What should Bengaluru - institutions and its citizens - do in the immediate run and the long run, considering the Cauvery dispute and the limits to water scenario?

Just remember that only a third among us, or maybe half, are in the Cauvery basin, the rest are not part of the Water Tribunal process. This city has been built on a ridge and in the basin of two rivers, though many of us may not even be able to name the rivers into which Bengaluru empties its sewage.

Consider this – we are pumping 1400 million litres of water per day from Cauvery into the city. This adds up to 18 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet). Assuming that the rain gods will bless the Cauvery catchment only by June next year, we will need water for nine months, that is 13.50 tmcft. The other towns such as Mysore, Mandya, Ramanagara etc will need another 3 tmcft. That makes a total of 16.50 tmcft of water. The good news (Fali Nariman willing) is that we have the waters in our reservoirs in the Kabini and KRS for this, so do not give up on the bath just yet.

  1. There is much talk about leaks in pipes being 43% or 25% depending on the ‘expert’ speaking. Data suggests ‘non-revenue water’ to be 47%. This means that water that is not paid for is 47%. A part of this is financial…somebody is stealing the water but guess what? Those are Bengalureans and so the citizen/consumer in the city is getting it back.

About half of that may be leaking from old pipes but it is recharging our groundwater and getting back into the system through the 400,000 bore-wells that we have, so don’t kill yourself trying to fix the physical leaks. Just fix the big ones and make sure the new ones do not leak and we should be good to go.

  1. The rainiest months of September, October and a bit of November (around 400 mm or 45% of the annual average rains) is still ahead of us. We will get some rains. Harvest. From rooftops, from roads and parks and in lakes collect rainwater and substitute for the Cauvery water or supplement it.

  2. Wherever possible, dig recharge wells and send the surface water into the aquifers below.

  3. Clean up the lakes. Many communities are cleaning up lakes. Get into mission mode and do it in a month.

  4. Make sure that sewage treatment plants of the BWSSB that are there (14 of them and another 11 in the making) receive their full load of shit and work well. About 750 million litres can be cleaned up and fed to our lakes through constructed wetlands. The lakes will be full, will recharge groundwater and voila! Another 600 million litres will be available to the city to supplement groundwater. There is a Sewage treatment plant in Cubbon Park running for the last 10 years which converts sewage to drinking water, go visit and taste .

  5. Many apartments and layouts – as they are called here – have their own STPs. Many of these are garbage in and garbage out. Get them fixed and use the water for flushing the toilets and watering your unnecessary lawns.

  6. To the BWSSB, raise the price of water and get your financial books in order. Nothing like a price hike to manage demand. Crying Cauvery crisis, make a pitch to the Centre for Rs 12,500 crores to get waters from the Linganamakki, all 30 tmc of it, as recommended by the Thyagaraja committee. We don’t need the hydro-electric power from the reservoir, just the waters.

  7. If you are a conscientious citizen and not out on the streets setting fire to unknown vehicles with license plates starting with a T, fix water efficient taps, showers and flushes in your apartment or get your landlord to do so. Set up a rainwater harvesting system and recycle your gray water. Step out on a Sunday, join a lake group nearest you, clean it up and raise hell with the politicians till it gets cleaned up.

Once you have done all this, you can come home in the evening and sip your whisky/saaru with some ice cubes from the Cauvery/borewell/tanker/sewage water suitably R.O.ed (treated).

As you do that, you could also watch the following video to see why you really don’t have to be reliant on the Cauvery to build water resilience into Bengaluru:

Having said all this, it also makes sense to ask: What can the Centre do in a situation such as the one created by the Cauvery dispute?

Water is after all a state subject and things can get prickly. However here is a basket of things that can be done that will de-escalate future conflicts, help provide livelihoods, help the economy do its 7.50% thing and still help the river flow.

Fortunately the limits of agricultural cultivation has been reached in the entire basin and therefore a steady state can be hoped for. Efficiency gains in agriculture will be used up by industries and urban use, but ecology, though it has no voice, too will have to be considered,

  • Firstly help with the law and order situation; calm fears and increase security in the entire basin area.

  • Help with the online monitoring of all water resources including flow into reservoirs but also monitor soil moisture, groundwater levels, cropping area and pattern and provide information on a public platform.

  • Create a special fund to improve water use efficiency in the command area, including research and propagation of better varieties, drip and sprinkler irrigation, better management practices etc.

  • Promote the conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water in the command area through a special fund and expertise made available to the Command Area Development Authority (CADA) in each state of the basin.

  • Ensure better Minimum Support Price, cold storage facility, purchases of better crops such as millets, pulses and horticultural crops in the command area as well as rain-fed and groundwater fed areas.

  • Promote better catchment management practices such as protection of forests, enhancement of forest area, silt control for reservoirs.

  • Help set up river basin institutions for each first order tributary of the Cauvery which will constantly monitor the catchment of the tributary , and help improve both water and water quality management.

  • Help the regulators such as the Pollution Control Boards do a better job of monitoring and correcting effluent discharge into water bodies

  • Help increase weather stations all across the basin emulating the KSNDMC method of a weather station in each Gram Panchayat.

  • Bring a better institutional and legal framework for dispute resolution for water at all scales.

  • Help urban and rural areas with rainwater harvesting, lake protection, waste-water treatment and reuse.

  • Support the needs of biodiversity: the otters, the mahseer, the forests and include their needs in a plan.