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Only rain god can quench Delhi’s thirst

Amid Delhi’s ever-rising demand for water and falling supply, there’s a ray of hope that can help save the national capital and its surrounding towns from going thirsty in the near future — rainwater.

delhi Updated: Apr 20, 2013 23:01 IST
water demand,water supply,djb

Amid Delhi’s ever-rising demand for water and falling supply, there’s a ray of hope that can help save the national capital and its surrounding towns from going thirsty in the near future — rainwater.

Delhi receives between 611 mm and 750 mm of rain from July to September every year. And harvesting rainwater and recycling it for non-potable usage can considerably help in meeting the city’s water demand and lessen the pressure on the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).

Delhi needs 1,025 million gallons of water per day (MGD) but the DJB supplies only about 835 MGD.

Rapid urbanisation had blocked all open areas. Buildings, malls, roads and pavements or even parking places prevent water from percolating into the ground because of which the water table does not get recharged and the precious commodity goes down the drain.

Under ideal conditions, rainwater harvesting can yield 12 million gallons annually for Delhi. ‘Catching and storing rain where it falls’ is the mantra for Jyoti Sharma of NGO Force, which helps set up harvesting units.

“The storage can be natural or a man-made underground facility. It can either replenish groundwater or be stored in tanks for drinking and cooking.”

The Central Ground Water Board promotes rainwater harvesting. Most new government buildings, Nehru Park and Lodi Garden, have such units. The Delhi government also funds such projects and DJB facilitates them.

But has it made any difference?

Problems encountered

Lack of technical expertise prevents people from installing a rainwater harvesting structure. For instance, deciding between a unit for storage or for groundwater recharge requires help.

“At some places, rainwater can be used for storage first and then the excess water can be diverted for groundwater recharge,” says Nitya Jacob, director (water) at the Centre for Science and Environment

Red tape or lack of vision?

The Delhi government started a scheme of subsiding rainwater harvesting structures in 2002 but it yielded negligible results. In the same year, Chennai made rainwater harvesting compulsory and by the end of five years, the groundwater level rose by approximately 50%.

In Delhi, getting permission for drilling or even building RWH structures on community land is difficult. “Rainwater movement in Delhi has suffered due to lack of administrative support,” Sharma said.

Getting permission takes 8-10 months. “Officials say permission for drilling a bore for RWH is misused” she fumed. Water recycling or reuse projects too face same obstacles. A case in point is the Delhi government’s ‘model village development project for Ayanagar, on the southern fringes. Working on behalf of the government, NGO Greha was to come up with sustainable solutions.

“We saw an opportunity to treat and recycle grey and black water and divert it to fill the village johar (traditional water harvesting/oxidation pond),” said Ashish Ganju, architect and Greha member.

But despite instructions from the highest level of government, the officials concerned did not respond. “They probably thought an unconventional project like this is a huge risk,” he said.

Debashree Mukherjee, DJB CEO admitted there are problems with the scheme. The DJB now plans to overhaul it and has identified two NGOs for it.

From dealing with land-owning agencies, to facilitating permissions for drilling, to providing technical assistance, the NGOs will also help monitor the implementation and maintenance.

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First Published: Apr 18, 2013 01:13 IST