Bangalore: Don’t drink the Ground water!

Major study confirms that borewells and other sources of potable water in Bangalore are contaminated with Radon, a radioactive substance that can cause cancer

Most of Bangalore’s ground water resources is radioactive. Yes, radioactive! This is no Cassandra call by some foreign-funded eco-warriors subsidised to spread alarm.

Exhaustive research conducted by the Department of Environmental Studies, Bangalore University, in collaboration with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, Government College, Mandya, and Central Ground Water Board, Bangalore, have established the presence of high levels of Radon in the the city’s ground water.

Radon is a carcinogenic substance. Experts say drinking water which has traces of this substance can directly lead to stomach and lung cancers. The permissible level of Radon is 11.83 Bq/litre. Levels of Radon in Bangalore’s ground water is estimated between 56 Bq/l and 1000 Bq/l.

“The presence of Radon is due to the presence of Uranium in the geological profile. Random samples collected across the city indicate Radon’s presence in the ground water is beyond permissible limits,” said BU’s Prof R K Somashekar. He and Dr K Shivanna, from the ISOTOPE Application Division (BARC), are the main researchers of ground water contamination in the city.

Radon is produced as a result of the decay of the radioactive substance Radium. Radon enters ground water reserves like borewells. Bangalore’s rich granite source is one possible reason for the production of Radon. Rampant drilling of borewells allows Radon to seep into the water. Those dependent on borewells for their drinking water are at high risk. It’s alarming that 30 to 35 per cent of city residents consume borewell water.

“Ground water contaminated by Radon if ingested can lead to stomach cancers,” Prof Somashekar said. “Reverse osmosis and other filtration methods will not eliminate Radon,” he added.

Dr Bindu, Resource person, Cancer Studies, Kidwai Memorial Institute Of Oncology, said, “Radon is a radio active substance. It cannot be found every where. But then, there are chances of Cancer spreading if people are exposed to it for a long time. There are other factors to be analysed like the percentage of pollutants and the levels of exposure to people in water.”

While Radon is one cause of Cancer, there are other pollutants which can mix with under ground water too leading to Lung and Stomach Cancer. “Usually, chemical pollutants are the culprits. When they penetrate into the water tables, their alkalinity mixes with the water causing ground water pollution. But, this happens in the outskirts as landfills are usually made in the out skirts of the city,” she said.

Chief Radiologist and Oncologist, Bharath Cancer Hospital, Dr Vishweshwara, said, “This cannot happen overnight. If the person is exposed to Radon over a long period of time, a chance of malignancy can be high. The fact that ground water contamination can cause Cancer cannot be ruled out. These cases happen where land fills and dumping of chemical wastes are high.”

Neutralising Radon
Here are some measures to counter this menace:
* Ensure borewell water is not consumed directly.
* Ensure all storage tanks, sumps etc are ventilated.
* Ensure storage tanks etc are kept open for a brief period after water has been pumped in from a borewell.
* Reduce use of granite in construction work.
* Strict enforcement of rain water harvesting.

From Bangalore Mirror

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Bangladesh: 77m poisoned by arsenic in drinking water

Up to 77 million people in Bangladesh have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic from drinking water in recent decades, according to a Lancet study.

Nearly 90% of Bangladeshis use groundwater

The research assessed nearly 12,000 people in a district of the capital Dhaka for over a period of 10 years.

More than 20% of deaths among those assessed were caused by the naturally occurring poisonous element, it found.

The World Health Organization said the exposure was “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history”.

It began after hand-pumped wells were installed in the 1970s to tap groundwater.

Scientists say even small amounts of arsenic over a long period can cause cancer of the bladder, kidney, lung or skin.

Bangladesh was chosen for the study because nearly 90% of the population uses groundwater as its primary source of fresh water.

From BBC

Tiruchi: Tank inflow improves

Increased storage will help raise groundwater table 

TIRUCHI: Irrigation tanks in the Tiruchi region, many of which were empty until a week back, have started getting good inflows as the monsoon turned active over the past few days.

