Solving the Water Crisis : A Change In Attitude

The water crisis is a grim reality of our society today. The latest estimates from the NITI Aayog report project an acute water shortage in 21 major Indian cities by 2020. As we approach this Zero Day, there is a surge in our collective consciousness for the environment. The public discourse is finally awakening to this grave crisis and asking the tough questions on what has led to this acute water scarcity & other environmental issues such as worsening air quality, climate change and global warming.

Water Crisis India
Heatwaves and droughts make the water crisis more acute

While it is easy to put the blame on the government, civic bodies or industries for the water crisis, we as individuals are equally responsible for this dire situation. The problem is simple – we do not value what we get for free – be it clean air or water.

As individuals we have an attitude that is geared for myopic, short-term personal gains. This attitude makes us cut down forests for our ever-expanding urban infrastructure without considering its implications on the temperature of our cities or the habitat and well-being of the flora and fauna that surrounds us. The same attitude has led us to over extract and simply dry up surface water bodies (lakes, ponds etc.) or groundwater resources (wells, underground aquifers etc.).

This prolonged reckless extraction of ground water using the most advanced pumps, going to ever greater depths without even bothering to check the rate of depleting ground water levels is unsustainable.

Unless we resolve to artificially recharge the ground water aquifers to cover the gap that has resulted due to the inflow and outflow of water from the ground water reserves – many parts of the world will approach a zero-water day soon.

Through interactions with hundreds of people who approach us for rainwater conservation and harvesting, we have seen a frightening scenario emerge – one where residential societies and home owners pay ever increasing sums of money to private water supply tankers. These water tankers ferry water into the city from farther away each year drying up towns and villages to quench the thirst of our big cities.

Meanwhile changing climate patterns makes rainfall volumes more erratic and unreliable. Even in a good monsoon year, while we may still see familiar scenes of localized flooding in our cities, most of that water ends drying up without getting absorbed by the ground due to the construction and concrete paving of surfaces.

When people consider development of rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge solutions, their primary concern is to provide immediate relief for their own water shortage. Here they tend to overlook the fact that the groundwater aquifers are a shared resource and when they withdrew from a common pool of shared resources, they must also recharge the aquifers without the expectation that the water they recharge is their private property.

As we continue to reflect upon the causes of the water crisis, it is clear that time has come to bring a major change in our attitude towards our environment and start seeing beyond ourselves. Rather than only exploit natural resources we have to work towards supporting natural processes that replenish these resources. We have to make a very strong commitment to protect the environment for all.

We have to ensure extensive reforestation and tree plantation. We have to ensure complete space and protection to wild life both on land as well as in water. We have to ensure massive rain water harvesting and ground water recharge projects on a large scale to ensure availability of sufficient fresh water for everyone.

At SILVERON we are committed to developing systems for rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge in sustainable manner that supports the natural cycle of water flow.

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.

AralSea1989_2014
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.