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Lakes: The answer to Bangalore’s water woes?

Lakes: The answer to Bangalore’s water woes?

Each summer vacation was characterised by obsessively eating copious amounts of mangoes, running through the park with not a care in the world and swimming in pristine blue waters of the swimming pool. I would lather tons of sunscreen on my body till I looked white as a clown and make my way to the pool, swimming away to glory. 

This year though, this precious childhood memory is not a reality that me and many others like me in Bangalore rekindle. 

Seeing Bangalore’s worrying water situation, several apartment complexes have laid bans on the use of swimming pools so as to save water. Ban on swimming pools is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Precautionary measures such as issuing water cuts through the day, ban on using Cauvery water for the purpose of cleaning cars, gardening among others are currently in place. 

But how did the situation really get so bad? 

It is an issue that has been brewing through the years, with several issues snowballing into one giant problem. 

In 2007, 110 villages were incorporated under Bangalore City. These became the newer parts of Bangalore City, and while it was new, there was a dearth of water infrastructure created in these areas. Inaccessibility to piped water, meant that they had to rely largely on ground water sources. 

Incremental IT corridor development led to significant groundwater depletion through the years. The lack of consistent rainfall through the years has further exacerbated the problem.  

The other side of the issue is the availability of sanitised, hygienic water bodies across the city. Bangalore does not have a large water body such as a river or a large lake in close proximity. However, the city was once planned to accommodate lakes, which became a haven to catch all the rain water. Over the years, our lakes are nowhere to be seen. 

When rain makes its way down to land, it needs sink areas, through which the water can eventually percolate into the ground, thereby recharging the groundwater table. With constructions at an all time high, sink areas are completely absent and the water runs off. Furthered by the incessant encroachment of lakes, resulting in fewer sink areas. Effectively meaning that we are unable to completely utilise the rainfall that we receive each monsoon. 

Way forward: 

Based on the data and inferences made, it is certainly a massive issue, the solution for which does not lie with one individual or organisation, but with multiple institutions working at cross sections with each other. 

While it is extremely challenging to address each and every aspect of this issue, it is worth talking about one aspect, which is an important piece in the puzzle - lakes. 

Lakes: a fix for our problems? 

In September 2022, more grim news about Bangalore’s lakes surfaced: not a single lake in Bangalore met the standards for drinking water, as declared by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). Unchecked sewage and industrial waste pouring in remain a prime culprit. Fast forward a year later, the situation worsened. Half of Bangalore's lakes monitored by KSPCB are severely polluted. 

According to researchers from IISc, there has been a 1000% increase in the concretisation in the city of Bangalore and a 79% decrease of availability of water bodies in Bangalore in the last 40 years.  

Given these circumstances, in order to increase the sink areas and capture as much rainfall as we can, we need to look towards our lakes as long term solutions for this issue. 

It calls for a multi-pronged, policy heavy approach, focussing on lake rejuvenation, responsible management and active citizen engagement. 

Lake Management: 

  • Preventing toxins from entering lakes: Chemical surfactants and pollutants turn pristine waters into lakes that spew fire on account of excessive frothing. Varthur and Bellandur lakes have witnessed these concerning scenes. Urging people to use earth friendly surfactants ensures that we are kinder to both our groundwater and lakes. 

  • Maintenance: Constructing artificial lakes for groundwater recharge along with desilting the existing ones will ensure pristine lakes all year round. Collaborating with hydrogeologists and foresters will bolster environmental expertise in these matters. Increasing semi parable surfaces across the city can allow the ground water tables to recharge. 
  • Bioremediation: Is a process using microorganisms to degrade pollutants and artificial floating islands for nitrate absorption can be introduced to maintain the quality of lakes
  • Resurrecting our Rajakaluves: Bangalore always had a system of interconnected canals called Rajakaluves. By renovating these, excess water can flow into the adjoining lake/tank. Reconstruction of canals will also beautify the city. 
  • Community involvement: While lakes are biodiversity havens, they are an integral part of a community’s cultural fabric. Encouraging community efforts such as, Kere Habba (Lake Festival) will drive increased community participation. Through such initiatives, an entire community will be accountable for a lake and its maintenance. 
  • Creating no construction zones: Concretisation of areas surrounding the lake ecosystem should be banned so as to allow for maximum water absorption.
Rainwater Harvesting: 
  • Mandating rainwater harvesting: Rainwater harvesting is something that everyone should get done in their abodes. Through workshops, plumbers across the city should be trained to be well equipped to implement it. 
  • Empowering and Employing the Mannu Vaddars or Bhovi Community: They are a traditional well digging community of India. They dig recharge wells, de-silt, clean and revive wells. The water is made potable by adding alum, lime and potassium permanganate. Their process is eco-friendly and sustainable. IIM-Bangalore has over 60 recharge wells, which were dug and are being maintained by the Bhovi community. 

Green Cover:

Increasing green cover across the city by growing non-invasive, non-ornamental and riparian plants will significantly help improve the present condition. IT Parks can be mandated to have 10% green coverage, to ensure water retention and percolation into the soil. 

The problem lies in the distribution and maintenance of resources and not the dearth of it. By tackling the issue with lakes, we can aim to fill in the lacuna such that Bangalore can once again regain the status as the city of lakes. And therefore, slowly put an end to our water woes.