The Garden City of India’s frightening progress towards the inevitable in 2020


Bangalore’s water situation explained

Bangalore, a city whose lands were once upon a time nourished and nurtured by its lakes is now predicted to go dry by 2020. The city has “progressed” from 260+ lakes in 1960 to 80 lakes ( which are ecologically dead, mostly) in 50 years ! The garden city is now a concrete jungle, and this transformation is heart-wrenching. What brought about this change? Uncontrolled and unchecked urbanisation , ever-growing populace and inefficient water management would be the main factors – Bangalore’s water situation is a story that is playing out in all of India’s metros with frightening similarity. As a result of this potable waters have gone scarcer, groundwater levels are dissipating and chemical-foamed lakes occasionally catch fire.

The second half of the 1990’s had Bangalore position itself as India’s spanking new Tech Hub with companies like IBM, Microsoft and Dell establishing themselves in the city. Job requirements sky-rocketed, but on the other hand the city is drying out. Piped water falls short, and fails to meet the needs of the residents. A large portion of people resort to private or government tankers to meet daily needs. They in turn draw water from wells within and outside the city. This paucity of water has resulted in families encroaching on unauthorised wells to tend to routinely activities.

The unprecedented growth was not met with adequate planning.  The city literally tripled overnight, without prior checks on the available resources. The expansion is measured in 800 square kilometres and 198,000 acres, that’s equivalent to half of London. But this dearth of water has done nothing, buildings are still constructed to accommodate migrants. Population has doubled since 2001 and it is expected to hit 20 million by 2031.

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Bangalore residents are supplied water by its organizational body BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board) and they cater only to 60% of the people. Cauvery River is the city’s sole source of water supply. Coming from uphill 20% of the water is lost in its journey to Bangalore. Transport of river water ( pumping it into the city from the nearest source point of the river) costs Bangalore city USD 6 million in electricity bills every month . To counter this, the ground-work for a fifth pipe has been laid out. 2023 is the slated year of completion and this will facilitate an additional supply of 750 million litres. But the problem doesn’t end here because many cities are contending for this water, Chennai being one.

In the outskirts of Bangalore, areas like Sarjapur and Whitefield are watered by truck water alone. Trucks source water from wells. The future for clean, drinking water looks bleak, groundwater is dropping at an alarming rate and nothing may remain by 2020. In the present scenario, the price of truck water successfully burns holes in pockets. Increased dependence on truck water can be attributed to the fear of water mafia. The best water filters and water filtration systems are the go-to devices in the present situation to help obtain clean drinking water from these sources.

Truck water providers are facing challenges with the worsening traffic and the exhaustion of ground water. The future looks bleak and possibilities are that Bangalore is headed towards ‘Day Zero.’ This situation has previously occurred in ‘Cape Town’ wherein tap waters completely dried out.

Bettering the functioning of the water system with the deficient infrastructure is a challenge. Apart from the Cauvery River, the rains are an alternate source of water supply in Bangalore. But off late the rains are sporadic in nature.

Bangalore’s water situation is such that the inefficient sewage facilities also lend to the city’s present scenario. During rains the over flooding pipes flood the streets. And only 4-9% of rain water finds its way to aquifers where the rain water is stored.

The city was built around lakes, with the hope of it always being watered. But urbanisation turned the tables, and unchecked construction has resulted in the foaming and frothing of lakes. The city’s largest lake, Bellandur Lake often fires up and lets out a steam of black smoke into the air. Concrete or tarmac has impaired other lakes.

But restoration is underway and Jakkur Lake has seen the light of day. 40 other lakes are about to be refurbished. Recharge wells are yet another step towards water preservation. 100,000 wells already exist, but increasing numbers will only help improve the situation. Will the concentrated efforts help in saving the city of lakes from water scarcity? Let’s do our bit towards water conservation.

Al Jazeera English’s report on India’s Bangalore running dry amid water crisis

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