Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One Earth: Water, Water Nowhere

One Earth: Water, Water NowhereThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner lines come to me often (the only two lines I know):

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

From the time I shifted to Chennai a couple of decades ago, my refrain has been: 
Water, water, nowhere, 
Nor any drop to drink.

Though it has been raining almost every year, since Chennai receives rains only during northeastern monsoon, the summers are dry and water lorries rule the roads - water pouring generously from all directions though similar oil lorries seem to be able to seal the precious liquid more tightly. And I wonder for how long this can sustain. How long can water sources from nearby villages sustain the water needs of the growing city of Chennai?

Then I heard that despite the heavy rains that Mumbai experiences, there is still a water shortage in the city and water lorries feed the city. Cherrapunji, the place with heaviest rainfall, is facing water shortage because of deforestation and water running off the hills! 

Can this be a sustainable solution? Isn't there an alternative? We may have money for the water lorries, but soon, will we have enough water to buy? RO plants are criminal in the water that gets thrown out as waste. How then can we access safe water and improve our resources?

When the discussion for budget for water came up in my apartment complex, I remembered speaking to one Dr. Ragade a few years ago. I met him sometime in 2005 for an article in a magazine and knew he had done something for water management in his building. His logic was simple and his solution elegant. He reminded me of how water was recycled in each home and he had replicated that model in his apartment complex of roughly 32 flats. Could it work for us? 

Opportunity presented itself when I did another article on his solution for another magazine and realised how basic and yet sensible his solution was. 

Dig shallow wells, connect them to the rainwater system on the one hand and the borewell on the other. The shallow well can be kept closed, so it can even be in the parking area in small apartment complexes. All one needs to check is the quality of the soil - is it conducive to retain water without stagnating.

We also thought the quality of our ground water was bad since the bath water, which is what the groundwater was used for, was yellow and dirty. We got water tested in a lab but could find nothing wrong. It was embarrassing how he went straight to the root - the source of water - with just a long nylon rope knotted to indicate the feet and a lota. Worse was to know that the water was excellent and the yellow colour was due to the water from the latest borewell that had been dug which was yielding yellow water. Since it was being mixed with rest of the water in the tanks, even good water was turning yellow. I was thinking that in our dependence for modern technology, we do leave common sense behind!

Under his guidance, we just finished constructing a shallow well 6 feet wide and 23 feet deep in our complex. Apparently, we struck water at 10 feet from ground level, going up to 12-13 feet below. 

It is early days, but according to Dr. Ragade, who also works with the Rain Centre in Chennai,  and has authored the book 'Self Reliance in Water - A practical manual for city and Town dwellers', the rain that Chennai receives is enough to cater to the needs of the city-dwellers. In a couple of years, the well will be enough for us. If entire neighbourhoods dig shallow wells and divert rainwater to these wells, the water situation can improve.

Even if we do not completely eradicate the need to buy water in the short term, I am hoping that this system will at least reduce our dependence on water lorries. It is not just the direct cost incurred that will be saved, but we will be contributing less to the water loss that happens in transportation, and also decrease the demand for such water.

I am taking the liberty to post some links not just about Dr. Ragade but others who have tried various techniques to increase water sustainability and sufficiency. May we take a leaf out of their lives and do our bit. Even small apartment residents and independent house owners can implement these simple measures and motivate others to do so too. Surprisingly, it does not involve anything complex.

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