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Unchecked abstraction exacerbates strain on already overburdened aquifers

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Unchecked abstraction exacerbates strain on already overburdened aquifers

Recklessly installing a multitude of overhead tanks without any idea of the demand and supply factors means drawing water from a steadily ebbing water table, pumping it up into the overhead tanks, subsequent distribution losses, and wastage of water especially on public taps...

Unchecked abstraction exacerbates strain on already overburdened aquifers


We Asked: Are you in favour of the move to install water tanks in every alley, nook, and corner wherein the underground water is used? People take illegal piped connections to their homes from those tanks as well. Moreover, strong pumps are used to pull out water that uses electricity at the cost of the taxpayers (money)

In the emerging landscape of urban development, the reliance on groundwater has become a foundation of sustenance for rapidly increasing populations. However, this dependence, often unchecked and unregulated, has led to alarming consequences, threatening the very essence of sustainable water management in our cities and towns. The narrative of rampant exploitation of groundwater resources, particularly in emerging urban colonies, paints a grim picture of environmental degradation and impending water scarcity. Bangalore is a glaring example. The proliferation of individual borewells exacerbates the strain on groundwater resources, hastening the onset of water scarcity. In my colony, about 5000 residents depend upon the daily abstraction of 20 lacs litres of groundwater. The only source of recharge is open areas and natural depressions like ponds and lakes. But these are being grabbed by the builders and private agencies. In numerous urban settlements, the scenario unfolds with startling uniformity: new colonies sprout without thinking of viable water supply systems, opting instead to tap into the deeper reservoir of groundwater. This unchecked abstraction has exacerbated the strain on already overburdened aquifers, leading to a steep decline in water tables. The consequences are dire, with once-vibrant rivers dwindling into mere sluggish trickles, unable to sustain the ecosystems they once nurtured. A poignant example is found in Lucknow, where the water table recedes by one meter on average each passing year, a testament to the rapid depletion of groundwater reserves. Such a trajectory is unsustainable, heralding an era where access to potable water becomes a luxury rather than a basic human right. The crux of the issue lies in the unchecked proliferation of individual borewells, each contributing to the collective strain on groundwater resources. If left unchecked, this trajectory indicates a grim future where water scarcity looms large over urban landscapes. The imperative for action is clear: the promotion of public water distribution systems emerges as the harbinger of sustainable water management practices. Unlike individual borewells, public water supply systems offer a mechanism for effective regulation and oversight, ensuring equitable distribution and sustainable utilization of groundwater resources. By centralizing water abstraction, authorities can implement measures to curb overexploitation, safeguarding the delicate balance of aquifers and ecosystems. Moreover, public water distribution systems afford economies of scale, enabling efficient utilization of resources and infrastructure. By pooling resources at a centralized level, authorities can invest in robust water treatment facilities and infrastructure, ensuring the delivery of safe and reliable water to urban populations. This not only mitigates the strain on groundwater reserves but also enhances resilience in the face of climate-induced variability and environmental stressors. Crucially, the promotion of public water supply systems necessitates a paradigm shift in societal attitudes towards water management. It demands a departure from the ethos of individualism towards a collective ethos of shared responsibility and stewardship. Through public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives, communities can be empowered to embrace water conservation practices and advocate for sustainable water management policies. We have to also protect our lakes, wetlands, and ponds as these are the vital water reservoirs protecting us from floods and droughts. Only through collective action and shared responsibility can we safeguard the invaluable resource that sustains life itself. -Dr Venkatesh Dutta, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow

