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Bengaluru’s Water Crisis a Reminder of What We Should Not Do to Our Cities

The city needs to find ways to improve its water management infrastructure and look for alternative water sources.

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The theme of World Water Day 2024 is "Water for Peace." This theme emphasises the importance of cooperation and collaboration in managing water resources to foster peace, prosperity, and resilience.

When nations and communities work together to address water-related issues, it creates a ripple effect beyond water management. By promoting peaceful cooperation on water, we can build stronger relationships, enhance regional stability, and ensure equitable access to water resources. This theme highlights the interlinkages between water, peace, and sustainable development, emphasising the need for collective actions to address shared challenges and create a better future for all. 

Adopting the theme of "Water for Peace" can potentially aid in addressing the water crisis in Bengaluru by encouraging cooperation, equitable access to resources, and the promotion of sustainable practices that foster harmony and peace.

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Bengaluru, also popularly known as the Silicon Valley of India, is facing a significant water crisis. The capital city of Karnataka has been experiencing a drastic decline in its water levels due to multiple reasons. Bengaluru primarily depends on the Cauvery River for its water supply, which has been facing severe drought conditions in the last few years.

The Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is responsible for the water supply and distribution in the city. Still, it has been struggling to meet the demand due to the rapid population growth and the poor management of water resources. The city's infrastructure is not adequately equipped to manage the water demand. 

The city receives excess rainfall during the monsoon season, but due to a lack of infrastructure, most of this water goes to waste. The rapid urbanisation in the city with the increasing population has led to the depletion of groundwater, which was once the city's primary water source.  

Several parts of Bengaluru have been facing severe water scarcity, and the residents have been forced to rely on private water tankers for their daily needs. This has led to a significant increase in the cost of water, making it unaffordable for many people. The crisis has severe implications for the city's future.

With the rising demand for water, the city needs to find ways to improve its water management infrastructure and look for alternative water sources. The government needs to explore the possibilities of effective rainwater harvesting and using treated sewage water for non-potable uses. 
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Vanishing Beauty: The Alarming Plight of Bengaluru's Dying Lakes 

The water crisis in Bengaluru can be attributed to a multitude of factors. However, one of the prominent factors is the utter negligence in preserving its pristine cascade of lakes. Bengaluru, once known for its picturesque lakes that adorned the cityscape, is now witnessing a heartbreaking decline in these natural treasures. A confluence of factors, including urbanisation, encroachment, pollution, and mismanagement, has led to the alarming state of the dying lakes in Bengaluru.

The dying lakes of Bengaluru pose multifaceted problems. Firstly, the ecological balance of the region is severely disrupted. Lakes are crucial habitats for many flora and fauna, supporting biodiversity and preserving the delicate ecosystem. As these lakes shrink or dry up completely, they disrupt the natural habitat, leading to the loss of numerous species and negatively impacting the surrounding ecosystem.

Secondly, the rapid expansion of urban areas has resulted in encroachment and illegal constructions on lakebeds and buffer zones. This not only degrades the water quality through untreated sewage and solid waste dumping but also hampers the natural recharge process, leading to a depletion of groundwater resources. The absence of proper stormwater drains exacerbates the problem, resulting in flooding during heavy rainfall.

Additionally, the aesthetic and recreational value of these lakes is lost. Once cherished as serene locations for leisure activities and community gatherings, the dying lakes now represent a bleak reminder of the degradation of the city's natural heritage.

Another challenge is the city's heavy dependence on the Cauvery River, which has seen its water levels dwindle due to recurrent droughts and deficient rainfall in recent years. Additionally, rapid urbanisation, rampant encroachment of lakes, and excessive groundwater extraction further compound the problem.

The repercussions of the water crisis in Bengaluru are far-reaching. As water levels plummet, many areas in the city face acute shortages, leading to daily struggles for its residents. The burden falls heavily on marginalised communities who are left to fend for themselves, relying on costly private water tankers for their basic needs. This crisis's escalating costs and social inequities highlight the urgent need for sustainable solutions.

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What Can Be Done to Avoid the Crisis in Future?

To address the Bengaluru water crisis comprehensively, a multi-pronged strategy is imperative. Not that this knowledge does not exist, but a comprehensive strategy is lacking. Governments, policymakers, and urban planners must collaborate to upgrade and expand the city's water infrastructure to meet the growing demand. Prioritising the restoration of lakes and rejuvenating natural water bodies will help recharge the groundwater and minimise water wastage. Here are seven steps that can be taken to avoid such a crisis in future.

First, implementing water recharge systems like percolation pits, recharge wells, and rooftop rainwater harvesting can help replenish the groundwater levels. These systems enable rainwater to seep into the ground and recharge the aquifers, reducing the dependency on external water sources.

Second, encouraging community-based initiatives for water conservation can make a significant impact. This includes setting up community rainwater harvesting structures, promoting water-efficient practices in public spaces, and organising awareness campaigns to educate residents about the importance of water conservation. Positive incentives can be given such as relaxation in property tax if rainwater harvesting has been instituted by households or housing societies.

Third, introducing smart water metering systems can help monitor water consumption in real-time, allowing individuals and authorities to identify and address excessive water usage. This enables better management of water resources and encourages responsible water consumption practices.

Fourth, implementing greywater recycling systems in residential and commercial buildings can help recycle and reuse water from activities like showering, laundry, and dishwashing for non-potable purposes like toilet flushing and gardening. This practice reduces the strain on freshwater resources and promotes sustainability.

Fifth is the collaboration with private entities to establish water treatment plants and distribution networks can help manage water supply more effectively. Public-private partnerships can bring expertise and resources to upgrade water infrastructure, improve efficiency, and ensure a consistent water supply to the growing population.

Sixth, public education, especially involving children in water preservation and conservation, is key. Conducting workshops, seminars, and awareness campaigns can create a sense of responsibility towards water resources, ultimately leading to a more conscious and water-efficient society.

Lastly, encouraging landscape design that integrates drought-resistant plants and employs water-efficient irrigation techniques can help minimise water consumption in parks, gardens, and public spaces. Moreover, promoting water-efficient farming practices, such as drip irrigation and crop rotation, can conserve water in the agricultural sector.

By adopting these sustainable water management practices, Bengaluru can move towards a more resilient and water-secure future. It requires collective efforts from governments, communities, and individuals to address the water crisis and ensure the long-term sustainability of this vibrant city.

[Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor (Research) at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.]

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Topics:  Water Crisis 

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