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18th January 2024 (11 Topics)

Replenish groundwater for our growing cities


With climate change now a reality, ecological experts should come up with multiple solutions to ensure that rainwater is effectively harvested and dependence on groundwater is reduced.

I.   Groundwater Issue in India:

  • Borewells in Urban sphere: The unbridled drilling of borewells in Bengaluru has emerged as a critical issue, despite efforts by a dedicated team to monitor and regulate this activity.
  • Legality of borewells: With numerous complaints, particularly on the city's outskirts where Cauvery water supply remains elusive, questions arise about the legality of borewells and the consequences of unauthorized drilling.

II.  What Constitutes an Illegal Borewell?

  • Authorization: The legality of a borewell hinges on obtaining proper authorization from the authorities.
  • Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB): The Bengaluru BWSSB grants permission for small residential plots, while the Karnataka Ground Water Authority oversees high-rises and commercial buildings.
  • However, the process is marred by bureaucratic red tape, hindering the effectiveness of regulatory measures.

III. The Commercialization Threat

  • The surge in illegal borewells traces its roots to the burgeoning business of selling groundwater in tankers.
  • As the demand for water escalated, particularly in areas where Cauvery water supply remains a distant prospect, unscrupulous practices led to overexploitation of depleting groundwater.
  • The absence of laws governing groundwater use and sale exacerbated the situation.

IV.  Regulatory Measures and Crackdown

  • Penal Action: Recognizing the severity of the issue, the Groundwater Directorate has initiated penal actions against offenders.
    • This crackdown aims to curb rampant drilling and prevent further depletion of the water table.

V.   Urbanization and Water Demand

  • Rapid urbanization: The uncontrolled use of groundwater is symptomatic of rapid urbanization without commensurate infrastructure development.
    • The proliferation of housing complexes, apartments, and businesses in Bengaluru and its periphery has intensified the demand for water, leading to increased reliance on borewells.

VI.  The Looming Water Crisis

  • Demand and Supply gap: Bengaluru, requiring nearly 2,700 million liters of water per day, faces a significant deficit as the BWSSB supplies only around 1,400 MLD. Borewells, some drilled as deep as 1,700 feet, bridge the gap.
  • With drought looming over Karnataka and a deficient monsoon causing low dam water levels, dependence on groundwater is poised to increase in the coming year.

VII. Depleting Aquifers: A Long-Term Concern

  • The consequence of unchecked borewell drilling is the depletion of aquifers, a vital source of sustainable groundwater.
  • To address this, efforts must be directed towards recharging lakes and preserving green spaces.
  • Sponge Cities: Urban planning should prioritize the development of 'sponge cities' with wetlands to capture rain runoff, ultimately replenishing aquifers.

Sponge Cities

The concept of "Sponge Cities" has emerged as an innovative and sustainable approach to urban development, particularly in managing water resources. A Sponge City employs strategies to effectively capture, store, and utilize rainwater, mimicking the natural characteristics of a sponge.

Case Study:  Shanghai in China and Copenhagen in Denmark

  • Shanghai implemented a comprehensive plan to absorb and reuse rainwater, integrating green spaces and permeable surfaces.
  • Copenhagen's initiatives focus on creating green roofs, restoring water bodies, and constructing rainwater storage facilities.

 VIII. Climate Change Imperative

  • As climate change becomes an undeniable reality, ecological experts must devise comprehensive solutions to harvest rainwater effectively.
  • Reducing dependence on groundwater necessitates innovative strategies to manage water resources sustainably in the face of evolving climate patterns.

Central Water Commission Report Highlights Urgent Groundwater Concerns

In a recent report by the Central Water Commission, alarming findings shed light on the precarious state of groundwater in various regions across the country. Some of the highlights of the report is provided below

  • As per the 2023 assessment report, the total annual ground water recharge for the entire country is 449.08 billion cubic meters (BCM), marking an increase of 11.48 BCM compared to the previous year (2022) and annual ground water extraction for the entire country is 241.34 BCM. 
  • Further, out of the total 6553 assessment units in the country, 736 units have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’.
  • Analysis indicates improvement in ground water conditions in 226 assessment units in the country compared with 2022 assessment data
  • Total annual ground water recharge for entire country is 449.08 billion cubic meters (BCM), while extraction is 241.34 BCM
  • Stage of ground water extraction stands at 59.23%.
  • Out of total 6553 assessment units, 4793 units categorized as ‘Safe’

The report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies to address the imminent crisis.

  1. Depleting Groundwater Levels: The report reveals a significant decline in groundwater levels, pointing to over-extraction and insufficient recharge mechanisms. For instance, regions like Punjab, known as the 'Granary of India,' face severe depletion due to extensive agricultural practices.
  2. Rising Salinity and Contamination: The study highlights a surge in salinity and contamination of groundwater, threatening its quality. Coastal areas, exemplified by parts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, showcase elevated salinity levels due to seawater intrusion, impacting agriculture and potable water sources.
  3. Over-exploitation in Urban Areas: Urbanization emerges as a major contributor to over-exploitation. Cities like Chennai and Delhi witness excessive extraction for domestic and industrial purposes, exacerbating the strain on aquifers.
  4. Depletion of Critical Aquifers: The report identifies critical aquifers facing rapid depletion. The example of the Yamuna River basin reveals excessive extraction, affecting both rural and urban regions in states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
  5. Need for Sustainable Practices: The report emphasizes the imperative of sustainable water management practices. Implementing rainwater harvesting initiatives, as successfully demonstrated in Bengaluru and Pune, serves as a model for mitigating groundwater depletion.

 Future Directions

  • The unregulated drilling of borewells in Bengaluru poses a formidable challenge that demands immediate attention.
  • A holistic approach involving streamlined regulatory processes, increased awareness, and innovative urban planning is crucial to mitigate the looming water crisis.
  • Sustainable water management practices, especially in the face of climate change, must be prioritized to ensure the well-being of Bengaluru and its residents in the years to come.

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