Water water everywhere not a drop to drink.
This sentence is not only true when you are on the sea and don’t have a drop of fresh water to drink but also in a rainy season when the whole city is flooded and the only source of fresh tap water is also contaminated. As the country urbanizes steadily, all the water bodies are getting encroached. The cities municipalities are hardly bothered. Hyderabad was once known for its water bodies, lakes etc. Today hardly a fraction of them survive. The water bodies have fallen prey to rampant commercialization of the land. In the blind quest to encroach upon land, the land sharks in confluence with corrupt politicians and the mafia are grabbing land where ever they see fit.
So we see entirely new colonies coming up in place where there was a water body some decades earlier. Its not that nature doesn’t take its revenge. During a deluge the whole place is flooded cause it’s traditionally a low lying area. Afterall, there is only so much of the land that you can fill up with mud and raise its height. The crooks go away after encroaching lands, carving them into plots, sell them off to gullible customers and share of their booty.
When a heavy rain occurs, its natural for the water to flow towards the lower lying areas of the city and the most obvious place is the former water bodies. So, during rains we are witness to well built houses totally submerged upto at least a few meters under water. Even the municipality would have taken bribes and regularize the buildings. But when the water seeps into the house and drowns everything and in the process destroy all the equipments in the house, its only the house owner who is left sucking the thumb.
Another ill effect of rapid urbanization has been the concreting of the land. Earlier all the rain water used to collect in puddles, small ponds or lakes and then slowly percolate down the land and replenish the water streams below ground. This meant that ground water was never a problem if you even drilled a borewell 100 feet below the ground. Today with apartments coming up and rampant and unauthorized borewell drilling; even 2000 odd feet also gives nothing but dry land. As we pump out more and more groundwater without helping in replenishing the ground water, we are indeed looking at a parched and dry future.
With no proper drainage system, most of the industrial and household effluents are just let off into normal drains which ends up in the nearby lakes. These lakes which form the local aquifers and are supposed to replenish the groundwater only end up getting polluted and as a result pollutes the groundwater.
As a result the people living nearer to these lakes end up drinking borewell water that is contaminated. Its been estimated that a majority of the borewell in India have been contaminated with harmful chemicals like lead which can lead to deformed brain development of growing up children.
During Ganesh festival and also during the Kali Puja in Bengal and other parts of India, we see that the idols are immersed in the local water bodies or in the sea (for costal cities) after the 10 odd days of praying and celebrations. Most of these idols are made of non-biodegradable products and paints that do not eco friendly. This causes the water to be polluted by the poisonous chemicals of the paints used for the idols. Since the idols are not made of clay, they remain in the water for long periods of time without dissolving and stay at the bed of the lakes. Indiscriminate pollution of the lakes and our water bodies by such mechanism causes the natural springs below the lake that feed the water body with fresh water is choked. This leads to systematic drying out of the water body which is soon encroached by some land mafia or corrupt politician with active connivance of the police.
With our municipalities doing such a shoddy job of garbage disposal, its no wonder that most of the garbage ends up in the rivers or streams. Combined it with the lack of civic sense among us Indians, we litter wherever possible. These same people are on their best behaviour when they go to other countries like Singapore or the US, Europe etc. Its precisely because we take no pride in keeping our surroundings clean that there are so many diseases around. We clean our houses, take the garbage and throw it on the street without even thinking that the street is nothing but an extension of our immediate neighborhood. And most of these garbage ends up polluting our water sources. And then we go complaining that the government pumps in contaminated water through the pipes. What about our responsibility towards our society? Is keeping the city neat and clean only the responsibility of the government?
The only way for us to overcome this problem is to replenish the groundwater using rainwater harvesting. Lets look at some of the easiest forms of groundwater replenishment.
- Create a rainwater harvesting pit inside the compound. Its pretty easy and doesn’t take much of an effort. All it takes is a to dig a deep hole, some 6-10 feet deep and 3-4 feet in length and breadth. Fill the hole with gravel, sand, charcoal, then some more gravel, sand etc till the pit is filled up. Then direct the rainwater pipes from the terrace to this hole. That’s it. If you can get a worker to get it done, he would finish the whole job in probably 1-2 days. Or else you yourself can do it. The pit doesn’t really need to be so deep. If its an individual house, then you can create a pit that is just 4-5 feet deep.
- Channel other water – Most of the time we waste a lot of water in the kitchen after washing plates or vegetables. These water can be collected in a bucket and then dumped into the recharge pit. Just ensure that the water is not soapy enough and doesn’t have a lot of detergent in it.
- Plant more trees / plants – This is probably the most obvious of the statements. From childhood, we have been listening to our teachers tell us that we need to plant more trees to ensure that the ground stays moist and retains water. Trees ensure that the top soil doesn’t run off when it rains.
- Create earth dams or check dams – The rainwater harvesting using check dams or earth dams will ensure that the rain water will not run off into the sea or rivers but the flow of water is stopped and this will cause the water to percolate to the ground leading to a higher groundwater table.
- Most of the houses in the cities get piped water from the local municipality and i have seen a lot of houses after filling up their tanks, letting loose the rest of the water onto the streets or into the drainage near their house. This is a criminal wastage of scarce resource. If only the excess water was discharged into the rainwater harvesting pit, it could enhance the water table in their locality and would ensure that their borewells dont go dry during the summer season. If making a rainwater harvesting pit is such a chore, all they can do is to take a pipe, connect it to the municipal water pipe and put it into the borewell. This is another way of cheaply recharging the groundwater.
Its easy to blame the government for the drought, dropping groundwater and floods. With weather patterns changing, a change in the way the wind blows somewhere in South America delays the monsoon or leads to heavy rains or drought in India. We wouldn’t like to accept such explanations, but scientists have studied deep co-relation between such patterns.
We are a funny species, which believes something that is written in some fairy tale book thousands of years ago and base all our lives on it and are even willing to kill our own children and our best friends / neighbors on the superiority of our superstitions, but refuse to learn from the evidence provided to us by the nature around us. We question the scientists and weather personnel on their wisdom to spread truth to us using evidence but have no qualms on believing some fairy tales that has been passed down to us from our grandparents without any evidence to back it.
Its time we take the responsibility of taking care of our environment, our water sources ourselves. Its precisely this reason why I don’t have any sympathy for people who build their houses in low lying areas that get flooded during rains. Why should we or the government help them with our hard earned tax money when in the first place they encroached on a low lying area that was traditionally a water body? Why didn’t they conduct due diligence when they bought the lands on a lake bed? They should be left to fend for themselves for their own folly. Why should the honest tax payer be penalized by helping out a land grabber who destroys our environment?