Groundwater of Pune: An Over-exploited and ungoverned lifeline

While more than allocated and more than enough water supply from Khadakwasla Project Complex steals the water supply show in Pune, water below the ground remains pretty much out of sight and out of mind for Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and everyone else. Roughly estimated use close to one thousand million cubic feet (TMC) remains not just ungoverned but completely unacknowledged. Though groundwater use forms an important component of non-potable water use in the city total quantity of the groundwater extracted remains unassessed. Drilling of borewells has been going on unregulated and groundwater level has been falling at the rate of quarter of a meter per annum. Neither PMC nor any other State agencies like Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA functioning as State Groundwater Authority) or Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) is governing the resource and have taken any concrete steps for its conservation.

30% of untreated sewage (about 220 MLD) disposed off in the river and unprotected solid waste dumping has already taken toll on the ground water quality. If not regulated, extraction of ground water at alarmingly increasing rate for new constructions, industries and also for non-potable domestic use may soon take a serious toll on the groundwater availability as well.

Geology of Pune City

Before getting into the details of Pune’s groundwater it is worth taking a quick dip into the underlying geology. Pune City forms a part of Deccan plateau which is underlain by layers of basaltic lava flows. More than 95% area of Pune district is occupied by basalt layers of 7 to 45 m thickness with vesicular basalt units at the top and massive basalt units at the bottom separated by a marker bed known as ‘bole bed’.[i] Vesicular formations varying in thickness from few m to 10 m usually consist of ‘unconfined aquifers’. Their water bearing properties depend upon the intensity of weathering, fracturing and jointing which provides for availability of open space within the rock for storage and movement of ground water. The massive portions of basaltic flows which occur below vesicular formations are normally devoid of water, but when it is weathered, fractured and jointed, it forms potential aquifers in confined conditions.

1. Aquifers

Figure 1: Confined & Unconfined Aquifers (Photo: Slideshare)

Even if vesicular formations are comparatively easier to recharge (as they are recharged directly from the surface above) the effective recharge can take place only for a layer of 15-20m. Dug wells are usually found in this layer. Bore wells on the other hand source water from the deeper confined aquifers which are difficult to recharge as they cannot be recharged directly from the above surface due to confining layer and are recharged only from specific recharge areas where the confining layer ends. Deeper groundwater under many cities in India is perhaps a mix of modern day recharge and older groundwater recharged over many years of recharge cycles.

Multiplying borewells and falling groundwater levels

As per well inventory conducted by GSDA in 2007-08 Pune City then had total 5128 wells including dug wells and bore wells.[ii] City Sanitation Plan for Pune City prepared in 2012 states similar figure of 5129 wells with 399 dug wells and 4730 bore wells.[iii] And the same figure has been handed over to SANDRP by water supply department of PMC as the latest data. All in all, the inventory remains at least eight years old. And it is hard to believe that there has been no addition to the number of wells especially bore wells since there are roughly 200 to 300 bore well drilling agencies in Pune and just a single bore well operator sinks about 70 to 80 bore wells a year! Borewell rigs are operational for about eight months between November to June and drill up to an average depth of 200 to 300 ft.

Even if a third of this number is to be believed more than 5000 bore wells are possibly sunk in the city every year.

Despite this unbelievable statistics, there is no official no system to keep record of this number either with PMC or with GSDA.

According to borewell rig operators that SANDRP talked to, drilling borewells has been a routine activity for last two decades especially in the outskirts of the city. Lately though the borewell market seems to be slowed down due to falling groundwater levels. Pravin Patil owner of ‘Sai Bore Wells’ from Hadapsar, Pune told SANDRP “The bore well business is down since 2010-11 since the water table has gone down considerably.” He further added that “This year has however been an exceptional one. Since Pune city experienced sustained water cuts after October (2015) the business was nearly 50% more than the usual.”

2. Wells in Pune city

Figure 2: Housing societies depend on borewells for the non-potable use (Photo: Amruta Pradhan)

This rampant drilling of borewells has been going on completely unregulated. According to the borewell drilling agencies, no permission of any sort is required from any official agency for drilling a borewell. They also do not need any permit or license to operate within city. Just a shop act license is good enough to get started.