One of the several bounties bestowed upon us by Mother Nature is the enormous resource of the elixir of life -water- particularly in the Ganga plains. It is most appropriate that one of its synonyms in Hindi is amrit 've`r' . Before sharing my perspective on the given topic let us understand the psyche of the citizens living in these parts. Apparently inexhaustible supplies of ground and surface water and the consequent callousness towards water's vital significance for our survival, we have adages like ‘ikuh dh rjg iSls cgkuk' and ‘rqEgkjk [kwu [kwu gS gekjk [kwu ikuh?’ (simply ignoring the fact that water constituent in the blood is about 51℅). The general crass mindset of the consumers/ beneficiaries has to be taken into account before the supposed action. Further, let us ponder over the hard facts regarding the groundwater scenario of Lucknow, for example. The population explosion during the last few decades unplanned urbanization and ever-increasing dependence on groundwater have brought tremendous stress on this vital natural resource. The July 2015 report 'Lucknow city - Underground water stress,'  by the Groundwater Department of Uttar Pradesh states: "With continuous large scale withdrawals, today the groundwater table has depleted widely beyond the depth of 20m bgl and even crossed much deeper levels i.e. 30m bgl or more in some areas, including Lalbagh, Cantt, HAL, Indira Nagar, Alambagh, Jail Road, Puraniya". Groundwater levels in Kukrail forest have dropped from 19.47 meters in 2007 to 24.83 meters in 2023, indicating a 5.5-meter decrease,” they said. Alarming situations are observed in Rahimnagar and Mahanagar post office areas too, adjoining Kukrail areas. Various other studies on central Gangetic alluvial plains in Lucknow reveal that the city's aquifers are unable to sustain extraction levels and may be disappearing permanently and rapidly. Extremely appalling enforcement of the groundwater laws, designed to preserve the precious resource through optimum exploitation, has resulted in zero effect, so far. Recklessly installing a multitude of overhead tanks without any idea of the 'demand and supply' factors means drawing water from a steadily ebbing water table, pumping it up into the overhead tanks, subsequent distribution losses, and wastage of water especially on public taps. What about the huge electric power consumption and related environmental issues? With such a bleak background the very idea of 'installing water tanks in every alley, nook, and corner' is ominous to say the least. The need of the hour is to closely monitor and regulate the consumption of groundwater. Making an unregulated demand on the already dwindling resource without having comprehensive data on the morphology of aquifers, the status of the groundwater table, the data on the existing rate of groundwater withdrawal and future increase in demand, the potential of groundwater recharge, and various related parameters, will be an absolute disaster. -Dr Shishir S Srivastava, Central Geological Service, Former Director, Geological Survey of India

Recently, we have seen the water crisis in Bengaluru. I don’t know who to blame. It is, however, certain that due to the mismanagement of surface water bodies and the intense pressure of the population, the crisis developed. This could have been averted had the government taken into account the bearing capacity of the land, before allowing the mushrooming IT business there. Uttar Pradesh is geographically and geologically situated in a different setup. We have plenty of aquifers to provide us with water. Again, faulty planning of permitting rampant construction without gauging the ground-bearing capacities is leading to a water crisis. In order to overcome that it seems water tanks are planned in every nook and corner of the city where the water is supplied from groundwater. Certainly, the government’s motive is to provide drinking water to every parched throat. The motive is excellent. To understand the issue better, let me share a small story. In my home town Almora, once upon a time there was no piped water supply till 1953. Ladies of the house used to carry heavy vessels to the springs and ferry water. Near my house there used to be an underground tank, which used to be locally called ‘Diggi’. While playing nearby, we kids noticed a lock on the door leading to the tank. With a bit of skill, it was prized open with a divider. And lo, inside water was gushing like anything. Some of the friends hurriedly went home and ferried water in buckets. This became a regular practice, till the chowkidar caught them red-handed. Similarly, way back in 2005 in Chennai people were paying officially Rs 2 per Kodum (pitcher) of water. In one family only one Kodum was allowed. However, some goons took over the control and began to sell it from 5 to 10 Rs per Kodum and one could have as much one could afford to. Daily brawls became a common sight. I am afraid if this kind of move is planned by the authorities for Lucknow, it may end up in a mess unless preventive measures are taken in advance. Moreover, the availability of groundwater is much dependent on the rainfall. With weather god playing truant, such a facility may fizzle out and taxpayer’s money may go down the drain. -V.K. Joshi, Former Director, Geological Survey of India

