Water Conservation : The Journey Continues

As more people join in, this journey is destined to become a movement one day

Water is the precious elixir for all life on our planet. It is the most dynamic force of nature that has the power to shape our geography, nurture our civilizations and sustain all human activity.

My name is Sunil Sharma and understanding water resources has been my life’s passion. As a child, I remember playing with water – drawing small canals in the sand. I was fascinated to see water flow through my creations as I poured a small pitcher of water into these canals and made it drain into a small pit at the end. As a kid, sitting next to the pit seeing the water get absorbed and leaving the pit empty seemed like magic to me.

For the last three decades, each year I spend a part of the profits generated from my other business ventures into experimenting on the soil and water relationship in order to understand, develop and implement new systems for artificial ground water recharge.

In 2001, I founded SILVERON – an organization dedicated to designing and developing rainwater harvesting solutions. I have been sharing my work and experiences with people through lectures, seminars and discussions at various forums including this blog.

Water Crisis

Over the past few decades, I have seen the emergence of a water crisis – an environmental catastrophe where the lack of clean water is putting an immense economic and social burden on our rapidly urbanizing communities.

As humans, we have a tendency to put our self-interest above everything else and take actions only for our direct benefit, be it social or economic. As a society we have become unconcerned, insensitive, casual, unimaginative and even unintelligent while soon approaching a day with ‘zero’ water.

Individuals and corporations cause immense harm to the environment when they are driven by only their financial motives. From illegal tubewells that siphon off precious groundwater through the water-tanker mafia, industries dumping toxic chemical waste into our rivers and water bodies, illegal logging and mining that destroy our forests and watersheds – the threats to our environment are far too many.

Need for Change

The water crisis is a ticking time bomb that threatens our society’s existence. The need of the hour is to create a movement where we take up the cause of water conservation en masse. However, this movement like other environmental struggles requires the involvement and participation of large sections of our society.

Part of the reason why water conservation is not high on our agenda is due to the government short-term approach of treating water as simply a utility service that it needs to provide. With this approach, the government undertakes costly infrastructure projects to fetch and haul water to population centers from reservoirs far and away whilst simultaneously overlooking people’s encroachment and over utilization of water resources available to them through illegal or overused tubewells, inefficient irrigation systems etc.

To address this impending mega water crisis, the government must revisit its strategy and appropriately incentivize water conservation efforts. It is time that the government realizes that appropriate direct financial benefits like proportionate relief in state or local taxes, discounts in utility bills and/or direct financial rewards are the only means that will motivate people to adopt water conservation and rain water harvesting efforts on a large scale.

For example, people install solar panels on top of their houses not just because they provide clean energy but because the energy thus generated is “free” and has financial value when sold back into the grid. Likewise, people also invest in windmills to earn money from selling the power generated.

While the deteriorating state of our water bodies and a rapidly declining water table are putting our society on suicidal path, as individuals people often ask a simple common question – “Why should I spend money in construction of a Rain Water Harvesting structure when the rain water recharged into the ground by me does not remain in my premises and not benefit my bore well exclusively”?

This says it all but this is not the end of it.

Conservation In Action

It is SILVERON‘s commitment to keep working towards designing and developing solutions for ground water recharge by the cheapest available alternatives at places where the rain water collects.

Ground Water Recharge Through Abandoned Tubewel

As an example of this, on April 26th 2019, in far off villages in the arid state of Gujarat we are attempting to develop scores of abandoned tubewells as ground water recharge structures. These tubewells were built in 1977 at different villages to extract ground water and have been abandoned thereafter as the water table in the region declined.

Rain Water Harvesting is a site specific work and the most appropriate site specific design needs to be developed in view of the available opportunities. There are millions of abandoned dry tubewells and open wells in the country. What if we are able to recharge ground water aquifers through each one of them!

This video demonstrate that we need to be positive and optimist to succeed. We can surely turn the table if more and more people join hands and work. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and together we can march forward singing the famous lines – “we shall overcome

We shall continue this journey, as more people join in it surely will become a movement one day…

The Flood Drought Fire Cycle

A vicious cycle that must be stopped.

Global warming and changing climate is having a major impact as many parts of the world face prolonged droughts or uncontrollable wild fires or damaging floods along both coastal and inland regions. It is a vicious cycle affecting the natural system and unfortunately the area of impact keeps increasing at an alarming pace.

Flooding is a result of excessive flow or accumulation of water in a particular area due to rain or other reasons. Flooding creates an ecological imbalance by adversely affecting the soil & plant relationship, since all plants require air especially oxygen to a greater or lesser depth in the soil for growth.

The waterlogged soil resulting from flooding is nearly saturated with water such that the aeration is restricted and anaerobic conditions prevail. With this depletion of oxygen in the root zone, the micro organisms which support plant growth are affected adversely and in turn the plant growth is restricted.