Implications of this unregulated drilling activity on groundwater level are evident. As per the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), the water level in Pune in 1993 was 3.95 metre below ground level (m bgl); in 2007, it declined to 5.15 m bgl.[iv] Rate of decline which was 0.08 m per year in these 14 years has now more than doubled at 0.2 m/year. According to Ground Water Information Report of 2013, depth of groundwater level within Pune city varies between 5 to 10 m. Unfortunately, city specific information about ground water availability and its categorization (critical, semi-critical or safe zones) is not available in the CGWB report.

3. CGWB

Figure 3: Pre-monsoon Depth of Water Level (May 2011) (Source: Ground Water Information Report of 2013 for Pune District prepared by CGWB)

4 CGWB

Figure 4: Pre-monsoon Water Level Trend (May 2002-2011) (Source: Ground Water Information Report of 2013 for Pune District prepared by CGWB)

No estimation of groundwater extraction

Looking at the borewell market and rate of decline of water level, it is evident that the city uses significant amount of groundwater predominantly for non-potable household requirement (as potable use is not possible due to quality issues) and new constructions. According to PMC there are about 1-2% of households dependent solely on groundwater. However in reality, domestic dependence on groundwater seems much more. As told by Pravin Patil of ‘Sai borewells’ demand for borewells is much higher in all the outer areas of Pune city. “Water supply in these areas is a major problem. Many areas like Bavdhan, Baner, Wakad, Ghorpadi, Wagholi etc. receive water alternate day only for few hours with low pressure. These areas are heavily dependent on groundwater for their non-potable use.” During recent water cuts when PMC was supplying water every alternate day, people throughout the city (not just outskirts) resorted to groundwater for their non-potable requirements. 50% more business for borewell rigs is indicator enough for this. In fact if the need be PMC had considered taking over borewells and dugwells in the city for water supply in July to supply water to the city.[v] Construction industry is another significant user of groundwater. PMC does not allow use of municipal water during construction. This demand is met either by groundwater or tankers many of which are filled from water market borewells & dug wells.

5. Tanker borewell golden sparrow

Figure 5: Tankers fed on borewells (Photo: The Golden Sparrow)

Even though groundwater forms an important component of water use in the city there is no system in place to measure the actual volume of groundwater extracted. It is not known how much % of the total city’s water use is groundwater. When even the well inventory is not annually updated  quantification of groundwater use it is too much to expect!

Groundwater remains unacknowledged by Water Supply Department of PMC

As far as PMC is concerned “anything which is below 3 ft underground is not our mandate”. This is very well reflected in the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the “Water Supply System for Pune City” prepared in February 2014 by Studio Galli Ingegneria (SGI) a private company engaged by PMC. The report does not even acknowledge groundwater use in the city. However when Guardian Minister Girish Bapat endorsed the release of one TMC water to drought hit Daund and Indapur talukas from Khadakwasla dam, despite strong opposition from across the city PMC waking upto the fact that there are more than 5000 wells in the city, promptly considered taking over these wells for supplying water.[vi]

Figure 6: Ill maintained bug wells in the city (Photo: The Golden Sparrow)

Figure 6: Ill maintained dug wells in the city (Photo: The Golden Sparrow)

Though PMC acknowledges that groundwater exploitation has caused decrease of the water table, no measures have been taken by PMC to regulate extraction of this precious resource. The only effort on this front was done in 2007-08 when PMC engaged GSDA to conduct a detailed study on Pune’s aquifer quality and quantity. Former Dy. Director of Research & Development (R&D) of GSDA, tells SANDRP that this was first of its kind report prepared for Pune which carried out detailed assessment of groundwater quality and quantity. Apparently the report also included aquifer maps of Pune and possible recharge areas. The report estimated ground water availability for Pune city in 2007-08 at 34 million cubic meters (MCM) while annual use by city was estimated as 24 MCM.

PMC has not made the report public nor taken any action to further regulate or protect the resource from over exploitation and pollution. Former Dy. Director (R&D) of GSDA expressed his disappointment about this.

A copy of this report was made available to SANDRP by PMC for this study. The version shared was rather incomplete with raw data and devoid of any substantial conclusion. There are no details of quantification of groundwater use or aquifer mapping. It talks mainly about the deteriorated groundwater quality and highlights the widespread Post Monsoon contamination of the deeper aquifers due to mixing of sewage from leaking systems during the rainy season. PMC however claims that this was the only copy made available to them by GSDA.

