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Arkavathy Serious. Arrive Soon.

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Arkavathi had origins in the Nandi Hills. After a journey of 190 kms around Bangalore it joined the Cauvery at the Sangama in Kanakapura district. Vrushbhavathi was a tributary of the Arkavathi. Arkvathi had a catchment area of 4351 sq. kms from where it collected water.

Both Doddaballapura and Ramanagara depend on Arkavathi, not to mention numerous villages. In 1894 Bangalore first ran out of water from within its boundaries. Then they built two reservoirs on the Arkavathi - the Hesaraghatta reservoir(1894) and the Thippagondanahalli reservoir(1933). Even to this day Arkavathy supplies 20% of Bangalore's water supply.

Like the rest of the peninsular rivers, Arkavathy was never a Brahmaputra. During summers, Arkavathy would reduce to a trickle. Yet was a time when, even in summers, you could get water at 4 meters below ground in any of the 30000 wells in its basin. Now there is no river even in the rainy season. But now, Arkavathy is dead. Maybe not, but Arkavathi is atleast in coma.

In an article in the Hindu, S Vishwanath's zeros in the causes for Arkavathi's condition ...
A combination of the natural phenomena of drought and pressure on the catchment of the river. From 1980 to 1987, six out of the eight years were drought years with below normal rainfall. Wells dried up and were replaced by deep tubewells and borewells. resulted in a steep fall in the water table with most wells drying up and a Over-pumpingcompetitive deeper drilling of borewells resulting in depths of nearly 300 metres being reached. With the fall in the groundwater table there was no base flow into the river. It first dried up in summer but then was unable to flow in the rainy season except for a few days. The tanks and the channels leading to the tanks were encroached upon or mismanaged and the links of surface water flows to the river stopped. All the tanks dried up and the Hessarghatta was abandoned as a reliable source of water to the city. The same fate awaits the Thippagondanahalli in a few years when it too will cease to be a reliable source for storage. The Nagarakere or the Dodballapur tank was long since given up as a source and the drinking water situation there is perilous with most water coming from private tankers. Villages struggle for drinking water in the basin especially in summer as borewells go dry.

The change of land use to predominantly agricultural activities resulted in the levelling of land and the construction of field bunds. Ploughing of land was a natural corollary to farming activities. Runoff from the land became zero. Sand mining and granite quarrying disrupted rivers badly and added to the problem.

Then came the industries with their huge water demand. The apparel park set up in Dodballapur in the Arkavathi basin will need water from the Cauvery and so will the international airport in the Dakshina Pinakini basin. The second order streams are dead and the first order Cauvery is the only reliable source. The question is for how long?

Very interesting. It shows that terrain, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and even groundwater and the borewells sunk into them, donot exist by themselves. There is a lot of interplay between all of these and each is dependent on the other. A river is not on top any hierarchy, it is just part of a network. Deplete the ground water table in its basin, dry up the lakes around it, block the channels and the river will die. and with the river dead there is no hope for the rest of it survive.

S Vishwanath also goes on to ask some important questions.
In the absence of any river basin- level institution even at the second order stream level, who will be responsible for the planning of the rivers and waters both above the ground and below the ground? Who will plan, invest and manage the waters of our rivers and who will be held accountable for failures?

With the coming up of the international airport a property boom is on in Dodballapur. Land prices have skyrocketed and housing colonies, resorts, restaurants and apartments are seeking to locate themselves there. But where is the water for this development?

The first question gets to the root of a systemic problem. Does the system think this is a critical problem that needs to be approached in a disciplined way? One would imagine that with Cauvery waters being as elusive and contentious as they are, we ought to be doing more to save local sources of water to address a significant fraction of our water needs. Ultimately, we will have to depend on Cauvery but we must try to augment its supply and not kill wahat already exists. People like Prof Ramachandra and his students like Sudhira have been ringing the alarm bells for long. Any body in the system paying attention?

The second question, about the BIAL, I am not so sure about. Devanahalli is the best location, even if it is dry. The other option was around bidadi-ramanagara.
The same developments in colonies, resorts, apartments etc., would have hapenned at bidadi-ramanagara. If it were to go through, that would have cost us more - not only would we have ended up converting useful wetlands, but we would have also killed that part of the river which, atleast as of now, is relatively healthy.

Devanahalli, is already dry. And the Mines and Geology department has already imposed a blanket ban on drilling borewells for any purpose - industrial, domestic or agriculture. As a result a lot of big ticket projects are hanging in balance - atleast as of now. Hopefully, all these constraints of lack of water will force us take rejuventation of local sources seriously. Because, not only is water from cauvery scarce but also expensive. BIAL itself made some noise about harvesting ground water, treatment plants and recycling grey water, but have not heard much about it since this article was posted. This was during the days when Patel was breathing fire on Brunner ...

But he ruled out any chance of flooding because the airport would be equipped with good drainage system. The landscaping around the structure would prevent it. Besides, the airport will have a rain-water harvesting system covering 1,680 acres, a sewage treatment plant and a tertiary treatment plant to reuse the water.

Back to S Vishwanath, he concludes ...
Unless we create the right institutions at the right river basin level and arm them with the ability to plan and act on the plan, water shortages will be the order of the day and will hinder livelihoods and economic growth. Agencies such as the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board are woefully inadequate to manage sources and to provide water for all.

Water wisdom lies in recognising problems at the scales at which they occur and taking remedial action at that scale legally, institutionally and financially so that the problems are overcome.

Economic development and poverty reduction will be hit unless ecological resources are taken care of and that is the responsibility of ALL of us as citizens of the country. Recognise the river basin you are in and take action to revive it.

Water wisdom is leaving things better for the future generations than what we inherited.

Bangalore is also in the Pennar river basin, whose catchement includes the Bellandur and Varthur lake catchments. And we all know what we did with that.

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