Saturday, July 21, 2012

The endangered Springs - Water for Life

  Working together with the rural people situated along the Western Ghats of Maharashtra for ensuring safe supply of drinking water has sometimes left me pondering over....Why people situated on and along the mountain slopes hardly have any source of income?? whereas people living in the valleys have at least some sort of irrigation or pipe scheme running underneath or have atleast access to groundwater in the form of open-wells and borewell to water their fields and provide drinking water. And it is visible that water is the driving force for sustenance of life and agriculture, provided the geology is favourable for groundwater extraction.

  The poor people that have been driven upslope have moved because of socio-economic constraints  like land to grow food and shelter but the irony is that these very mountains have not enough water to irrigate land or for drinking. These very people are dependent on forest for their livelihood but if, rich and politically backed people from the cities who purchase and devastate these mountains at the expense of these poor people and precious forest cover - then the mountains that we know of that are the natural heritage of our land and source of water will be left no more. Today I feel sad that inspite of the huge urban development and large amounts of water being directed from the dam (that to built on poor peoples land) to the cities, the rural population is deprived of their right to water. We are unable to focus our efforts on protecting the mountains from rapid mass housing schemes, building of resorts, water amusement parks that need colossal amounts of groundwater. These developments will have serious repercussions on the availability of groundwater, a phenomenon called as 'Drawdown' (refer *1) or 'Overdraft' (refer *2) leading to lowering of water table and damaging the discharge of springs occurring along the mountain slopes endangering the ecohydrology of the forest. 

Expected stages of capture of ground-water outflow to a riparian area and stream. (A) Stage I—near the onset of pumping, water pumped comes from storage around the well and the stream/aquifer system functions as it did prior to pumping. Ground water from upgradient areas supplies riparian vegetation in the floodplain as well as base flow to the gaining stream. Periodic stream runoff events also may supply water to the near-stream aquifer. (B) Stage II—drawdown from well has caused movement of water away from the stream and floodplain after a substantial period of pumping. Availability of water for riparian phreatophytes may not be diminished because of increased inflow from the stream, but the stream has become losing or possibly intermittent. (C) Stage III—after a substantial period of pumping in excess of rate of ground-water flow from upgradient areas, the stream and aquifer may be disconnected if streamflow cannot provide enough recharge to maintain the water table. The stream has become ephemeral. (Please refer *3)

 Serious studies should be undertaken to understand the interactions between groundwater vulnerability due to development on mountains capped with lateritic rocks. As these very rocks are the water towers of the Western ghats and are source of spring water and providing base flows during peak summer months.

  We need to focus on small but indigenous ideas to harness, manage and protect water resources  rather than exploiting by sinking deep borewells. Also take necessary steps to strengthen the laws to protect these areas, as the existing Groundwater, Forest and Environmental laws are overlooked when someone shows a bundle of notes (I don't understand why people value money more over precious Natural Resources!!!). Throughout history, every culture has developed its indegenious ways of finding and protecting water. People have used different methods, invented devices for lifting and transporting water, planted trees to attract rain, and made laws to encourage neighbouring tribes and villages to share water, prevent conflicts, and preserve this precious resource for future generations. The rules that exist today can be easily manipulated, fudged, faked, cooked, wangled, misrepresented, chiseled, interpreted differently and pull strings for ones own personal gain. For example, the ban on sinking borewells and drawing water from them in the vicinity of 500 metres from public drinking water is nullified if someone justifies the use and sinking of borewell for agriculture purpose....a real thwart to the protection of spring source and the ecohydrology of the ecosystem.

  Springs discharging naturally from unconfined aquifers (refer *4) are the primary source of drinking water for rural villages situated along the Western ghats of Maharashtra. Due to reduced and changing rainfall patterns spatially and temporally, coupled with anthropogenic reasons mainly development at the recharge zones and mismanagement of water both at source and the mouth has resulted in the problem of dying springs which is felt increasingly across the country along the mountainous ranges of Himalayas to the Western Ghats. Spring discharge is controlled by rainfall, land use, vegetation, grazing incidence, underlying geology and geomorphology of the recharge zone. Understanding the nature of springs, their response to rainfall, land use, biotic pressure and sociological constraints are an important tool in protecting and riving the springs and in solving the water crisis.

Spring emanating from the contact of Laterite and Basalts.
Spring discharging in summer (April 2012)
Spring water being used as drinking water.

Spring water supplied down under gravity to the village through pipes.
Note: pipe leaks being fixed by locals by wrapping plastic over it.

Forest cover helps in slowing down the surface runoff and augmenting in recharge of groundwater. Note such forest cover is not seen at the spring source mentioned in the proposal due to human interference and cutting of trees for fuel. Such forest canopy is seen below Kamalgad, Wai, Maharashtra also having spring sites. 

Traditional spring boxes to collect spring water.

Rapid, massive and devastating development work being carried out in the
Lateritic rock not far from public drinking water source - Spring Water at Yeruli, Wai.

  The very story of development along the Western Ghat mountains needs serious reconsideration on the extent of Western ghat buffer zone and the threat it possess to the forest and livelihood of people. It is in the backdrop of the landscape where the movie 'Swades' was shot and the coincidence is that, in the movie the actor who is sent by his guardian to meet the farmer to collect the rent and the farmer being unable to pay was shot at the very picturesque background. A story of millions situated along the slopes of these mountains who are dependent on spring water for their daily needs.

Springs not far from the backdrop landscape shown in the movie 'Swades'.
Also known as 'Grandma's tooth'
 I invite concerned citizens, academicians, scientist, policy makers, students, government authorities and people in general to give their valuable advise on how we can protect the mountain springs - the source of public drinking water.  

Spatial extent of the laterite formation in Satara District and the location of a May 2012 spring survey. The survey found that 7 villages rely on spring water from one small portion of the total laterite formation. Based on information from this survey, which constitutes only 7% of the laterite in the District, we estimate that as many as 40,000 people may rely on such springs. (Refer *5)

  Link to the 'Spring Protection Proposal' given to the Collector of Satara and District Agriculture Officer, Satara - http://grampari.org/

References:

*1 Lester Brown; Brian Black, Galal Hassan Galal Hussein (2010): "Aquifer depletion" In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment); Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from  <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Aquifer_depletion>
*2 Overdrafting: Wikipedia; Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overdrafting>
*3 Robert H. Webb, Stanley A. Leake (2006): Ground-water surface-water interactions and long-term change in riverine riparian vegetation in the southwestern United States, Journal of Hydrology,
Volume 320, Issues 3–4, pages 302–323, Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169405003525>
*4 Aquifer: Wikipedia; Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquifer>
*5 Jared Bouno, R. Thomas (2012): Spring Protection Proposal: Safe, Sustainable, Gravity-Fed Drinking Water – A Model for the Western Ghats; Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from  <http://grampari.org/>