Groundwater Recharge made mandatory

It has to be clarified at the outset that Water Supply Department of PMC has nothing to do with rainwater harvesting & groundwater recharge (RWH & GWR). It is the Building Permissions Department’ which looks at the implementation of Development Control Rules (DCR) which have made GWR through RWH mandatory since 2007.

Urban Development Department (UDD) of Government of Maharashtra (GoM) had issued a directive in March 2005 to include Rain Water Harvesting Scheme Provision in DCR under section 37 (1) of Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act 1966.[vii] Accordingly a modification proposal submitted by PMC to GoM in August 2005 was sanctioned by GoM in August 2007. DCR have thus been amended to include RWH on plots of area more than 300 SqM in non-congested areas of the city. It is a mandatory requirement for issuance of completion certificate. Certification by Architect of the project that RWH has been completed is followed by a visit by ‘building supervisor’ to verify the implementation. PMC also offers a 2% rebate on property tax as incentive for successful implementation of RWH.

Though this is a welcome move, there are several problems with this system. In most cases the GWR structures which include filter and recharge borewell soon become defunct due to lack of maintenance. Building supervisors conduct inspection visit only once for issuing the completion certificate and do not follow up for maintenance. More importantly they are ill equipped to verify whether the GWR system installed at the site actually works. “We generally go and have a look but how can we tell if the recharge is really happening?” a building supervisor from PMC told SANDRP.

According to groundwater expert Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni of ACWADAM “Building supervisors need a rigorous training before they can verify the recharge at site. Currently they do not have the required technical capability. Besides how can we verify the actual benefits of such systems?” He also expresses his concern that such blanket solution for groundwater recharge throughout the city will not work. “Recharge is as strategic as brain surgery.” he states, “Pune’s geology is such that recharge happens through specific areas. PMC needs to identify such recharge areas and then implement strategic RWH.”

Groundwater regulation: no one to take ownership

Ownership seems to be a serious problem when it comes to groundwater regulation. There have been more than one regulations in place for groundwater especially borewells which unfortunately have remained on paper. Maharashtra promulgated the Groundwater (Management and Development) Act (GMDA) in 2009. Under this Act, the MWRRA, functioning as the State Groundwater Authority, holds the responsibility of protecting & regulating groundwater resource in notified as well as non-notified areas. The State authority will ensure protection of recharge areas, take action against groundwater polluters, monitor compulsory registration of rig owners who operate in the state, regulate drilling of deep borewells by giving specific permissions etc. Water experts have been skeptical if MWRRA can be an effective State Groundwater Authority.

So far the act has remained largely unimplemented. Focus of this act is predominantly rural groundwater. Confusions prevail about how urban administrative set ups are to be fit into this. For example, the Watershed Water Resource Committees (WWRC) to be formed by the State Authority to work out annual watershed-based or aquifer based groundwater use in the notified region will include 11 villages from the region and its chairperson will be the Chairperson of the concerned Panchyat Samiti. It is unclear about how this will be implemented in urban areas!

There are a few other regulations as well which have not been implemented. In fact, there seems to be a lot of confusion about permissions to be obtained for borewells, which authority to be approached and what the binding regulations are. Owner of ‘Nimbalkar Borewells’, Pune told SANDRP “We tried to find out about permissions regarding borewells but no one gives clear information.”

Of the 15 borewell rig owners that we talked with only one person was aware that drilling of borewells more than 200 ft deep has been banned by State Government recently in April 2016[viii] and the affirmation was quickly followed by “No one follows that.”

Similar confusion is faced while seeking environmental clearance (EC) for construction projects.[ix] Anagha Paranjpe of VK:e environmental said “If construction projects requiring EC have shown borewells as source of water during construction then approvals obtained from ‘competent authority’ needs to be produced. However there is a confusion about which that authority is.”

Another example is guidelines issued by Supreme Court regarding borewells in February 2010[x] (modified in Sept 2013), applicable in all the states, according to which registration of all the drilling agencies, (viz., Govt./Semi Govt./Private etc.) should be mandatory with the district administration. Neither PMC nor District Collector have taken steps to implement these guidelines.

PMC needs to create a participatory & transparent mechanism for groundwater regulation

Though not estimated, groundwater forms an important part of Pune’s water supply. Unless regulated it might soon reach a critical level. Even if the onus of groundwater regulation is ultimately with the State Groundwater Authority (i.e. MWRRA) PMC will have to play a key role in its implementation. The groundwater regulatory mechanism needs to have clearly defined norms for transparent, accountable and participatory functioning.