Water-logging also reduces the temperature of the soil and increases dampness which disturbs the biological activity in the soil. Water logging restricts all operations related to soil enrichment and soil development. In irrigated agricultural land, water logging is often accompanied by soil salinity as waterlogged soils prevent leaching of the salts imported by the irrigation water and the adverse effects are accelerated by the salts brought from lower parts of soil by the capillary water.

This increase in salinity not only interferes with the absorption of nutrients by the plant roots, thereby damaging the plantation but also spoils the physical state of the soil by making it less permeable for water and more suited for runoff which in turn hurts the adjoining land and vegetation.

Even fodder grown in such soil may cause diseases in livestock.  In our observations and experience over 30 years, we have seen that flooding has a prolonged negative impact on the soil. This may not be apparently visible in the initial years but in the long run flooding has a tendency to degrade the soil quality by consequently reducing the water absorption capacity of the soil.

Drought is a result of little or no supply of water in a particular area due to poor rainfall or other reasons. A drought removes water from the root zone in the soil and in prevailing natural drought conditions or man-made conditions requiring extraction of large quantity of ground water causes a sustained lowering of the water table and takes away the soil moisture farther away from the roots.

A drought leads to wide spread drying of the entire forests or grasslands, turning once lush-green forest covers teeming with wildlife into desolate wastelands. This makes huge quantities of dry wood fodder available for fire and we have seen massive forest fires raging for months together.

Fire requires favorable conditions like open air and availability of fuel. Wildfires often start from a lighting strike or can be caused (accidentally or deliberately) through human activity. Once a wildfire picks up enough momentum, thousands of acres of land can be engulfed in its path. Wildfires cause massive ecological damage to the flora and fauna, livestock and humans inhabiting the region.

Once the thick forest cover at the base of a hill is consumed by a wildfire and barren land is visible – all natural barriers creating hindrance to the downward flow of wind or water from the hill disappear. Now free flowing wind & water take the rich top-soil along with it and this water can flood downstream areas. This has a dual effect – with every removal of top soil, the revival of plantation becomes more and more difficult and the chances of the forest going back to its old form are reduced drastically. The water flooding downstream area has its own negatives as discussed above.

We at SILVERON have developed a unique rain water harvesting design which has the potential to obstruct this vicious cycle and to even break it if our design is implemented at a large scale.

What is special about SILVERON design?

  1. The SILVERON recharge shaft does not require flooding of ground with water. In fact where ever there is flooding , our design provides passage for that water to get into   the soil.
  2. The SILVERON recharge shaft does not dictate the recharge location or depth to the percolating water. The water can be absorbed by every favorable soil formation throughout the depth of the recharge shaft, starting from the root zone itself. This naturally supports plantation and vegetation in the area around the recharge shaft. 
  3. The SILVERON recharge shaft provides easy passage for rain water to filter through and percolate down wards while simultaneously also being absorbed through the walls of the shaft.

Because of the uniqueness of the SILVERON recharge shaft design, the rain water which falls on the ground at a distance from the shaft, while naturally struggling to percolate in the soil can detect the soil made soft and wet by the water absorbed from the shaft and form underground capillaries to reach the recharge shaft and supply its water to the recharge shaft, even when it is not observable from the surface.

Impact of SILVERON recharge shaft on the ground:

A very apparent impact of the shaft design is visible at Hero MotoCorp plant at Gurgaon, Haryana where the soil surface of the front lawn used to frequently waterlogged with rains and caused flooding in the garden. This resulted in the grass becoming black and unhealthy.

The field shafts constructed by SILVERON diverted all the collected water into the ground thus preventing flooding. This design also enriched the root zone with water which supported plantation and resulted in the development of the beautiful healthy green lawns as is evident in the photographs.

The dry grass and trees are fire hazards - the green grass and trees are the savior.
Dry grass and trees are fire hazards – the green grass and trees are the savior. (Source: Friday Gurgaon)

Thus, the unique potential of the SILVERON rain water harvesting system allows for enriching the ground water aquifers and provides a strategy to obstruct and break the vicious cycle of Flood-Drought-Fire-Flood by implementation on a large scale.   

Water Wisdom – Our Lifeline

A lonely old fish while swimming in a small pond of water saw a group of young fishes playing with each other. The lonely old fish swam up to them – smiled and politely asked, ‘How is the water’?

The young fishes being too busy in their game ignored the elderly fish and ran away to another corner of the pond and continued playing. When their game was over one of the fishes asked the others – that old fish was asking about something called water. What is water?

A dozen young fishes kept pondering while swimming in water but could not figure out what the so called thing Water was!

