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Customise, localise

November 2019

Published: Nov. 01, 2019
Updated: Mar. 25, 2020

Environmental solutions are becoming more precise and targeted and therefore more impactful. Water harvesting is an example. For a long time just boring a hole and putting water back into the ground was regarded as enough. Not any more, as our cover story shows. How rainwater is to be collected and reused will depend on a host of factors — not least among them being the rainfall available, topography and usage patterns. The recharge well idea comes from Chennai where, after a hiatus, it is being revived.

On the other hand, the success at Rainbow Drive in Bengaluru could serve as inspiration for other housing estates. But replicating recharge wells without taking into account local conditions would be a folly.  What works in Karnataka may not work in Haryana where rainfall is not as plentiful and soil conditions are different. In fact, solutions should vary from one housing colony to the next in the same city.

Similarly, ponds and tanks serve to raise groundwater levels in their own way and further create a microclimate conducive to vegetation that might not otherwise have existed. Expertise is emerging in water harvesting and leading to entrepreneurship with small companies being formed to offer professional services. At the same time traditional well diggers are making a comeback and earning a living as water harvesting gets organised.

At the core of these changes is the growing scarcity of water and the realisation that it is not sustainable to draw on distant sources. Distributed solutions are more efficient and there is really no substitute for a healthy hydrological cycle. Catching water where it falls as rain is the best means of meeting one’s needs and also shaping one’s needs according to what is available.

The Delhi Jal Board under the Aam Aadmi Party government is being innovative in finding urban water solutions. In our last issue we reported on a constructed wetland being used as a low-cost sewage treatment plant. In this issue we have a report on how polluting effluents from an east Delhi drain are being cleansed and recycled as usable water. A start-up has provided the technology and it is not expensive. Governments will have to show such flexibility if the mounting environmental problems of cities are to be addressed. There is a need to bring expertise on board and accept the need for diverse solutions — sometimes varying within a single neighbourhood.

Outliers like Pradip Krishen bring both passion and knowledge to the search for environmental answers. It was wonderful interviewing him on Delhi’s trees for this issue. Unfortunately, the Forest Department bureaucracy has not been too eager to draw on his ideas and Krishen’s work on urban forests has been happening in Jodhpur and Jaipur.

We also caught up with Chandra Bhushan who has set up iFOREST to use technology to scale up environmental solutions. He has a great track record of working with industry during his many years spent at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and we wish him success.