What Have We Done With Our Water?
On Jan 23, 2015
|Trivandrum: The discussion at the third edition of Cafe Scientifique, a platform for science and social issues, was on ‘Water’. Three eminent researchers presented their opinions mainly on the conservation of water, the precious gift of nature.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the Alliance Francaise, renowned scientist and president of Indian Institute of Geographers, Dr. Srikumar Chattopadhyay said, “Management should start from individual households. Nowadays, people pave their courtyards using interlocking tiles to avoid water. But what we shoo away like this is a priceless commodity.” He briefed the group on how water reaches the households starting from the precipitation in the Western Ghats. Dr. Chattopadhyay explained how human activities are affecting the balance of the water cycle.
He noted that even though Kerala ranks high on Human Development Index and governance, it is way down the list when it comes to water and waste management. “The rainfall level in countries like France and Germany is nowhere near what Kerala gets. But we face water scarcity during summer while they don’t. They know the value of water and thus conserve it. Here we have it in plenty, so we take it for granted,” said Dr. Chattopadhyay.
Talking about polluted rivers, like Pamba, and their revival, he said, “Thames used to be one of the most polluted rivers. But toady it’s clean. So, it is possible to revive our rivers. We should identify the source of pollution and treat it there.” The solution he presented was to divide the river into parts and deal with it at a panchayat level as the main reason for water pollution in Kerala are chemicals used for agriculture.
S Vishwanath aka ZenRainMan, a civil engineer and regional planner, talked about how Indians have moved away from brilliant water management systems that ancient civilizations had to now having any system at all. He spoke how the open well and step well systems were perfect as they showed us how much water was left. “This made us aware of the amount of water that needs to be used and saved for later. Now we get water from taps and we are not aware of the amount of water left in the tank or reservoir. So we overuse it.”
Vishwanath talked about how social media can make a difference in creating awareness on water. He discussed how the severe water scarcity that Bangalore faced has made the citizens to consider water as something precious, something which needs to be conserved. He described the revival of Jakkur Lake in Bangalore and the setting up of the adjoining sewage treatment plant through a government-private partnership. A constructed wetland is used as the filter before the recycled water is pumped into the lake. The lake is now a treasure trove of biodiversity with lots of fish and even migratory birds.
He pointed out that community management of water with proper backing from the government is the only way for successful conservation of water. Vishwanath added, “In Bangalore, water conservation is a multi-crore investment which provide jobs to plumbers and masons. So it will also benefit the society in that sense.”
The discussion concluded with computer engineer and researcher, Dr. Achuthsankar S Nair. He shared his memories on water through a series of photographs, especially of the Karamana River which is the water source for the whole city. “No one thinks this city as a city beside the river. There are people who have been traveling over the Karamana Bridge for decades but are unaware of the river or what it does to the city,” said Dr. Achuthsankar. He told how people have lost their connection with the river and how it’s dying due to pollution.
Dr. Achuthsankar then shared his connection with the water bodies and irony associated with it. “As a kid, I have helped fill up the pond at Manjalikulam for building a ground (Manjalikulam ground). Thampanoor would never get flooded during rains if that pond had been still there. The water would have drained into it. Look at me now. I am here, talking about water conservation,” he said with a meaningful chuckle.
He then added, “My case in comparison is actually tolerable. But what about my teacher, who led the filling up of pond and won a national award for making a wonderful playground for children.” Dr. Achuthsankar talked about the Vanchiyoor school where he studied that was built by filling up a pond. He also mentioned the ‘ugly structure’, ‘Jal Bhavan’ headquarters of KWA, near his present house at Muttada which was, again, built by killing a large pond.
As the Aruvikkara reservoir is fast getting silted, the government is looking for other options. The discussion ended with the conclusion that Trivandrum city need not look towards Peppara reservoir or Vamanapuram river for an alternative source of water. Since we have bountiful rain all year round, all we need to do is introduce a proper water conservation system.