Disappearing groundwater: Awareness among whom?
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Disappearing groundwater: Awareness among whom?

December 12, 2017

Sir,

In a recent workshop on groundwater held in Mysuru, the Deputy Commissioner is reported to have called for creating awareness among people about groundwater usage. But in reality, this awareness is required among the administrators at the highest level in the Government.

It is their apathy about the judicious use of limited groundwater resources that has landed the State in an acute water crisis. The doyen of groundwater in Karnataka, late Padma Shri Dr. B.P. Radhakrishna, had cautioned in 1967 that “Groundwater should be used only as an insurance against drought and should not be allowed to be used recklessly.” His warning has been endorsed in almost every report published by the departmental Hydrogeologists since then. But the reality is quite different.

Groundwater is a treasure held by Mother Nature since time immemorial, and it has been allowed to be plundered without any restriction through borewells during the last fifty years. As against only 60,000 dug-wells in 1967, there are more than 40 lakh borewells in the State at present. In this process, the water in dug-wells have dried up; inflow into more than 40,000 minor irrigation tanks and other small man-made water holding structures has dwindled to such an extent that more than 60% of these structures have been dry for the last two decades; seasonal streams have dried up and perennial streams have become seasonal.

With the borewells going deeper, the groundwater also started going deeper, forcing borewells to cross depths of more than 300 meters from just about 30-40 meters in 1970 when they were initially dug.

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Withdrawal of groundwater from depths in excess of recharge, combined with interconnection of fractures and joints at depth increased the free flow of rain and other surface water into deep underground, causing the deterioration of water quality.

At present, more than 70% of borewell water is not potable. The cause for the present crisis is the government not heeding to the warning of Hydrogeologists and not enforcing the ban on borewells.

There is no systematic scientific plan to revive and manage the very limited (less than 2% by volume) groundwater resources in the State. The State Groundwater Directorate is headed by an Administrator (IAS), instead of a competent technically qualified Hydrogeologist. Instead of providing technical guidance about groundwater by posting a Hydrogeologist at Taluk level, the technical staff in the State Groundwater Directorate as a whole, which comprised about 150-plus members in the year 2000, has now dwindled to a mere 30-35. The crisis is deepening. If the government does not act fast, the damage could be irreversible.

– V. Mahesha, Retd. Deputy Director, Groundwater Survey Unit, Department of Mines and Geology, Chamarajapuram, 11.12.2017

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