Water tanks can indeed serve as a valuable remedy to address water scarcity issues in urban areas. By installing tanks in every alley and corner, communities can harness underground water resources efficiently. However, the effectiveness of this solution depends on proper management and regulation. Measures must be in place to prevent illegal connections and unauthorized usage, ensuring fair distribution and sustainability. Additionally, employing energy-efficient pumping systems can minimize electricity consumption, thereby reducing the financial burden on taxpayers. Overall, when implemented thoughtfully and supported by effective policies, water tanks can play a significant role in mitigating water crises and promoting responsible water management practices. To address this issue comprehensively, several steps can be taken: Regulation and Enforcement: Strengthen regulations against illegal connections, and enforce penalties for violators. Regular inspections and monitoring can deter illegal activities. Public Awareness: Launch awareness campaigns to educate residents about the importance of legal water connections and the consequences of illegal ones. Highlight the impact on the community and the environment. Metering and Billing: Install water meters on tanks to accurately measure usage. Implement a billing system where users pay for the water they consume. Revenue generated can cover maintenance costs and reduce taxpayer burden. Community Engagement: Involve the community in decision-making processes regarding water management. Encourage residents to report any suspicious activities or unauthorized connections. Efficiency Measures: Invest in energy-efficient pumping systems to reduce electricity consumption and operating costs. Explore renewable energy sources such as solar power to run the pumps. Alternative Solutions: Explore alternative water sources such as rainwater harvesting or greywater recycling to supplement underground water usage. This diversification can reduce strain on existing resources. By implementing these measures in a coordinated manner, the problem of illegal connections and excessive electricity usage can be addressed while promoting sustainable water management practices.-Professor Upma Chaturvedi, Department of Geography, Avadh Girls Degree College

When we talk of humanity, water is essential for every human- no water no life. Though 2/3rd of the planet we live in is occupied by water only 3% of it is the so-called sweet water or consumable water, rest is salty as in seas and oceans, and even of this only 1/3rd is available for use by humans for drinking, irrigation, and other uses while rest is in the form of glaciers. Consumable water is drawn from rivers lakes and groundwater sources. The heavy consumption rate due to increasing population and agricultural and industrial growth is globally creating a shortage of water to such an extent that in many places it has started sending dangerous signals. The lakes and ponds are drying, water labels of groundwater have gone hundreds of feet below, and even in many places, water cannot be extracted from normal tube wells and hand pumps. Whatever water is available today is getting polluted by the falling of municipal drains industrial and toxic wastes in rivers and lakes and the lynching of these wastes and pesticides and insecticides in groundwater. Thus, overconsumption and water pollution are culminating in a heavy shortfall of available consumable water. The latest situation of Cape Town in South Africa and Bengaluru in India is an eye-opener. So many other places are in the pipeline and could come to light soon. The world community has already alarmed the world about it. In this regard, the UN Agency has declared 22nd March as World Water Day to aware the people of the world about the issue of water availability and also declares every year a theme to think upon. This year's theme is "Water for peace" which underlines the importance of water regarding peace and world prosperity. In such a situation every drop of water counts. If we let the consumable water be free, then to many, wastage of water makes no sense. If the connection is illegal then nothing to mind regarding water flow- it will have nothing to do. The time has come that water supply must be metered- use and pay. No doubt piped water is a must to make drinking water available to far existing villages and remote areas but the natives must be educated to know the value of water and the use must be monitored. The Government and nongovernment organizations and societies must come forward to educate about it, otherwise the position will become worse than worse. We have to save water to save humanity. -V P Srivastava, Member (Retd) Commercial Tax Tribunal and President C-CARBONS

