1) What is groundwater? What are aquifers?
Groundwater is the water found underneath the earth’s surface. Groundwater saturates the openings of rocks or material derived from rocks like sand, gravel or silt. Aquifers represent the rocks or rock material that host groundwater. Aquifers, in other words, are saturated portions of rock or material derived from rocks that allow the accumulation and movement of groundwater so as to provide sufficient quantities of water to sources such as wells or springs.
2) Why is it important for a citizen to know about groundwater?
Today, we are far aware about what we see in nature. Rivers, lakes, trees, wildlife and many such things compel a sense of conserving and protecting these natural elements. Groundwater is invisible. Very often we are not even aware how much of groundwater we use in our daily lives. Moreover, groundwater is a common pool resource, which means: (1) Groundwater under the land that one person owns or lives on may have flowed from underneath many other lands even from many kilometres away. (2) When groundwater is extracted from one well, it affects water availability in many adjoining wells and springs. Hence, when groundwater is extracted by many, it leads to depletion of stocks in the aquifer and the need to recharge the aquifer systematically. All these and many other factors, such as conserving or improving the quality of water in the aquifer, imply that unless the users of groundwater, common citizens like us, come together and collectively understand the aquifers/groundwater, it will be difficult to protect, conserve, recharge and restore the aquifers that are also part of the nature around us and that provide water to us, sometimes even without our knowing it.
3) What is the current usage of groundwater worldwide? In India?
According to many recent studies, the annual usage of groundwater worldwide is or the order of 1000 km3or 1000 BCM (billion cubic metres). India is the largest extractor of groundwater in the world, with more than a quarter of the global annual extraction happening in India. India is the largest user of groundwater since the 1980s. India’s current groundwater extraction rate is of the order of nearly 270 BCM!
4) Is groundwater a really depleting source? Why?
India’s large groundwater usage has gone unnoticed for many years. Various studies have shown that more than 90% of domestic water in rural India, 70% of water in agriculture, half the water used in urban India and a large proportion used in industry comes from groundwater tapped by different kinds of wells. In the absence of a systematic approach to groundwater management, we have progressively over-pumped our groundwater resources in many regions of India. Even conservative estimates point to different degrees of groundwater exploitation in aquifers below at least 30% of India’s area. Urban areas are not even assessed for groundwater exploitation in many parts. However, if we note the depths of new bore wells or tube wells drilled, then there are clear indicators that we are drilling deeper and deeper in search of groundwater, clearly indicating groundwater depletion. As demand outstrips supply, we exhaust more and more of precious groundwater, we destroy aquifers and their recharge areas, often unknowingly, and we wrongly presume that there is unlimited groundwater available for us to exploit below our lands. This, along with a changing climate that tends to vary from place to place, leads to large-scale groundwater exploitation and depletion
5) Is groundwater important to urban habitations, or it matters only to rural parts of India?
Groundwater is as important to urban habitations as it is to rural ones. More than half of urban water supplies in India are met by groundwater resources. In some cases, groundwater is supplied as part of the formal, civic water supply by the municipality but in a majority of cases, it is directly accessed by people – individual households or by housing colonies because formal civic supplies fall short of the demand or do not reach some habitations at all. Tanker supplies in many cities are also groundwater-fed.
6) What is the percentage of groundwater contribution to overall water supply in Pune city? How much groundwater do we use in Pune?
It is quite challenging to precisely estimate the amount of groundwater used in Pune city, but various studies indicate that at least a quarter of the water actually used in Pune city comes from groundwater. While 25% represents a conservative average, the real problem is that some areas and housing complexes are almost entirely dependent on groundwater, while others are only marginally so. A recent study on Pune’s aquifers indicates that more than 100 million cubic metres, i.e. about 4 TMC (one thousand million cubic feet) of groundwater is pumped from beneath Pune city each year. This is equivalent to 100 billion litres each year, not a small measure by any count..