The poor storage at the tanks was a cause for concern for farmers and water managers in the region this season. Apart from benefiting farmers in their respective ayacut areas, the increase in the storage in tanks would also contribute for an increase in the groundwater table in the surrounding villages.

COPIOUS: Koothapar Big Tank near Tiruverambur in Tiruchi district fast filling up following the rain over the last few days. — Photo: M_Moorthy

Though the rain was not very heavy in Tiruchi and its surrounding districts, unlike the coastal areas, it had contributed to appreciable improvement in the storage at the tanks. But the heavy shower received in several parts of Tiruchi district on Sunday night had contributed to an appreciable increase in storage in some tanks, especially in the Manapparai belt.

According to Public Works Department sources, so far 16 tanks out of the 1,291 in the Tiruchi circle covering the six districts of Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Karur, Perambalur, Ariyalur and Pudukottai have filled up as on Monday. Ninety-four tanks had 75 per cent storage, while 121 were half full. The remaining 1,060 tanks had less than 50 per cent storage. The tanks include those under the river conservation, Ariyar and Maruthaiyar divisions in the circle.

The Ponnaniyar Dam also received good inflow and the storage position increased by nine feet in a single day. The water level at the dam stood at 34 feet on Monday against its full level of 70 feet. Water is normally released for irrigation from the when the storage touches 50 ft.

Quantum at Kattalai

PWD sources also indicated that about 17,000 cusecs of rain flow from the Amaravathy and Noyyal was expected to reach the Kattalai Bed Regulator on Tuesday.

From THE HINDU

Ramanathapuram: Do not mix Cauvery water with Ground Water, says official

RAMANATHAPURAM: Pankaj Kumar Bansal, Joint Managing Director of Tamil Nadu Water and Drainage Board (TWAD), has directed officials not to mix the Cauvery water being supplied under the Ramanathapuram Combined Drinking Water Project with the water generated locally.

He was reviewing the efficacy of the implementation of drinking water project with Collector T.N. Hariharan and TWAD Board officials here on Friday.

Mr. Bansal said that it was important for officials to closely monitor the implementation the project. Complaints over delayed supply, mixing of polluted water with the drinking water, bursting of water pipes, flowing of water on road and excess pressure in water supply must be attended to immediately.

Steps must be taken to begin supply of Cauvery water in rural areas.

Weekly review meetings must be conducted to study the problems and rectify them. Overhead tanks and other water storage facilities must be cleaned at regular intervals, he added.

From THE HINDU

Chennai: Falling groundwater table worries residents

Officials say the northeast monsoon is likely to set in by October 27 or 28

CHENNAI: The delay in the onset of the northeast monsoon is becoming a cause of worry for the residents as the groundwater table in Chennai and suburbs has been receding over the past two months due to lack of recharge.

S. Prema, a resident of Villivakkam, said “the open well in my house dried up three months ago. Whenever there is light shower, the water level rises to one foot in the well. My 20 feet well overflowed during monsoon last December.”

Residents of many areas, including Adyar and Kellys, manage with the limited resource of piped water supply.

For those dependent entirely on groundwater, particularly in suburban areas, the problem is severe. Suchetha Kumaradev, a resident of Raju Nagar in Thoraipakkam, said the water level in the well in her house has declined to two feet.

Water from the Poondi reservoir is being released to step up the storage at Chembarambakkam, from where Metrowater draws supply.— Photo: K. Pichumani

Water from the Poondi reservoir is being released to step up the storage at Chembarambakkam, from where Metrowater draws supply.— Photo: K. Pichumani

“I use groundwater minimally for the past one month and purchase tanker load of water for domestic needs,” she said.

Hydro geologists in the city said that there had been a slight decline in the groundwater level in the city as there was no uniformity in rainfall.

Officials of Chennai Metrowater said the average water level in the city had gone down by 0.2 metre in a month. While the water level in Chennai was 4.1 m in August, it dipped to 4.3 last month. Similarly, there has been a fall by 0.6 metre in water table in the past one year. Last year, the average water level stood at 3.7 metre during September.

