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HindustanTimes Tue,02 Sep 2014

Communities pool in to plug water woes

Reetika Subramanian and KV Lakshmana, Hindustan Times  Mumbai/Chennai, March 21, 2013
First Published: 20:36 IST(21/3/2013) | Last Updated: 02:28 IST(22/3/2013)

Prior to 2008, residents of the God’s Gift cooperative housing society in Lower Parel, Mumbai, often indulged in early morning quarrels while standing in long queues to collect their quota of water. With only limited supply and inflated bills, residents felt the crunch on a daily basis.

It was then that members of the society, which houses 100 middle-class Maharashtrian families, decided to overcome their water woes by adopting water conservation techniques. After reading about successful techniques that have been used around the globe, the society chose to write its own success story.

Today, a ring well, a bore well and a rainwater harvesting system all fixed inside the society premises have ensured 24x7 supply of non-potable water.

The water that is collected is used for gardening, washing cars, dishwashing and to run the toilet flush.

“It has been five years since we last experienced a water crunch in our society. We have been conserving water without seeking any help from the civic body,” said Nilesh Kosambi, 38, a resident of the society.

With no maintenance costs to pay for, the society had to incur an initial cost of only Rs.1.25 lakh at the time of setting up the system.

While initially the society had only installed the two wells, the desire to replenish the water drawn from mother Earth made them consider the option of rainwater harvesting.

“While the first two mechanisms ensured that there was continuous water supply, we wanted to conserve water for the future by making use of the rainwater,” said Kosambi.

The society approached the Eureka Institute of Environment for guidance, and soon set up a successful rainwater harvesting system.

Through this system, the society has managed to conserve 7 lakh litres of rainwater every year, which falls on the terraces and is collected through ducts in the ground.

With the state experiencing drought and the water stock for the city insufficient on account of receding lake levels, it is the society’s state-of-the-art conservation system that has helped it sustain water supply without any trouble.

“Even on those days when the supply from the municipal corporation is restricted, we filter the conserved water and use it for potable purposes,” said Ajay Rane, 43, another resident.

Stories of cooperation between communities such as this abound. Across the country, given the dire water situation in most metros, citizens are taking water conservation seriously, to safeguard future supplies.

Water warriors
Another such example is at Sitaramanuja Nivas, a small residential building on the intersection of 4th Main Road and Canal Bank Road in south Chennai.

For VS Sukumar, 66, a chartered accountant whose grandfather owned the plot on which these flats have come up, rainwater harvesting and used-water management were factored in from the drawing-board stage itself. 

It was Sukumar’s childhood friend and rainwater harvesting expert Sekhar Raghavan who had got Sukumar immersed in the campaign to popularise this water conservation technique.

“At first, I was thought to be a mad man, talking nonsense. Chowkidars in multi-storey buildings would shoo me away,” Raghavan said. Convincing people of the need for harvesting was seemingly impossible.

It was the friendly neighbourhood newspaper that gave credibility to his campaign. Soon, he caught the attention of a group of young NRIs, whose contributions helped start the Rain Centre in 2000.

In five years, Raghavan earned many converts, including builders, to harvest rainwater in their buildings.

For rain-starved Chennai which has no perennial water source, rainwater forms an important source for the city.

Chennai gets 129 cm of rain in a year and its duration is for two months, in short spells of a few days. Urbanisation has meant paving of huge areas that once had soil. So, rainwater flows away into the sewers.

But Sitaramanuja Nivas is a classic example where every drop of rainwater gets diverted into the ground, where it percolates and spreads. Rainwater from rooftops also flows into the same water pits.

All soapy water is collected and taken to a flower garden where plants that grow in brackish water are planted.

“40% of the water we use is for bathing and washing clothes — if treated in a cana bed (a water treatment system) and allowed to seep into the ground, the water table will become healthier,” Raghavan said.

“Not even a single day since these flats were occupied in mid 2010, has a water tanker been called,” Sukumar said, as proof of the efficacy of the steps taken.


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