Survey warns of water shortage in Bengaluru soon; experts say ‘exaggerated’

Updated on Mar 13, 2022 12:29 AM IST

Climate and socio-economic experts observed that Bengaluru will face an acute drinking water shortage in the coming years. Krishna Raj, professor, Centre of Economic Studies and Policy, ISEC, highlighted the issue of high carbon economy that has resulted in rising of temperature by 1°C, which he said, in turn, cost around 5% of the GDP.

According to the Economic Survey, the current shortfall in the water supply in 2021, as estimated by the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board (BWSSB), is 650 MLD, which is likely to go up to 1,450 MLD by 2031. (HT Archives)
According to the Economic Survey, the current shortfall in the water supply in 2021, as estimated by the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board (BWSSB), is 650 MLD, which is likely to go up to 1,450 MLD by 2031. (HT Archives)
By, Bengaluru

Bengaluru running out of the water in the next decade has been a fear and debate in the silicon valley for years. The Karnataka government’s Economic Survey too pointed out the possible shortage in the next 10 years, triggering the debate once again.

According to the Economic Survey, the current shortfall in the water supply in 2021, as estimated by the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board (BWSSB), is 650 MLD, which is likely to go up to 1,450 MLD by 2031.

“The Greater Bengaluru comprising 1,250 KM receiving an average annual rainfall of 750 mm per year is expected to yield about 33 TMC of water. The use of water from the vast network of stormwater drains, together with the rejuvenation of lakes, can help in recharging the groundwater. However, Bengaluru and other major cities have a much poorer network of stormwater drainage systems as compared to many smaller cities. Added to this issue is the fact that older infrastructures are also in dire need of attention for maintenance and rejuvenation,” read the report listing the city’s inability to harvest more water to address the shortage.

Climate and socio-economic experts observed that Bengaluru will face an acute drinking water shortage in the coming years. Krishna Raj, professor, Centre of Economic Studies and Policy, ISEC, highlighted the issue of high carbon economy that has resulted in rising of temperature by 1°C, which he said, in turn, cost around 5% of the GDP.

“Bengaluru city will face acute drinking water shortage in the coming years with a reduction in water availability in the Cauvery river basin mainly due to variation in precipitation levels. As per the Climate Policy Initiative on Global Climate Finance 2019, 44% and 56% respectively constitute public and private finances. The main concern is that about 93% of the total public and private finances flow to mitigation activities and adaptation activities receive less than 7%. While India wants to increase the forest cover aimed at reducing CO2 levels by 2030, deficient climate finances may limit realising the climate targets,” he said.

However, not all experts agree. Urban planner and water conservation expert S Vishwanath said that projections by the government are often exaggerations with political motives behind them. “Bengaluru currently gets 1,470 MLD of water. Apart from that, there is 600 MLD of groundwater in the city. With the current population in the city, even with 150 litre of water per capita, we will have enough water for the entire city,” he said.

Vishwanath, however, pointed out that when the projections are made at 200 litres of water per capita, a shortage could be predicated and such exaggerated numbers are used to allow projects like Mekadattu. “Most of the calculations claiming there is a shortage is based on this outrageous 200 litre per capita calculation, without taking groundwater into consideration. Even by European standards, 100 litres per capita is a good amount. The fact is that with the current water supply, harvesting at least half of Bengaluru’s rainwater and recycling 1/3 of sewage water, Bengaluru will not have a problem till 2050. Such claims of shortage are used to propel projects like Mekadatu,” he pointed out.

According to the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Limited’s draft terms of reference (as of July 2019), the Mekedatu project is aimed at generating 400 MW of renewable energy annually and can supply up to 4.75 TMC of drinking water for Bengaluru, Karnataka’s most populous city.

“Large-scale developmental activities such as constructing a series of reservoirs and dams, creating special economic zones, townships, and land conversion for built-up areas have led to the loss of large tracts of forests,” said Dr TV Ramachandra from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

“The forest cover now is confined to major conservation reserves such as protected areas, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Natural forests show a decline of evergreen forests from 7.5% (1985) to 5.7% (by 2019), moist deciduous forests from 5.7% (1985) to 4.1% (by 2019), and dry deciduous forests from 4.0% (1985) to 2.2% (2019),” he said.

A report released by the India State of Forests Report (ISFR) 2021 shows that Karnataka has lost 64sq km of moderately dense forest compared to its 2019 findings. Karnataka’s forest cover is 20.2% of the total geographical area which is lower than the national average of 21.7% and terribly short of the globally prescribed 33%, the report adds.

As per the report on Mekedatu, there will be submergence of 4,996 hectares of wildlife, forest and revenue land and its total requirement is 5,252.40 ha. This includes 3,181.90 ha of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and 1869.5 ha of reserve forest land which is home to elephant migratory routes, honey badgers, grizzled giant squirrels, Deccan Mahseer fish and the smooth-coated otters among hundreds of other exotic — and potentially endangered — species of animals.

Talking about concerns of the water shortage, former water resources secretary Capt Raja Rao said with Supreme allocating 4.7 TMC for consumptive usage of drinking water for Bengaluru city, will be adequate for the next 10 years. “Apart from getting this allocation, the BWSSB has to reduce the unaccounted water in city’s water supply is around 45% and they also claim that they have now the technology to track the water supply in Bengaluru. If they can bring this loss of the water supply to 15%, our water supply for Bengaluru will increase by at least 5 TMC,” said Rao.

However, both Rao and Vishwanath agree that there is an urgent need to improve water treatment and rainwater harvest capabilities. Vishwanath went on to add that there is a lack of effort from the government to monitor the groundwater rejuvenation in the city, which is another aspect that makes Bengaluru self-sufficient on water, in the coming days.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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