Namma Bengaluru: Water situation is touch and go

The summer has barely approached, and yet the city is feeling the heat. A tepid monsoon in South Karnataka has seen the State’s reservoirs plunging. This, said officials of the water supply board, presents a touch-and-go situation to ensure adequate water supply is maintained till this year’s monsoons fill up reservoirs.

Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

As compared to last year, the water levels of reservoirs from where Bengaluru draws its supply are more than a third lower than what they were at the same time last year. KRS and Kabini reservoirs on the Cauvery supply water to the T.K. Halli reservoir from where the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) pumps nearly 1,350 million litres of water per day.

An engineer at T.K. Halli said the station needed an inflow of 650 cusecs to ensure a constant supply for the city. “It’s precarious. At times, the water level goes low, and the irrigation department is contacted to increase inflow. If water is not diverted for irrigation in the reservoirs, we can manage it,” said the engineer.

While BWSSB doesn’t anticipate any problem with water supply, emergency steps have been taken. “We have requested the irrigation department to store water needed for Bengaluru, and this is being done. Though reservoirs are low, above normal rainfall in the city has seen groundwater go up,” said T.M. Vijaybhaskar, Chairman of BWSSB.

Among the emergency measures is to identify high-yielding borewells. While BWSSB has 8,000 borewells to supply tanker water, the Board wants to be able to requisition some of the more than 3 lakh private borewells in the case of shortfall.

T.G. Halli for emergency

With 41 feet of “unpotable” water, Thippagondanahalli (T.G.) Halli remains on stand-by in case of emergency. Engineers at the pumping station there – which has been idle since December 2012 – said rains were needed to take the level up to 61-feet, which would dilute the water enough for use. “Currently, pumping the water in the reservoir is too much of a health hazard to the consumers,” said an official.

Engineer-in-chief Krishnappa S., said only in the case of major shortfall, the water will be treated and supplied to the city.

Demand high, so is supply in the water tanker industry

Four years ago, R. Lokesh – a farmer who had lost much of his land at Visvevaraiah Layout near Kengeri – dug a borewell in the remaining patch of land and started a water tanker business. Initially, business was brisk, and soon he had three tankers to cater to the apartments coming up in the area.

However, the idea of capitalising on the thirst for tanker water seems to have spread, and now, supply it seems outstrips demand. Borewells have sprung in outlying areas, many of them without licences (as, since 2012, the Central GroundWater Board had declared the city as an over-exploited area).

“I sell a load (6,000 litres) at Rs. 450. Others have come up in the area to sell at Rs. 200. Now, two of my tankers sit idle, while the other does just around three trips a day,” he said.

Similarly, Yogesh K.R., a supplier at Kalasipalya, says the last 1.5 years has seen an explosion in tanker suppliers coming up. “Demand in the city has definitely gone up, but so has water tankers plying,” he said. This year, however, has been a boon to the supplier for ‘old city’ areas of Cubbonpete, Cottonpet and Gandhinagar as the BWSSB’s Unaccounted Flow of Water project has seen connections cut (temporarily or permanent) for many houses.

Narayan Reddy who started to supply water four years ago, says the number of water suppliers has doubled to 20 in just Jayanagar area alone. “People are ready to sell borewell water to these tanker businesses. This cuts down on investment, allowing people to supply if they just have a tanker,” he said.

BWSSB officials said though it was illegal for tankers to buy water from borewells which have been sanctioned only for domestic use, they admit that the entire sector remains completely unregulated.