With the skies opening up for a few days and the noise over the Cauvery water sharing coming down, life will go on as usual for most people. And our politicians, legal luminaries and policy makers will start their complex negotiations on how best to share the available water when the situation arises again, possibly next year itself. A uni-dimensional and technical approach to solving this serious and adaptive challenge will only be a temporary Band-aid while the larger issue of scientific and comprehensive water management will be given the go by.
What should the Government then do if it has to solve the problem keeping the larger picture in mind? Will the solution work if only the govt is involved in framing it? What about the actual user and his share of doing what needs to be done? We also need to keep in mind the fact that we have reached the current state not just by increasing the total land under irrigation or by building dams across the river but by impacting negatively the entire hydrological cycle itself. A recent media report citing a study mentioned how the city of Bangalore alone has lost 79% of its water bodies and had a 925% increase in concretization. 75% of the city is land paved and 98% of the lakes are encroached upon. 90% of the existing lakes are sewage fed and we still want to ensure that all the citizens of the city get safe piped drinking water sourced from the Cauvery river. This may not be peculiar to the city of Bangalore alone and most major metropolises in India suffer from a similar malady. Another report of the forest department of the Government mentions how the deforestation in the Western Ghats area is severely impacting the rainfall and water inflow into the Cauvery river and its tributaries.
Instead of merely focusing on the supply side, people and planners have to also consider the demand side issues and how to resolve them effectively. The state needs to have a comprehensive water resource management policy that plans for afforestation, lake management, rain water harvesting structures in private and public buildings. It needs to have clear blueprint for demand side management and ensure that better irrigation practices including drip irrigation is encouraged amongst our farmers. Famers also need to be encouraged to move away from water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane to cultivation of millets. The state also needs to have a millet policy that not only encourages the growing of millets but also advocates it as a better and healthier calorie option for the consumer. Apart from changing behaviors of both the farmers and the ordinary citizen, the state also needs to embark on modernizing and desilting our dams if we need to make water storage efficient again. Though this may be expensive, experts mention that it can lead to an increase in the irrigation efficiency by 20%. At a personal level, each of us need to remember not to keep the tap water running when we are brushing our teeth or shaving. Having our leaky taps fixed and not using the shower for bathing are other simple but effective means to conserve water at a personal level. We also need innovative solutions on re-using gray water, especially for toilet flushing and watering the plants etc. The demand for water is ever increasing not only because of the increase in the population but also due to the increase in the per capita consumption. Scenes of people washing their cars, watering the streets and flooding the paved areas of apartment complexes to clean them are an everyday occurrence. Civic laws to control and reduce such wastage needs to be put in place and enforced strictly.
Mitigation and treatment strategies of the watershed and catchment areas of our rivers including the Cauvery needs to be kept in mind while addressing the larger dimensions incorporated in the hydrological cycle. Forests are natural sponges and they help store water too. No forests mean less rain but when we have rains it also means floods if there are no trees. We also have to let the Forest department manage our forests, mangroves and swamps without any political interference. The recent experience of flooding in our major cities should be a wake-up call to our politicians, urban planners and civic officials and they should ensure that both the inflow and outflow of our water systems and structures in the catchment area are open and free flowing.
The larger issue of Global warming and the melting of the glaciers all sound and seem distant but we need to understand how macro events are affecting our micro existence on an everyday basis. The dictum of the National water policy of providing safe water for drinking and sanitation as pre-emptive needs after which other needs including agriculture should follow is usually forgotten in the discourse of sharing the river water.
While the demand is ever increasing, the supply is either constant or depleting. In such a scenario, water resource management cannot be done only by technical experts alone. One also needs to remember that it is not just quantity but also the quality of water that we use. Human behavior and lifestyle have a deep impact on this issue and we need inter disciplinary teams of sociologists, behavioral scientists, engineers, political economists, anthropologists, irrigation & water experts to sit together and look at the complexity, the interconnectedness and the multiple layers of the problem. With this background the state needs to come with a comprehensive and visionary policy that will lay the ground work for managing our water resources. Finally, we need to bear in mind that water is indeed a limited resource and we need to use it wisely. Or we will have only ourselves to blame.