A decentralised system will lead to sustainable water use

S Vishwanath, a Bangalore-based engineer and planner, started the Rainwater Club to help people manage rainwater efficiently. He spoke to Binayak Das about his work and the viability of rainwater harvesting

 
Published: Sunday 15 October 2000

What is the Rainwater Club?
In 1995, my wife and I, along with some friends, started the Rainwater Club. Its members include professionals and individuals interested in managing water. One of the main objectives of the club is to disseminate information about rainwater harvesting (RWH) to professionals as well as the general public, through discussion forums, brochures and pamphlets. Information is also provided through the club's website . The club also offers services to install RWH units. So far, we have designed or installed around 500 rooftop RWH units, for households as well as industry. We now aim to install RWH units in rural areas of southern India.

Have you faced any hurdles?
No. The state authorities have been very supportive. The only demotivating factor for RWH in Bangalore is the huge subsidies that are given for domestic water supply by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (bwssb). Though supplying every kilolitre of water costs Rs 12 to Rs 15, the general public is charged only Rs 2.75 a kilolitre. Due to this, tapping rainwater is not getting encouraged.

What can be done to make RWH popular?
It can be made popular by spreading information in local languages through the media. Secondly, by sensitising and training professionals such as architects, engineers, plumbers and contractors. Lastly, city dwellers should change their attitude towards rainwater. It should be seen as a resource, not a liability.

How is the industry responding to RHY?
Industry is showing a great deal of interest in RWH. Most of the industrial units are paying large water bills. The cost of water in Bangalore for industrial use is Rs 60 per kilolitre. Therefore, they consider rainwater harvesting a cheaper alternative. A good example is the RWH system of Escorts Mahle Limited and Goetze India Limited, located in suburban Bangalore. The complex is expected to harvest 1.2 million litres of water every year. This means, in 30 years, the system will be able to generate 30.5 million litres of water and the cost of water would be just Rs 1 per kilolitre.

What techniques are you using for RWH?
The club is using simple techniques like collecting, filtering and storing water in drums or in sumps, and recharging through open wells and borewells. We try to adopt techniques that can enable the installation of RWH units within the existing structures, therefore making the entire process cost-effective.

What is the cost involved in installing RWH units in buildings during the construction stage itself?
Ordinary houses need to invest just Rs 2,000 while the industrial units require an investment of Rs 250,000. If RWH is incorporated in the construction phase itself, the cost incurred will be much less. Also, there is virtually no maintenance cost for RWH units.

Will RWH be sustainable in the long run?
Yes, it is sustainable but this is possible only through a decentralised system. Only a community-managed water system will be able to meet most of the water demands in the long run. Centralised water systems will face many problems due to financial requirements and mismanagement of the present infrastructure. As power tariff goes up, the government is expected to increase the price of water. Those who adopt RWH now will be the only ones not to face a water crisis in the future.

What initiatives has the Karnataka government taken for RWH?
The Karnataka government had commissioned Symbiosis of Technology Environment and Management (stem), a consultancy firm, to prepare a conceptual rainwater harvesting framework for the city of Bangalore. stem has prepared a report and submitted it to the state department of environment and forests. Apart from this, bwssb is planning to demonstrate RWH techniques to the public.

Which parts of the country are benefitting from RWH?
RWH is playing an important role in the western and southern regions where drought is frequent. By tapping rainwater, these areas have been able to thwart the drought situation without any difficulty.

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