Saturday 1 July 2017

RWH in Ambalipura

My first site visit was to a housing complex in Ambalipura, Haralur Road. The owner was a client of Biome who had been harvesting and using the rainwater from her terrace for the last five to six years. She already had some prior experience with water conservation and environmental awareness, coming from a dry part of the country, and it would be interesting to hear what she had to say. When I reached her house at about half past eleven, the first thing I did was have a quick look at the infrastructure.

The system looked effective. Rain would collect on the terrace, from where it would flow down in a pipe to the ground floor of the house. Right at the bottom, the pipe was closed with a cap, ensuring that the rainwater could not leave the pipe by this route. A few feet above the cap was a T valve, where another pipe branched off perpendicular to the main pipe. The second pipe connected to a filter, after which it opened into a rainwater collection sump. This mechanism ensured that the first few litres of each rain (containing cement dust, leaves, silt etc) would not go into the main sump, but would instead collect in the closed-off first pipe. Following this, the rainwater would then be pumped up to the terrace again, where it would join the main tank from which the house got water for all its uses.

According to the owner, the entire setup was regularly cleaned and checked for proper functioning. Every day, the house help would sweep the terrace to remove the leaves fallen from the nearby trees. Additonally, once in fifteen days, a plumber would clean the T valve and filter. This had been the case from the beginning, and not once had the system developed problems. The water that came out of the taps was clear and potable. The infrastructure was impeccable.

However, the efficiency of a system cannot be narrowed down to physical constraints alone. One must also consider the role of the consumers. I needed to get an idea of how invested the family was in the idea of rainwater harvesting. Upon my asking why they had decided to opt for it, the owner told me that first of all, saving water was an integral part of her family culture, and secondly, it was a sustainable source of water the price of which was not determined by an external party. I learned that the city’s municipal corporation, which provided Kaveri water in several areas, did not supply it in this locality, and thus the only other source of water was private tankers. Not only were these tankers placing a massive burden on the water table – extracting water from borewells over 1500 ft deep is no joke! – but they were also expensive. Thus, from both an ecological as well as an economical point of view, rainwater harvesting was an excellent choice.

Rainfall patterns in Bengaluru have been inconsistent in the past decade, thanks to global warming. For the last two years the monsoons were rather disappointing, but before that they were fairly heavy. It was still a surprise for me, though, when the owner explained that for on average, the family can get by with rain as the only water source for four to six months a year. Firstly, this meant that for a considerable part of each year, they do not need to buy water from the tankers at all, and secondly, that they use rainwater for just about everything. But how on earth did they collect enough water? 
It isn’t nearly as impossible as it sounds. One would need to make an initial investment to incorporate all the infrastructure, of course – and this is what intimidates many potential users, because there is always the fear that it will become wasted money. Somehow, it seems easier to just pay a little extra to the private tankers, doesn’t it. That aside, the main challenge to overcome is the attitude most people have when it comes to water usage: they simply do not see the need to save water, despite knowing that there are severe water shortages in their cities and that water is increasingly becoming a luxury for most classes. 
Fortunately, the owner’s family does not suffer from this attitude, and they have incorporated this into their lifestyle wherever possible. Faucets are always turned low, the washing machine is on a water-saving setting, and dishes are washed with just about one bucket of water. Since the household does not consist of many members (there are only four people in the family), the quantity of water demanded is not very high. Despite having to constantly remind the maid not to waste water, they have managed to stand their ground and keep from becoming lax.
Change on a larger scale is slow, and it will be a long time before more people are able to follow suit. One thing is certain, however: this simply cannot go on. The cost of water is increasing rapidly while groundwater levels are dropping. Soon it might be too late to save the situation. There needs to be a shift towards sustainable water management, and it needs to happen now, not ten years later. And rainwater harvesting could be a major part of this change.

- Arun Rams

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