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Of ponds and wells

The Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation and district panchayat have drawn up plans to renovate the ponds and wells in and around the city.


IN THE Sixties and Seventies, the authorities used to request the residents of the city to depend more and more on the piped water supply of the Corporation. The civic body even went to the extent of asking the people to close their ponds and wells.

Today, tired of looking up to the sky for rain, the people of the drought-hit city and district are starting to look beneath the soil; to try and utilise the hydro-riches stored in the bowels of the earth.

Thiruvananthapuram is reportedly among the few places in Kerala where the exploitation of ground water for domestic and non-domestic purposes has been minimal so far. According to the data available with the Government, not even 25 per cent of the groundwater capacity of the area has been utilised. Kerala is divided into 152 ground water blocks. Of these, the Chirayinkeezhu, Kodungalloor and Kasaragod blocks have witnessed the maximum usage of ground water.

A study conducted by the district panchayat, a few years ago, found that 58.3 per cent of the households in the district faced scarcity of drinking water during the summer months. The study also found that the main reason for the scarcity was the drying up of the private and open wells that constitute the major source of water, especially in the rural areas.

At present, there are 203 public ponds and 114 public wells within the City Corporation limits. A majority of these, however, are in a dilapidated condition. The City Corporation and the district panchayat have drawn up plans to renovate a good number of these ponds and wells so that at least by the next summer, the people will not have to face the threat of acute drought. In the city alone, 140 ponds and 98 wells are scheduled to be cleaned.

However, it is also pointed out that digging more wells may not provide a lasting solution to the scarcity of water during the summer months. It is generally accepted that a little over 15 per cent of the total groundwater generated during a monsoon, seeps down to the aquifers - the underground geological formations that store ground water. Experts say that `filter-point' wells that go down only to about 30 feet do not provide safe drinking water. For the safest ground water, one has to dig wells up to 250 feet in depth. A mushrooming of bore wells may also spell bad news for the ground water table as the rate of recharge may not keep up with the rates of usage of ground water.

The need of the hour, therefore, is an increase in the number of ponds and not an increase in the number of wells. While Kerala has upwards of 30 lakh wells, it has only about 45,000 ponds, including temple ponds. According to P. C. Jain, one of the brains behind the Amachal watershed management scheme, ponds are the best answer to Kerala's water problems. "What we should do now is to clean up our ponds, remove the clay and silt, and lay sand beds. This will help water to settle into the earth. The pond, thus, becomes a very good ground water recharge point. The more ponds we have, the higher will be our groundwater table. Our wells will have more water even in summer," he says.

In addition to laying sand beds in ponds, the sides of the water body should be leak-proofed using suitable material. Care should also be taken to see to it that there is no discharge of sewerage into ponds - something that has become common practise in many areas, points of Jain, who formerly headed the Western Ghat Cell of the Government.

But cleaning ponds is not the end of the story. The ponds themselves are fed by the water that settles on elevated places near the pond - the so-called ridges. It is also very vital to protect these ridges, which act as recharge structures for the ponds. For this, it is essential to ensure that trees are not felled in the ridge areas, mining activity in the ridges is prohibited and there is no erosion of top soil from these formations. If this is not done, the ponds may run dry during the summer season.

It is also pointed out that the practise of thinking about water conservation only during a drought should be done away with. "Water management is a round-the-year affair. It includes scientific watershed management, preventing run-off to the sea, careful use of available water and most important of all, the realisation that ours is not a water-surplus State anymore," Jain points out.

G. Mahadevan

Photo: S. Gopakumar

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