Rain Water Harvesting : The need for a macro vision

We at SILVERON have been getting regular emails from people who have received notices from government departments because their properties lack proper Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) systems.

Since awareness & outreachabout water conservation is an important mission for SILVERON, we often guide people,free of cost and to the best of our capabilities, on ways in which they couldimplement simple and affordable RWH systems.

One such email that we receivedlately was from a retired person from Bhilai who on a subsequent telephonicconversation narrated a distressing tale of bureaucratic harassment that is notuncommon.

This gentleman has a small residential house and usual financial constraints of a pensioner. He has been struck with a financial penalty for not constructing a RWH system in his plot and has been threatened that this penalty amount will be increased each year if he does not construct a rainwater harvesting system.

The recommended contractor gavean estimate of Rs. 70,000. He doesn’t have that kind of money to spare and hasno knowledge about how to do RWH on his property.

Urban rain water harvesting
Rain Water Harvesting is for the public good

This is the sad reality where the whole burden of doing rainwater harvesting, water conservation and ground water recharge has fallen upon individual citizens with meager resources and no expertise in the field.

There is no doubt that the water crisiswith rapidly declining groundwater levels is a serious issue of our times. However,our government agencies and civic bodies either ignore this problem completelyor shrug it off on to individual citizens.

Consider a scenario where inresponse to an enemy attack on a country, the government instead of deploying trainedarmed forces, calls upon only untrained civilians to buy weapons with their savings,move to the battlefield and fight the enemy. The outcome will be complete chaosand defeat.

Consider for a moment, if anation’s economy faces recession & unemployment and the government insteadof taking appropriate fiscal and policy measures simply orders ordinary citizensto become entrepreneurs and provide employment to others while putting fines onthose who cannot take such risks. The outcome will be an irreparably broken nationaleconomy.

Like the above scenarios, when itcomes to environmental issues and the climate crisis our governments cannotsimply ignore their responsibility and pass the buck onto ordinary citizens. Itis also the government’s responsibility to protect our natural resources,provide clean air and water to the citizens.

Starting with the Ministry of Water Resources, central & state ground water authorities, local   municipalities and public health departments – all have the authority and resources to fulfill their prime responsibility of providing adequate quantity of high-quality water to every citizen.

The ground water table has notreached these precarious levels over night. It has declined every year. Regionafter region has gradually slipped from safe to critical to being marked as notified.

Authorities have looked the otherway when rampant over exploitation of water resources has been continued unabated.Even when this problem has reached crisis proportions, these agencies have beenunable to formulate an effective plan or put adequate rainwater harvesting infrastructurein place in order to arrest the decline of water table for decades.

However now the system suddenly wakesup and decides to make ordinary citizens, such as the gentlemen from Bhilai, dowhat the government machinery should have done for a long time.

Every expert in the realm of water conservation knows that rainwater harvesting is a site-specific effort and to do successful rainwater harvesting one needs various site-specific data-points such as the geophysical report, knowledge of topography, existing water table levels etc.

Hence, without providing anyrequired inputs, structural designs or financial support and simply pressurizinguntrained citizens to construct RWH structures on their properties is ameaningless & unscientific exercise.

Without hesitation one can compare this approach with the complete failure & ineffectiveness of the Chennai-model where people were forced construct rainwater harvesting structures that have had no positive impact of the groundwater table as the city remains critically water deficient during the dry season.

We have been trying to explain that rainwater harvesting is not simple and sooner than later water stands un-absorbed in most structures if these are built unscientifically. It is the job of experienced experts who know the science.

Ordinary tax paying citizens should be spared from the pressure of constructing rainwater harvesting infrastructure without any assessment, guidance, support and information from the concerned government agencies.

Their efforts may be pointless without large scale, scientifically built public infrastructure for doing Rain Water Harvesting. We need a macro vision.