate into Bengaluru.

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Bengaluru’s water crisis is being compared to Cape Town’s similar situation. How true is this?

Yes I agree. News reports revealed that Cape Town was at the height of water shortages due to mismanagement. If the current situation of mismanagement (of water) in Bengaluru continues, we will pay a heavy price with a situation worse than that of Cape Town. While Cape Town recovered, in our bureaucratic system we took advantage of the scarcity and handed the city over to the water and land mafias. They become more powerful, as is happening today.

I strongly suggest that the government seriously listen to these warnings. A 1,055% increase in concrete area, loss of 88% of vegetation and 79% of water bodies in the city, oxygen deficiency and water scarcity have led Bengaluru to an uninhabitable situation. For any city to be habitable, we need to plan it below the carrying capacity threshold. But Bengaluru crossed the threshold. To reach the carrying capacity threshold, we need to decongest the city. We need to transfer industries to other cities and towns, in line with a cluster-based development model, so that there is no migration to Bengaluru in search of jobs and livelihoods.

How can Bengaluru get out of this water crisis? What are the solutions?

We need to make everyone environmentally responsible. Environmental literacy is very important. If they become environmentally sensitive, people will manage water bodies, park in the neighborhood, refrain from polluting water bodies, etc. Otherwise, people and those in power will only resort to poor water management. As for water availability in the region, with 700-850 mm of annual precipitation, we have around 15 TMC of water in the city. The city needs around 18 TMC of water. This means that 75% of the water required by Bengaluru is available in the form of rainwater. The best option is to adopt rainwater harvesting by collecting it from the roofs of houses or by rejuvenating the lake and retaining rainwater at the community level. This will ensure a good amount of groundwater recharge.

In fact, the rejuvenation of Sarakki Lake and Puttenahalli Lake has proven to be useful during this water crisis.

Yes, Sarakki Lake was rejuvenated three years ago. In one year, the water table rose 320 feet. Today, the lake has enough water and the surrounding wells also have a good water table. Due to the region’s good moisture content, the temperature is also two to three degrees cooler. This shows that we have to rejuvenate the lakes and desilt the lakes. In fact, sludge can be used as a fertilizer substitute by farmers, which will increase crop yields.

The rejuvenation of the lake will ensure 15 TMC of water for Bengaluru. On the other hand, Bengaluru generates 18 TMC of wastewater. If we treat this water at the tertiary level, we will generate 16 TMC of treated water. You have to treat the water to the tertiary level because secondary treatment plants will only remove chemical ions while tertiary treatment will remove nutrients.

In fact, water contamination is due to nutrients. The model of rejuvenation and water management in lakes like Puttenahalli, Sarakki and Jakkur should be replicated in Bengaluru on a priority basis. Taking lessons from the current crisis, if we can intervene and manage our lakes and green cover, we will be solving the city’s water problem in the long term.

What do you think of the BWSSB’s measures, such as the ban on drinking water for construction activities, washing vehicles and taking over water trucks in the city, among other actions?

The BWSSB’s approach is reactionary and ad hoc. They don’t have the necessary competence to face the situation because we haven’t put the right people in place. This is a serious anomaly in the system. Why are organizations like BWSSB run by IAS officers? Why can’t we have subject matter experts? We need Indian Engineering Service (IES) employees.

Furthermore, BWSSB’s assurance of supplying 2,600 MLD of Cauvery water to Bengaluru over the next two months is baseless. When the lakes are being rejuvenated, the BWSSB comes up with a proposal to fill the lakes with partially treated water. They have no right to do that. This will hinder the rejuvenation process and, at the same time, pollute the lake.

Furthermore, tanker trucks or the real estate mafia reflect the pathetic status of a region and the failure of the executive mechanism. They failed miserably which is why people opted for water tankers but unfortunately they are being harassed and abused by the mafia. I would suggest that the government hold the bureaucracy accountable, audit available resources and ration water equally for all sectors of society across the city. Secondly, for non-potable purposes, they should supply treated water via tanker trucks and supply it to the city. The government should have control over this instead of handing it over to the mafia.

How can we use technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to manage water?

Analyzing water remote sensing data through AI can help in several ways. Deploying manpower to collect and analyze to check water quality is a challenging task. Instead, deploy sensors that will collect data and alert whether the water is contaminated or not. In fact, AI can also detect water theft. By installing AI sensors in apartment buildings, you can detect which house is wasting the most water.

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