7) How many aquifers exist in (actually, beneath) Pune city and what do we do to rejuvenate and protect them?
A recently conducted study by ACWADAM has helped identify at least five main aquifers in different parts of Pune city. The study is being refined further to understand more about Pune’s aquifers, including areas where they get recharged, contamination issues, the springs that these aquifers naturally feed and the degree of depletion in each aquifer. The best step in rejuvenating, recharging, conserving and protecting these aquifers is through people’s participation. Such participation is necessary in developing knowledge and understanding about these aquifers, taking decisions around how to and how much to use to groundwater and creating an actionable agenda on groundwater management from these aquifers from hyperlocal levels to city-based scales.
8) How can policy ensure public participation in city's water planning, while keeping an eye on future growth?
An urban groundwater policy must be developed to provide guidelines to a variety of stakeholders who use, decide about and govern the system of water in the city. Building capacity, undertaking research and gathering scientific data through people’s participation must form part of such policy. Similarly, developing the concept of public recharge using the internationally accepted concept of Managed Aquifer Recharge must be implemented as part of the city’s water planning. Setting up a ‘groundwater cell’ that will anchor a dialogue between the municipal system and various stakeholders is necessary. A robust regulatory framework that incentivises good practices and regulates unsustainable practices also needs to compliment participatory mechanisms of managing groundwater in the city.
9) Will my house/my society become tanker-free by providing information and getting sensitised about aquifers and groundwater?
Unless information is consolidated at the scales of aquifers, it is really difficult to say whether individual actions by societies will guarantee freedom from tankers. However, when information and data from multiple societies in a geographical cluster is collected, collated and analysed, it becomes more effective to design solutions such as public recharge, rainwater harvesting, operating water supply systems, demand management, ensuring water quality standards etc. When such solutions are implemented at large scales, the impacts are significant and one can look forward to improved water security at household and society levels.
10) How is groundwater connected with different government programs such as jal-yukta-shivaar or rain-water harvesting?
Most conservation programmes on water, including the concept of rainwater harvesting, are directly connected to improvements in groundwater storages in aquifers. Improved groundwater recharge is one of the potential outcomes of many such programmes. However, implementing conservation and recharge measures without a scientific approach limits the impacts of such programmes. Hence, mapping of aquifers and identifying their behaviour in space and time becomes important for the effective implementation of any water conservation programme.
11) Is groundwater manageable by a single person/society?
Groundwater is better managed if people come together, societies co-operate and collaborate with each other and people work closely with the government. This can be best achieved if users of groundwater can systematically collect data about the aquifers in their area, and with help from experts, decide upon certain protocols of using groundwater, creating systems of recharge and helping develop systems of sustainable, efficient and equitable usage of groundwater.
12) How does wider community participation help manage groundwater qualitatively and quantitatively?
Community participation for groundwater management is one of the first principles on which the management of a common pool resources like aquifers can be made possible. Sustainable management of groundwater is impossible unless, all the stakeholders residing over and using an aquifer come together to understand, decide and act upon the efficient and equitable usage of groundwater. Ensuring sufficient quantities and good quality of water in the aquifer cannot be possible without the involvement of communities who use groundwater.
13) How can I help in this participatory program if I am not a society office-bearer?
(a) Becoming aware and sensitive to groundwater.
(b) Spreading awareness about groundwater after understanding the subject yourself.
(c) Participating in data-gathering exercises through volunteer programmes.
(d) Being part of a democratic-decision making process on groundwater as part of your society.
(e) Helping organisations and the municipality to put in effective volunteering time on water conservation and groundwater recharge efforts.
14) How long will it take before tangible results of this program are visible?
It will take about a year for results to be visible. More tangible results will accrue at scale only in the longer term of about 3-4 years.
15) Can I join/help this participatory program if I am not a Pune/PCMC resident?
Yes, because one is also attempting to expand the programme to the PMRDA region that encompasses regions around the urban centres of Pune and PCMC.