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Crisis of depleting water sources

| | in Oped

With seven major rivers and their numerous tributaries coupled with the might of Himalayas providing eternal water to these rivers, it is ironical that India is water-stressed. Water pollution is taking a heavy toll as well

The techno-savvy city of Bengaluru, also known as the ‘silicon valley of India’, is set to face yet another harsh summer in the face of ever-dwindling water resources. The rapidly increasing drought-like conditions are bringing about rumours of water rationing even as groundwater levels have dropped to record depths. In fact, many parts of this lush garden city — as Bengaluru is referred to — are unable to strike water even after drilling upto 1,050 feet. The worst part is the fact that even if water is discovered, the quality is extremely poor as the State is also facing a spike in pollution of groundwater in many areas.

A recent study by the State’s department of mines and geology showed  the groundwater in about 12 of the 30 districts in Karnataka to be highly polluted with excess concentration of fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate and salinity due to both anthropogenic and geogenic factors. This is particularly due to the mixing of sewerage through unlined open drains, leakage from cesspits and septic tanks, and contamination from industrial wastes. The situation has assumed such critical proportions that, if the present trend continues, many newly developed parts of the city will have to be evacuated by year 2025. The case of Bengaluru, in fact, reflects the state of affairs of most of our cities in urban India that are water-stressed due to impacts of anthropogenic activities and pollution.

Over the past few decades, India has become one of the most water-challenged countries in the world, from its deepest aquifer to its largest rivers. Groundwater levels are falling alarmingly as farmers, city residents and industries continue to drain wells and aquifer. The future is not looking encouraging either. According to a report by McKinsey, the national supply is predicted to fall 50 per cent below demand by 2030, with nearly 100 million people going to be directly affected by a severe lack of potable water resources in the country.

In order to prevent unimaginable water-related hardships in the future, the Government must undertake immediate remedial measures that not only work towards reversing the damage already done to India’s water supplies but also help protect against chronic struggles repeated every year during the summer season.

The Government must firstly engage advanced GPS technology in a simplified format and make it available across various levels of administration so that accurate and scientific data can be gathered, that can not only quantify water stress but also provide details on groundwater depletion — both current and projected — besides groundwater availability, quality, rainfall and so on. This data-based approach can help understand threats to surface and groundwater water security, and therefore support long-term development and water conservation planning.

In addition to preventive measures that are technology-based, the Government must also focus on preserving the availability of sufficient groundwater that is devoid of any pollution and which can conform to the minimum standards of water quality that have been prescribed by the World Heath Organisation (WHO).

It is also pertinent for the authorities to quickly address the worsening groundwater quality and availability problem. For an effective management and regulation of groundwater resources,, no single template or method can prove to be an effective and final solution, because the hydrogeological, social, economic, cultural and political factors can vary greatly at local or regional scales. The administration must allow usage of the groundwater subject to conditions that enable sufficient recharge of the groundwater table. For instance, in addition to relying on rainfall for groundwater recharge, the authorities must also incorporate measures such as rainwater harvesting to augment the water table. Additionally, desalination and recharging the aquifer with surplus water can also partly provide assistance and boost the availability of quality groundwater.

Agriculture happens to consume the largest quantities of fresh water, and the Government must tweak its policies especially towards water intensive crops so that the quantum of water consumption can be brought down. This will also augur well for the farmers, who are hit hard when drought conditions result in catastrophic crop failure resulting in mounting farmer debts and in some unfortunate cases paving the way for farmer suicides. The lack of sound water management policy is the root cause of looming water crisis in India, and the Government can rectify this by levying economic costs on water wastage which can go a long way in checking the rampant misuse and pollution of water resources.

With seven major rivers and their numerous tributaries coupled with the might of Himalayas providing eternal water to these rivers, it is ironical that India is water-stressed.

 

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

 
 
 
 
 
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