The old fish had seen many of its friends & loved ones perish due to the lack of water when most part of this pond had dried during the drought. The old fish had experienced the tough times when it had struggled to survive in a small puddle of water which remained in one corner of the pond. The old fish knew the importance of water and how their survival depended on water. The old fish had wisdom from experience.

The younger lot were born in water and had seen abundant water all around them all the time so they found the presence of water to be so naturally normal that they did not even recognize its presence – let alone value it.

The moral of this story is that we must treasure and make use of the experience of people, beware of their concerns and seek their wisdom in solving problems.

Those who anticipate a problem and work towards a solution before it occurs are the ones for whom the problem becomes a no problem.

We at SILVERON have been explaining the reasons behind the build up of our water woes and how we should prepare to address them so that we have availability of water for our future generations.

In our previous blog post, we explained that once water is removed from a region at a rate faster than it can be replenished by natural processes, that water may be lost forever.

We should recognize that the water being exported from a surplus region into a deficient region in any form has no impact on the ground water situation of the receiving region. Meanwhile, the water-surplus regions become dry once their resources have been looted triggering a gradual desertification in due course of time.

Alongside the examples of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, Lake Naivasha in Kenya, we had called out the Bisalpur Dam in Rajasthan, India from where huge quantities of water is being pumped on daily basis to supply drinking water to far off urban centers in this desert state.

When water is taken out from its natural water basin – by pumping through pipelines or as bottled water directly or indirectly hidden in farm produce like almonds, pistachios etc., the ground water aquifers get dried and this leads to damage of the natural habitat and biodiversity and finally the entire ecosystem of the area is disrupted.

The cardinal lesson that water is an important asset of the local area and should remain within that area because it is the central factor around which the entire ecology of that area revolves.

Unfortunately, the news report on Bisalpur Dam published on the first page of the state & national newspaper of the 16th March 2019 endorses our anticipated fears as the water levels in the Bisalpur Dam drop below levels where it cannot sustain supply to urban areas.

The following recent news stories on the Bisalpur Dam report on this crisis:

The current position of Bisalpur dam is 308.16 meter which is enough till August, 2019 but if rainfall remains scarce this year as well, the state will face a drought-like situation

Times of India Report, 19 March 2019

The headline translates as WATER CRISIS KNOCKS: Water exhausting at Bisalpur, islands become visible.

Water Crisis – Mankind Paving Its Way Towards Doom

(Click here for Part 1 of this series)

As many urban areas face a water crisis due to shortage of this resource there are rural areas that have a surplus supply of water. The demand and supply constraint between these regions creates a contest between the haves and have-nots.

Most governments look at this contest from the perspective of vote banks of its constituents and facilitates the transportation of water from one place to the other. Many corporations see this contest as an opportunity to make profit and eventually we notice pipelines being laid for transportation of water and the transformation of an agricultural setup to an industrial landscape with water intensive industries such as bottling plants being set up around areas with surplus availability of water.

We must realize that once a water is removed from a region at a rate faster than it can be replenished by natural processes, that water maybe lost forever. If a company bottles water at one location and transports it to far-off destinations or pumps water from lakes for supplying to other locations, the natural rate of replenishment may never be able to match the rate of industrial consumption at such a large scale, especially when driven by the demands of a much larger market.

We should also recognize that the water being exported from a surplus region into a deficient regions in any form has no impact on the ground water situation of the receiving region. The incoming water is usually consumed by the population and ends up mixed with sewage or industrial effluents without making any improvements to the availability of ground water in the deficient area. Meanwhile, the water-surplus regions become dry once their resources have been looted triggering gradual desertification in due course of time.

We have seen examples of such ecological degradation. The Aral Sea – at one time the 4th largest lake in the world – was a great lake so large in area that it was termed a ‘sea’. The former Soviet Union and the countries around it started growing cotton in the desert by siphoning out huge quantity of water from this lake and now the water is more or less completely gone.

Aral Sea 1989-2014

A similar tale repeats itself in the doomed fate of Lake Naivasha in Kenya which is extensively being exploited to support floriculture in the region. Note, that growing a dozen Rose flowers needs around 120 liters of water and to come out of its debt Kenya grows and supplies most of the Roses sold in Europe and in the process has nearly exhausted the water in this major lake.

Even in developed countries such as the US, in states like California water from northern water-rich regions is being transported by pipelines to the populous southern parts of the state and being used to grow water-intensive crops like alfa-alfa, pistachios etc. for export.

Another example in the making is the Bisalpur Dam in Rajasthan, India from where huge quantities of water is being pumped on daily basis to supply drinking water to far off urban centers in this desert state.

When water is taken out from its natural water basin – by pumping through pipelines or as bottled water directly or indirectly hidden in farm produce like almonds, pistachios etc., the ground water aquifers get dried and this leads to damage to the natural habitat and biodiversity and finally the entire ecosystem of the area is disrupted.

