Cry me a lake

In a well-researched, wonderfully atmospheric story, photo-journalist Arati Kumar-Rao looked at how Bangalore was built around, and evolved because of, its lakes.

He understood the lay of the land, and appreciated its intrinsic arid nature. Availability of water, he realized back then, would dictate the prosperity of his city. With this thought foremost, he planned and constructed tanks adjacent to each collection of people.

After a 37-year rule, Kempe Gauda I passes on the baton to his successor Kempe Gauda II, who shares his father’s sensibilities and planning skills. Kempe Gauda II builds four towers along the perimeter of the town. Any rapid expansion beyond this area, he realizes, will come at a terrible cost as there are no perennial rivers here, and thus, no dependable source of fresh water. The region is heavily dependent on seasonal rains; thus, rainwater-harvesting water becomes a driving imperative. Small and large cascading tanks are erected in the valleys below the ridges — Sampangi tank, Dharmabudhi tank, Karanji tank, Halasur tank, …

A related story looked at the decline of that lake ecosystem as “progress” and “development” came to town. The payoff:

A 2011 report by the Central Ground Water Development Board saysBengaluru has exploited 141% of its groundwater resources.

Unmindful, the city grows apace. The detritus of construction clogs every locality, every street. Each fresh concrete tower poking up from the hard, dry land guzzles water in its making; once complete, it is inhabited by hundreds of people who need even more water. Growth escalates further, as plans for seven satellite towns and IT corridors move from the blueprint table to the increasingly arid rockscapes of suburban Bengaluru.

These stories from last year find increasing resonance today, in light of this report on the state of Bangalore’s lakes:

The study found that:

  • 98% of the lakes were encroached by mafia.
  • 90% of the lakes were sewage-fed due to sustained flow of untreated sewage and industrial effluents, dumping of solid wastes and building debris.
  • Water quality analysis of 80 lakes found that almost half of the lakes were highly polluted.
  • None of the lakes had water that was fit for drinking according to standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

    • 79% lakes fell under Class E category classified by CPCB as suitable for irrigation, industrial cooling or controlled waste disposal.

    • 29% lakes could be classified under Class E and D as suitable for fish culture and wildlife propagation.

    • Only one lake, Mylasandra 1 and 2, fell under Class A that was found to be suitable for drinking purposes according to the CPCB classification.

The study found, further, that one direct reason for this decline was bad governance and poor decision-making and implementation. And thus the wheel comes full circle: Bangalore was founded by a visionary and nurtured by the good governance of his successors; today, the lack of vision, foresight and lack of administrative will drives the same city to perdition.

And it is not just Bangalore. Read this report on India’s growing groundwater crisis.

In nine states – in south, west and central India – groundwater levels are now described as “critical”, according to this 2016 Parliament committee report on water resources. “Critical” implies a stage where 90% of groundwater has been extracted, with significant decline in recharge capability.

As of December 2015, of 6,607 units (blocks, mandals, talukas) assessed, 1,071 in 16 states and two in Union Territories were categorised as “over-exploited”, which means 100% of groundwater has been drawn, with little chance of recharge.

Groundwater levels in India are now more critical than anywhere else on earth, IndiaSpend previouslyreported. More than half of India now faces what is called “high” to “extremely high” water stress, most across the fertile Ganga-Brahmaputra basin, as this graphic indicates.