Gurugram in dire straits as groundwater table records 1m reduction per year
Data from the hydrology department reveals that the average groundwater level in the city in 1974 was 6.64 metres, which fell to 19.85 metres in 2006, to 26.3 metres in 2014, and to 36.99 metres in 2021
Landlocked Gurugram, which has always depended heavily on groundwater due to a lack of water sources in its vicinity, is now in a crisis because its groundwater table has been declining rapidly – from half-a-metre per year since the 1980s until four years ago to 1m per year since then--shows data from the hydrology department.
According to experts, the over-use of groundwater for construction, a rapid population growth and the lack of rainwater harvesting in the city have led to a gross imbalance between groundwater extraction and regeneration, leading to an alarming decline in the water table.
The Central Ground Water Board, a subordinate office of the ministry of water resources, had in fact, categorised the city as a ‘dark zone’ – an area where groundwater extraction exceeds its recharge by 100%-- nearly a decade ago in 2013, after which authorities swung into action and sealed 1,040 illegal borewells in a year.
Data from the hydrology department reveals that the average groundwater level in the city in 1974 was 6.64 metres, which fell to 19.85 metres in 2006 and to 26.3 metres in 2014.
But in the past four years, the decline has accelerated. The average pre-monsoon water level in Gurugram was 33.23 metres in 2018, 35.85 metres in 2019, 36.21 metres in 2020 and 36.99 metres in 2021, data shows.
To manage the situation, while the Gurugram administration has banned the use of drinking water for construction purposes, tried to focus on rainwater harvesting and increase the usage of treated water, these measures are yet to show results, say experts.
Experts, in fact, warn that given the speed with which the groundwater level is falling, particularly in urbanised villages such as Kapashera, Dundahera, Chakkarpur, Baliawas, Kasan, Kherki Daula, Gurgaon village and Wazirabad, there is a major possibility of the city’s desertification because rainwater can only seep to 1,000 feet underground.
Prof Gauhar Mehmood from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, who has been working with civic agencies in the city, said that groundwater was being extracted at the rate of 320%, which is thrice the recharge capacity in a year. “The government has not been able to anticipate the industrial and population growth in the city, and consequently has been depending on groundwater despite augmenting water supply via canals from the Yamuna since the mid-90s. The water supply system still has not covered the entire city, and people have to depend on borewells,” he said.
A 2018 study by Atul Kumar Mishra from department of geology, Sikkim University and Naval Kishore Tiwari from department of geology, Sri JNPG College, Lucknow, titled “Water demand and waste management with respect to the projected urban growth of Gurugram” said that there has been a significant change in land-use pattern in the city, which has impacted green spaces, forests, natural drains and ponds that played a key role in groundwater recharge. In 2011, the built-up area in the city was 13,057 hectares which will increase by 40% in 2031 and by 60.43% in 2051, the study added.
“Change in land use and scattered urban growth pressurises land, water and other resources. The rapid rise in population will further pressurise the groundwater table as more constructed area means less likelihood for recharge,” the study said.
Another reason cited for the decreasing groundwater table is the fact that Sabi, a monsoonal river, which flows from Rajasthan to Haryana, is almost dried up. “The river used to recharge Gurugram’s groundwater table but now there are several dams have been constructed on it in Rajasthan and it is almost dry,” said VS Lamba, hydrologist, Gurugram.
Environmentalists in the city also said that excessive concretisation, reduction in green cover, the encroachment of ponds and destruction of major bunds had impacted the groundwater recharge adversely.
Vaishali Chandra Rana, a city-based environmentalist, said that excessive concretisation of stormwater drains, shrinking of catchment area--particularly in the Aravallis--and encroachment of ponds has led to frequent waterlogging and flooding. The water that used to collect in ponds, bunds, kuccha drains and seep into the ground now causes flooding and most of it flows into the Najafgarh drain. The rainwater, if conserved, could have improved the water table,” she said, adding that she filed a petition in 2019 against the concretisation of drains in the city, after which National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the district administration and civic agencies to submit a plan to revive ponds in the city, fix rainwater harvesting structures and take measures to conserve rainwater. “ GMDA, MCG and other agencies have started reviving the creeks in Aravallis, fixing the ponds in the city and building recharge wells only after the order. This is a work in progress,” she said.
As per Mahindra - TERI Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Habitat, which released a report titled ‘Water Sustainability Assessment of Gurugram City’ in 2019, the city has been overtly dependent on groundwater and till 1995 there was no source of surface water (any body of water above ground, including streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, reservoirs, and creeks) in Gurugram. To be sure, Gurugram now gets its water from the Yamuna river via Kakroi headworks near Sonipat through the Gurgaon Water Supply (GWS) channel (since 1995) and the NCR water channel (since 2010).
The TERI report further said that there were 9,140 legal borewells and over 15,000 illegal ones in the city in 2019. The actual number of illegal borewells was unclear, making it difficult to monitor illegal extraction, the report added.
Dr Mehmood said that the city requites a comprehensive water management plan with a proper estimate of demand and supply to reduce the pressure on groundwater. “The water supply from Yamuna needs to be more efficient as there is lot of wastage. Authorities must focus on the use of treated wastewater in construction, housing and industry. Rainwater harvesting is also a must. There is a need to calculate the city’s domestic, institutional and industrial demand for water. The requirement needs to be mapped properly and plans made to meet it with surface water,” he said.
More than 200MLD treated wastewater is released into the Najafgarh drain, which can instead be used for construction, horticulture and other needs, emphasise experts.
Mehmood warned that if corrective measures are not taken, there is a very real chance of desertification as rainwater can only seep to 1,000 feet underground. “If groundwater dries up, there is also threat to the safety of buildings and roads because the ground could sink,” he said.
The hydrology department, which keeps tabs on the groundwater table, meanwhile, said that measures are being taken to reduce the city’s reliance on groundwater, but the process is not without its challenges.
Lamba said that the department has 62 observation wells across the city, where surveys are conducted twice a year before and after the monsoon to check the water table level. “We have started the pre-monsoon survey this month,” he said.
Lamba added that lately, civic agencies have managed to lay a water pipeline network and reduce reliance on borewells.”We have also taken action against illegal borewells but people are allowed to use groundwater for drinking and irrigation, where there is no piped supply,” he said.
The GMDA, which supplies water to most of the city, meanwhile, said that it is emphasing on usage of treated wastewater, particularly in construction, horticulture and industry. “We have laid 116km of pipelines across the city to ensure treated waste is available for use. Hydrants have been installed in 12 locations to make water available to tankers. Usage of treated water will reduce the pressure on groundwater, particularly for,” said Rajesh Bansal, chief engineer, GMDA, Infrastructure II.