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Why Bengaluru Is Digging A Million Wells Frantically

by Bharat Duggal

Why Bengaluru Is Digging A Million Wells Frantically

March 22, 2021

Bengaluru, one of Asia’s fastest-growing cities, has observed massive growth at a steep price of loss of natural resources such as deep groundwater. Amidst the troubles to revive the garden city, an age-old practice is helping the city find water.

A similar situation was faced by Cape Town in South Africa, which observed a period of severe water shortage, overcome by imposing water usage restrictions and tapping diverse water sources among others.

These methods and approaches saved Cape Town from Day Zero just in the nick of time.

Vishwanath Srikantaiah is a water activist and an urban planner
Vishwanath Srikantaiah is-a water activist and an urban planner

What Does The Future Hold For Bengaluru

The water scarcity situation in Bengaluru has been dire for all, especially for those living in the peripheral areas of the city who have been depending on tankers for drinking water for quite a few years now.

With the increasing number of people moving to the city from different parts of the subcontinent and the world, the demand for water has increased multi-fold.

Groundwater is falling so fast in the garden city that the federal government predicted that there would none left below the city, at levels possible to reach, by the end of 2020.

Ramakrishna Bovi is a traditional well digger in Bengaluru Image credit Citizen Matters
Ramakrishna Bovi is a traditional well-digger in Bengaluru (Source: Citizen Matters)

Keeping The Hopes Alive

Fortunately, for Bengaluru, one group at the center of the ‘million wells project’ is making sure that the garden city doesn’t run out of water.

The organisation at the center of this initiative is Biome Environmental Solutions, a design firm focused on ecology, architecture, and water. They calculated that Greater Bengaluru has spread over 750 sq km and from half this area, billions of liters, amounting to 80 percent of rainwater runoff.

S. Vishwanath, one of the facilitators of the Million Wells project, launched the Million Recharge Wells Campaign in 2018 to make Bengaluru self-sufficient in water. His calculations are that a million recharge wells can put enough back into the ground for the city to put water shortages behind it.

These wells are open, shallow ‘recharge’ wells. With higher aquifers, these fill up rapidly with the rains, unlike the narrow boreholes that drain the lower aquifers. These wells can soak up the rain and recharge timely, making better quality water available nearby.

“To catch this huge quantity of rain, we need a million recharge wells. Those with three feet diameter and 20 feet depth are suitable. Each well can hold about 4,000 liters of water,”

Reviving An Age-Old Tradition

An increasing number of people in Bengaluru have been dependent on water tankers for a long time, but as water is running short in and around the city, water tankers have become tremendously expensive.

As an alternative, the ancient practice of well-digging has been revived to quench the area’s growing thirst. This challenging task could help in protecting the city from the stresses of climate change.

"These recharge wells will use rooftop rainwater and send it into the aquifers, helping groundwater conditions to improve, and the traditional well diggers getting a better livelihood”

Dr. Vishwanath, a water activist, and urban planner

Empowering Communities

Many Indian towns and cities were dependent on open wells for water supply and Bengaluru was no exception. The Indian megacity was once dependent on open wells for water before piped water supply made its way into the city in 1896.

With the change in water supply, the community of the Mannu Vaddars, who have been traditionally digging wells for hundreds of years, lost their means of livelihood and suffered the most.

With no need for wells, these people were left with no option than to leave behind the generations-old skills. Through the million wells initiative, the organization is also empowering this community as they have again found work that uses their knowledge of digging and maintaining wells.

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