The cardinal lesson to learn is that water is an important asset of the local area and should remain within that area because it is the central factor around which the entire ecology of that area revolves.

The agriculture, industry, culture and lifestyle of any region are directly influenced by the availability of water, suitability of soil and climatic conditions of that region. We all have to adapt to live within the limits of our water sheds… something that modern industrial societies are fast forgetting.

To give an idea – here’s the water required for cultivation of a few commodities:

  • 100 liters of water is required to grow 1 Apple
  • 13 liters of water is required to grow 1 Tomato
  • 4 liters of water is required to grow 1 Almond
  • 3 liters of water is required to grow 1 Pishtachio
  • 1,500 liters of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of Wheat
  • 10,000 liters of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of Cotton
  • 70,000 liters of water is required to grow one bale of Alfalfa.

Since the beginning of civilization, we have found water in abundance in rivers and lakes and seen the regular rains so our minds are conditioned not to value water and we often overlook its availability when calculating the costs of inputs to any agricultural or industrial activity.

We must take action and adapt to a more sustainable and local strategy for water use. Now is the right time for this action or else we risk causing irreversible damage to our societies.

Water Crisis – Mankind Paving Its Way Towards Doom

Enough is Enough

(Click here for Part 1 of this series)

We know for a fact that only about 3 % of the water available on earth is suitable for human consumption. Over the years, the quantum of fresh water available on earth has remained the same more or less but what was once an adequate supply has now become inadequate because of the increase in demand

Each year more and more regions of the world automatically slip into what are categorized as ‘water stressed regions’, because of over use. The main reason for increased water shortage and water stress is the rising population of the world, projected to reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030 . With this dramatic rise in population, the demand for food is also increasing along with the requirements of housing & infrastructure to accommodate the growing population.

The per capita water usage has also been increasing drastically due to rising prosperity and changing lifestyles of people. This is also contributing to the increase in the demand for water. In the last century the population has tripled but the demand for water has increased by 6 times.

Going by the fundamental economic principle of demand and supply, it is apparent that the demand for water is increasing and its availability is decreasing and hence its value is bound to climb.

As early as 2008, investment banking leader Goldman Sachs recognized the financial potential in water as a commodity and classified water as the petroleum of the next century. As water was anticipated to become the hottest new resource to profit from around 100 top corporations started to treat water as a new commodity for sale. Companies such as the Veolia based in Switzerland, Suez and Vivendi with their headquarters in Paris, France, Thames Water with its base in Berkshire, UK, became some of the major players.

In their nascent days, water companies usually controlled and operated within their own countries but with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization revolution in the late 80s, the 10 state owned regional water authorities that supplied water to over three-quarters of England and Wales were privatized in December 1989 after the introduction of a new regulatory framework. This was the trigger which motivated the water companies to seek global control. Water rose to become a commodity in the stock market.

This small sample showcases the scale of these companies control:

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – Buyer Suez
  • Puerto Rico, US – Buyer – Veolia
  • Jakarta, Indonesia – Buyer – Thames Water
  • Santiago, Chile – Buyer – Veolia
  • New York City, New York, US – Buyer – Suez
  • Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, US – Buyer – Thames Water
  • Las Vegas, Nevada, US – Buyer – Suez
  • Chicago, Illinois, US – Buyer – Veolia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, US – Buyer – Veolia
World’s 50 Largest Private Water Utilities: Served more than 280 million people in 24 countries & with more than $53 billion in annual revenue in 2014

According to the Private Water Utilities: Global Rankings & Company Strategies report, the world’s 50 largest private water utilities served more than 280 million people in 24 countries and generated more than $53 billion in annual revenue on a net equity basis in 2014. France, the U.K., the U.S. and Brazil host the largest private water utilities, but an increasing number of new players also appear in Bluefield’s rankings of population served and water produced from regions where private participation in the water sector is on the rise including Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Private participants are placing an increased emphasis on a diverse set of countries, with the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Italy and Spain topping Bluefield’s 2015 market attractiveness ranking for private participation.

These private water companies have the power to manipulate the World Bank to ask developing countries to privatize water for debt relief. These Water cartels are becoming more powerful than most Governments.

Lot of games have been played around to profit from Water – enough is enough.

It is time to take a firm stand on what position we give to water in our life. Is it a regional luxury, a global asset, a money spinning commodity for corporations, a life saving resource or a political tool in the hands of the government.

We have to change our entire outlook towards water. We have to value every drop of this life saving resource and we have to re-look at the ways we manage or transport or use water for farming or infrastructure development.

All these years water was used to douse fires but unfortunately such disrespect has been shown to water that it is on the verge of becoming the reason for fire and conflicts between societies and nations.

The hard reality is that fresh water on earth is limited and sooner or later the global population will reach a number which will make the fresh water resources fall short – what then?

…To be continued