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Urban Water: What to consider while planning for Urban water security?


Urban Water: What to consider while planning for Urban water security?

Water is a renewable source of energy. Nevertheless, it is a finite natural resource. For over a decade, urban areas have faced multiple issues such as water scarcity, water logging, scarcity of clean drinking water, depletion of aquifers, lack of rainwater harvesting, etc. It leads us to question the solutions that are in place to safeguard this water. Are these solutions sustainable? If so, what is their efficacy and does it justify the cost? Before we delve into the factors that affect the safeguarding or security of water, we need to understand what water security is and what that entails on a larger scale in terms of the stakeholders involved.


Water security is defined as the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks (Courtesy: UNWater). It broadly has 4 major indicators stated below with contextual snippets drawn from an urban setting. A few of the examples mentioned below pertain to the situation in urban Bangalore as well.


IndicatorFactUrban setting
1. Drinking WaterCitizens are ensured easy access to sufficient, affordable and safe drinking water. The 2 major sources of drinking water in Bangalore are Cauvery river and supply of groundwater.


According to the reports from BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board), the river water falls short by around 750 million litres of the actual requirement and groundwater is not entirely reliable due to contaminated and dried up water bodies, wells, tanks, etc. So the recharge rate of aquifers is considerably slow.



2. Ecosystems

Natural green cover, rivers, and lakes that are preserved act as a perfect resource to sustain a continuous water cycle and impact climate change.Rapid urbanization and industrialization have put a lot of pressure on land usage thereby converting a lot of the city's green cover to buildings. Lakes in Bangalore have been used as dumping areas for factory effluents (eg. Varthur, Bellandur) making them unfit for flora and fauna. Rainfall plays a major role in filling up the aquifers and overburdened pipes but with no space for soil or clean water bodies, the amount of rainfall does not meet even half the requirement.
3. Food and EnergyIndustries heavily dependent on water for transportation, tourism, production and development of an economy are assured of adequate supply.Small businesses/industries, such as Laundromats, that rely on reliable water supply have faced a huge loss in their business due to lack of water storage. Borewells are not adequate because of the dried-up aquifers. Tankers are increasingly expensive and even more so during summer. Their woes are similar, digging over 2000 feet with nothing to show.
4. Climate changeTo ensure that citizens are safe from water related natural calamities, diseases and pollution.Cities consistently experience floods in low-lying areas every monsoon season. Improper land usage and lack of space for water to seep underground is a major reason for flooding/stagnant water building up. This excessive, contaminated water subsequently brings with it water borne illnesses.


The above indicators provide clarity about how each of them intersect on common outcomes and directly play a role in a city's water security. These factors can be applied to any given location. However, they depend on certain key local features.

Looking at a few on-ground instances from urban Bangalore –

• Government schemes: BWSSB is adding a fifth and final pipeline from the Cauvery in the hope that it will meet our water requirements. This however cannot be counted on to run smoothly as the competition for the same with Chennai continues to grow rapidly. Another scheme could be the National River Linking Project, which would be beneficial to drought prone areas. It does have its own challenges, but it has not been tested for water supply in metropolitan cities.

• Political climate: Quick fixes seldom make lasting solutions and resource stress can often escalate political pressures at a huge cost to the environment. The current practices do not justify the cost, ensuing a lack of faith in the system.

• Financing/Subsidies: Water mafias. Outer parts of the city depend solely on private trader for tankers to supply their daily usage of water. One truckload costs 700 INR and during summer it goes over 2000 INR. There isn't an enforced rule about installing rainwater harvesting systems in homes and thereby no subsidies for water conserving technologies.

• Interstate cooperation: Bangalore has no choice but to look for alternate sources of water as the major source, Cauvery river, has been subjected of a dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Multiple pipelines, people in power and uphill transportation doesn't leave much room for friendly cooperation.


Trailing this it becomes evident that the above pointers are fundamental to plan for a city's water security and to ensure that we move on from being water stressed and water scarce, by adopting sustainable practices, green infrastructure, social awareness and water diplomacy across all strata of society.


Authored by: Team AB InBev India