In the bustling alleys, hidden nooks, and quiet corners of our communities lies a solution to one of our most pressing challenges: Water scarcity. Imagine a landscape where every alleyway, every hidden space, is adorned with water tanks, quietly harnessing the abundance beneath our feet. This is the vision of a future where we embrace the initiative to install water tanks everywhere, tapping into the vast reservoir of underground water. At first glance, the notion of installing water tanks in every crevice may seem daunting. Yet, when we delve deeper, we uncover a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond the mere collection of water. This initiative holds the promise of combating the pervasive issue of illegal piped connections, providing a legal and equitable means for all to access this precious resource. By decentralizing water distribution, we empower communities and reduce the strain on centralized infrastructure. Furthermore, the installation of water tanks presents an opportunity to address another pressing concern: excessive electricity uses from strong pumps. As these pumps strain to draw water from deep underground, they not only consume vast amounts of energy but also impose a significant financial burden on taxpayers. By utilizing gravity-fed systems from strategically placed water tanks, we alleviate this strain on both our environment and our wallets. However, the benefits of this initiative extend beyond the practical realm. At its core, the installation of water tanks represents a reconnection with nature, a recognition of the inherent value found In our surroundings. It fosters a sense of stewardship and responsibility, reminding us of our duty to preserve and protect the resources upon which we rely. In transforming our alleys and nooks into reservoirs of life-giving water, we cultivate a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things. Of course, challenges abound on the path to realizing this vision. Financial constraints, logistical hurdles, and community engagement are but a few of the obstacles that must be navigated. Yet, in the face of adversity, we must remember the inherent resilience of the human spirit. With creativity, innovation, and collective effort, we can overcome these challenges and usher in a new era of sustainable water management. In conclusion, the initiative to install water tanks in every alley, nook, and corner represents a bold step towards a more sustainable future. It offers a multifaceted solution to some of our most pressing challenges, from water scarcity to energy consumption. But perhaps more importantly, it serves as a symbol of our commitment to living in harmony with nature, and to embracing the abundance that surrounds us. Let us seize this opportunity to harness nature’s bounty and build a world where every drop counts. -Ada Riyaz, M.Sc Biodiversity Studies and Management, Aligarh Muslim University

I do not favour installing water tanks in every alley, nook, and corner to use the underground water. Everyone knows that the underground water level is going deeper and deeper, creating many problems for existing borewells everywhere, resulting in the failure of lifting water by pumps.  At the same time, we are not able to capture rainwater to improve our groundwater level. The government has to thrust constructing water harvesting structures over roofs rather than increasing several water tanks in cities. Supply of drinking water should be done preferably by holy river water e.g. Ganga Yamuna and other rivers. Energy should be diverted to make river's water pollution-free and use their maximum water for drinking and irrigating agriculture fields thus leaving minimum water as flood/runoff to merge/fall into the sea. Ponds, lakes, and reservoirs in the country are decreasing day by day, a lot of public awareness is required in this field, So that every citizen becomes a devotee to protect existing rainwater harvesting structures, ponds, and water reservoirs. Government and public welfare organisations/trusts should come forward to create new water harvesting structures, rejuvenating the old ponds. We have to understand that by protecting our underground water we will create stable underground strata of the earth's layer avoiding earthquakes in the long run too. We have to educate our younger generation studying in school/college by adding a subject compulsory about awareness regarding judicious use/exploitation of natural resources and keeping pollution free environment which includes air, water & soil primarily. Sensitisation of the coming generation is very important because they are not aware that drinking water was previously abundantly available in hand pumps, simple wells, ponds, and reservoirs which are now just a dream in the present era of RO water and Mineral water bottles. It is a herculean task to get back the drinking water in hand pumps, simple wells, ponds, and reservoirs but can be achieved by managing our rainwater to be captured in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and water harvesting structures to replenish underground water. Hopefully, we will go back and take drinking water not from mineral water bottles but from natural sources of water as in the past. -Anuj Kumar Saxena, Member, Supreme Court Bar Association of India, Retired Divisional Forest Officer, Uttar Pradesh

Topic of the month: Do you think it would be possible to restore urban green cover, especially in the form of lawns or some open spaces, around us? Or is it too late to act now (annual plantation drives are mostly done on the outskirts and not visible around us, and no one is keeping a lawn these days- only flowers in pots)? You may send your views (either in Hindi or English) in 300 words or more to [email protected]. Please also attach a colour photo of yourself.

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