When a significant percentage of water demand is catered by groundwater PMC cannot simply say “it is not our mandate”. More importantly the unaccounted for groundwater use has direct implication on the wastewater generation and treatment. At present wastewater estimation does not take into account groundwater at all as it is calculated at 80% of the per capita water supply by PMC. Which means that even if there is 100% treatment capacity for the estimated waste water, it will not achieve full treatment as wastewater generated by GW use will be additional for which no treatment capacity is planned. As Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni says, “If you do not account for GW you can never fill the gap between wastewater generation and treatment. Untreated sewage will further contaminate the groundwater. This loop needs to be addressed at the earliest.”

PMC also needs to regulate the borewells and groundwater extraction. “All the borewells in the city should not only be registered but also need to be fitted with water meters to regulate the extraction. Sophisticated meters like infrared meters are available in market.” says Shashank Deshpande of GSDA.

A number of proactive steps could be taken by PMC to take groundwater more seriously. First and foremost is to prepare a detailed aquifer map of Pune city. This will identify recharge areas in the city which need to be protected. Recharge by borewells needs to be monitored by skilled agents. Local water resources of the city such as Pashan Lake, Katraj Lake are important ground water recharge areas and need to be protected on priority. Pune also has four rivers running through the city with total length of 53.92 km. Riparian areas and green belts along these stretches need to be protected as recharge areas.

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni stresses that the groundwater conservation has to focus on people’s participation. Though city’s social fabric is not as coherent as that in the villages, ‘ward committees’ could become an effective platform. These committees can be involved in the monitoring and regulation of groundwater and protection of recharge areas in their wards. ‘Baner Pashan Link Road Vikas Samiti’ seems to be an excellent example of this where committee members have been visiting societies in the area to convince them of the importance of groundwater recharge. More than half of the 55 residential societies here have installed simple practical and inexpensive rainwater harvesting structures in the last six months to recharge the groundwater table.[xi]

Dr. Kulkarni says, “Engaging the user is the only way out. Groundwater conservation needs multi partner approach. It needs a completely different design and articulation for regulatory structure.”

The present Groundwater legislation in the form of GMDA 2009 needs reformulation and much more stringent implementation. In absence of which urban groundwater may soon reach crisis point.

“There are ways in which it can be done. All you need is willingness.” says Shashank Deshpande.

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP (amrutapradhan@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[i] GoI (2013): “Ground Water Information Report of 2013 for Pune District” prepared by Central Groundwater Board, submitted to the Union Ministry of Water Resources in 2013, p.6-8

http://cgwb.gov.in/District_Profile/Maharashtra/Pune.pdf

[ii] GSDA (Undated): Well inventory for area under PMC limit prepared by Ground Water Survey & development Agency in 2008

[iii] PMC (Undated): Revised City Development Plan For Pune – 2041, Maharashtra, Under JNNURM prepared by PMC p.96

[iv] CSE (2012): “Excreta Matters” State of India’s Environment Seventh Citizens’ Report

(SOE-7) Published by Centre for Science and Environment P. 356

[v] TGS (2016): “Pune now has a plan B for water crisis”, Rupesh Rupanwar, The Golden Sparrow, May 06, 2016

http://thegoldensparrow.com/news/pune-now-has-a-plan-b-for-water-crisis/

[vi] ibid.

[vii] GoM (2007): Government Order No. TPS-1805/1597/CR-783/2007/UD-13 issued by Urban Development Department of Government of Maharashtra on August 14, 2007

[viii] TOI (2016): “Maharashtra government bans digging borewells below 200 feet”, news report by Times of India April 19, 2016

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Maharashtra-government-bans-digging-borewells-below-200-feet/articleshow/51894229.cms

[x] Supreme Court of India (2010): Judgment for WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO(s). 36 OF 2009 dated 11 February 2010, p. 3

http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org/files/orders%20of%20SC%2011%20feb%202010.pdf

[xi] TOI (2016): “Housing societies do their bit to curb scarcity by recharging groundwater”, Tarini Puril, Times of India, Jun 20, 2016

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/Housing-societies-do-their-bit-to-curb-scarcity-by-recharging-groundwater/articleshow/52830942.cms

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