Save the rain!

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The only way to conserve water and make it perennially available is rainwater harvesting, says Ayyappa Masagi, India’s waterman. Isn’t it better to save our rainwater and replenish the groundwater than build expensive dams on rivers to store water, he asks.

Water is perhaps the most basic element of all. Our water needs, be it domestic, agricultural or otherwise, have been met by rain water retained on the surface of our ecosystems in various forms, which were in harmony with all other forms of water in the ecosystem, thus creating a hydrological balance, popularly known as the ‘Water Cycle’; this helped replenish the depleted water in a timely manner via evaporation, circulation, and precipitation. However, for over the past century, human intervention has disrupted the hydrological cycle in ways varying from deforestation to industrialisation.

We, at the Water Literacy Foundation and Rain Water Concepts have been striving to restore the hydrological balance in our ecosystems by increasing water literacy and promoting efficient and sustainable water management practices through exclusive systems.

The organisations collectively envision the world to turn into such a place where the water needs of each individual and the community at large are delivered through self-sustainable systems that are in complete synchrony with the natural balance of the host ecosystem, thus effectively nullifying the water crisis that has been increasingly affecting us in detrimental ways, posing a risk to civilisation as we know it today. Water crisis has been a frequently fought battle in the past few decades, but is seldom won.

Are we losing this battle?
We have over three decades of experience in fighting many such battles of water crisis. Yet, we have been losing these battles, not due to the unavailability of rain or water, but due to the attitude of individuals and the community towards rain and water.

Growing up in the arid regions of north Karnataka, my mind had registered the many abysmal issues associated with water as a resource, and I was determined to eventually find solutions; hoping one day to arrive at the ultimate formula for the efficient and effective eradication of the water crisis worldwide.

The availability of water to a perpetually increasing number of people and organisations have been, for the past few decades, decreasing sharply. However, one may observe that the availability of water in India – be it in deserts or rainforests, across all her terrains, during the pre-Independence era, was never a problem. This fact is rooted in the practice of our ancestors adapting their lifestyle to live in harmony with their existing ecosystems. For instance, the people of Rajasthan pioneered roof-rainwater harvesting and storage, grew and consumed non-water intensive crops, and wore clothes suitable to their region, while the people of the Deccan Plateau pioneered a system of community rainwater harvesting in larger amounts to form an intricate network of reservoirs. They grew, consumed and exported relatively more water intensive crops, while the people dwelling in the rainforests focused more on the optimum channelling of the water resources available, after storing the necessary amount in tanks, via gravity, to places that required more water. However, the phasing out of these scientifically designed traditional methods, and the introduction of centralised one-size-fits-all systems have hampered the water security in different parts of our country. The local, state and national governments have been short-sighted resorting to quick-fix solutions which are non-sustainable and hinder the development of our communities in the long run.

We would like to stress this fact that, we, the people, need to understand and realise that our primary source of water should and must be rainwater, as in the long run, that is the most sustainable option to ensure water security to our establishments. Thus, harnessing and managing rainwater sustainably would be the most apt way to ensure that our communities never run out of water. In addition, encouraging our communities to be more in sync with the ecosystems they dwell in, can enhance the lifestyles of the people, eventually.

A relatively insignificant percentage of rainwater is actually being harnessed and put to use. Since the introduction of borewells a little over five decades ago, we as a community have significantly used up if not nearly emptied the reservoirs of water that have been in existence for almost as long as the hydrological cycle of our planet has existed.

Runoff is increasingly becoming a major issue with rapid urbanisation, for two reasons. Firstly, it poses a threat to infrastructure as it has the potential to cause floods and destroy property. Secondly, it is a reflection of how inefficient we are, as a community, in handling our resources. We let all the rain water run into the seas and go waste, while building great amounts of infrastructure to artificially retain water in dams on rivers, that also cause significant damage to the ecosystem. It is apparent that the most efficient and effective direction would be to use our primary source of rainwater, a very significant part of which we are wasting; and utilise it to replenish the ground water tables that we have so rapidly depleted. Additionally, such systems also would have solved the availability of lands to store such dramatically large volumes of water.
However, as mentioned earlier, the short-sightedness of people, as a collective, and the regulatory/governing authorities, in addition to the wide acceptance of the myth that rain has been decreasing in intensity, have kept us away from taking significant steps in the right direction.

At an individual level, harnessing and managing rainwater requires less technical skill than basic logic. However, at a community level, it would require an intricate level of planning and design to arrive at an effective and efficient system for harnessing and managing, sustainably, rainwater. The initial costs are outweighed by the long term benefits with returns on investment higher than traditional methods of managing water resources, such as building dams or canals and linking rivers.

In short, we have been:

  • Neglecting rainwater as the primary source of runoff, resulting in increased runoff into oceans.
  • Abandoning surface and sub-surface water storage systems.
  • Abusing groundwater by drilling of excessive borewells.
  • Failing to replenish the groundwater, posing hydrological and geological risks.
  • Increasing dependency on centralised systems, as against in-situ harnessing of rainwater.
  • Disrupting catchment areas and feeder channels due to improper construction of civil structures and rapid deforestation, leading to repeated dents in the natural ecological and hydrological balances of the place.
  • These have impacted us in the following ways:

  • Erratic and unreliable rains
  • Dried up surface water bodies
  • Dried up water tables – Sub-soil (wells) and underground (borewells)
  • Inevitable use of unclean water, leading to the rise and spread of water-borne diseases
  • The only solution
    The Water Literacy Foundation, has been designing and refining numerous (100 plus) systems to replenish water in all the four realms: Surface, sub-surface, sub-soil, and underground, that utilise rainwater as and when it falls, in varied and erratic intensities, thus ensuring prolonged availability of water. In addition to recharging the depleted water, our systems also restore the natural balance in the ecosystem, as a virtue of their indigenous design, thus requiring negligible maintenance. By implementing our systems, results can be seen within two to three rains. In many cases, our customers have also reported excess water that they were able to give back to the community.

    Our proprietary systems
    The systems we use are way past the conventional rainwater harvesting systems that channel roof-water into sumps. Over time, our systems have evolved into something seemingly complex, yet simple, in the context of the natural hydrological balance of the ecosystem.
    A few such are:

  • Direct borewell recharging: Replenishing ground water through the borehole, for swift results
  • On line filters: For domestic use
  • Filtration Units: Proprietary filters that use bottom-to-top filtration technique (for large volumes)
  • Lakes: Indigenously designed lakes that facilitate surface water retention and act as collection basins for direct borewell recharging.
  • Soak pits, infiltration wells, and soak trenches: These facilitate indirect recharging of water tables
  • Stream water harvesting: Sub-surface dykes that intercept stream water to replenish ground water.
  • Patta, compartment, and nala bunding: Help retain soil moisture and recharge underlying water tables.
  • Tree-based agriculture: For restoration of atmospheric hydrological balance in farms.
  • Integrated Farming Practices: This facilitates sustainable farming in synchronisation with the host ecosystem.

  • Ayyappa-Masagi

    Ayyappa Masagi

    Ayyappa Masagi is the Founder and Director of the Water Literacy Foundation (WLF). In his childhood he faced acute water shortage, and this inspired him to start experimenting with rainwater harvesting and non-irrigation agricultural methods in 1994. In 2002, he quit his Mechanical Engineering job after almost 20 years of service with L&T Bangalore, and focussed entirely on his research on water conservation techniques. In 2004, he earned the Ashoka Fellowship for his work concerning water conservation in the agricultural sector. Masagi founded the non-profit organisation WLF in September 2005. Three years later he founded Rain Water Concepts (I) Pvt. Ltd., a company to support WLF financially in its efforts, and to provide affordable water conservation techniques to everyone.

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