However, officials of the Meteorological Department said the northeast monsoon is likely to set in by October 27 or October 28. Normally, the monsoon sets in by October 20. There has been a slight delay this year, they added.

Deputy Director General of Meteorology, Regional Meteorological Centre, Y .E . A. Raj said “There has been a deficit of 74 per cent in rainfall from October 1. But, the weather pattern indicates onset of monsoon in a few days. We expect normal rainfall that would cover the deficit experienced so far.”

The city has had delayed onset of monsoon in the past as in 1998 when northeast monsoon set in on October 28. There have been occasions of monsoon setting in during November in at least nine years in the last 100 years, he added.

Meanwhile, Water Resources Department, a wing of PWD, has started releasing about 280 cubic feet per second (cusecs) of water from the Poondi reservoir to the waterbody in Chembarambakkam to step up storage for drawal by Metrowater. Similarly, about 250 cusecs water would be discharged to the Red Hills reservoir from Saturday to facilitate extraction of water for city supply, said a WRD official.

While Chembarambakkam reservoir has only 371 million cubic feet of water (mcft) as against its capacity of 3,645 mcft, the one at Red Hills has 1,000 mcft against its capacity of 3,300 mcft.

K. Lakshmi – From THE HINDU

Tamilnadu: Salem-New Lake remains dry despite heavy rain over past few weeks

Almost all channels that feed the water body are blocked with silt

SALEM: The New Lake, a major water spread in Kannankurichi area here, remains dry despite the city and its suburbs experiencing moderate to heavy rain for the past few weeks.

The reason: Almost all the channels that feed the lake – which has water spread area of over 100 acres – remain heavily silted.

The lake is an important water source for the farmers in the area.

No storage: The New Lake in Kannankurichi remains dry as the channels carrying water to the lake are full of silt. — Photo: P. Goutham

No storage: The New Lake in Kannankurichi remains dry as the channels carrying water to the lake are full of silt. — Photo: P. Goutham

It recharges hundreds of bore wells in and around the panchayat.

Ground water recharge

About 800 acres of lands are being irrigated through ground water recharge in the Kannankurichi panchayat alone.

“Earlier, the lake used to reach the full level and often surplus during heavy rains. Even after the district witnessed significant amount of rain, the lake has not received any water,” farmers point out.

The farmers had made repeated representations to the officials concerned to desilt the water-carrying channels. But no fruitful efforts had been made so far.

Desilt

Farmers urged the State government to initiate immediate efforts to desilt the water-carrying channels and remove the encroachments on them.

Staff Reporter – From THE HINDU

India’s water crisis – When the rains fail

Many of India’s problems are summed up in its mismanagement of water. Now a scanty monsoon has made matters much worse

Farmers in the field

Farmers in the field

RAINFALL last month encouraged Haniya, a middle-aged member of the Lambada tribe of southern Andhra Pradesh (AP), to inspect his one-acre (0.4-hectare) field. Some speckles of green, to show the red earth had held enough water for weeds to shoot, would have tempted him to sow cotton. But, towards the end of AP’s monsoon rainy season, the field was parched and bare. If it rains again, Haniya may sow. If not? He gave the reply of peasant farmers in India and poor, dry places everywhere: “Only God knows.”

Back in his village of Veeralapalam, light-skinned Lambadi farmers gathered. Most had scattered some cotton or lentil seed after the rain. But it had better rain again: none had access to irrigation from a dozen wells sunk 90 metres into central India’s lava bedrock by richer high-caste Hindu farmers. A few expected to buy a dousing or two of costly piped water, brought by the same neighbours from a nearby storm-creek. Even if affordable, said Saidanayak, this would not sustain his hoped-for acre of cotton. Without more rain, it will fail, adding to his 125,000-rupee ($2,500) debt—a big sum, when the dowry for a Lambada bride is $1,200.

With no crop, no money and three daughters to marry off, he would join the only reliable flood in AP in these drought days: of thousands of tough, skinny peasants into Hyderabad, the state capital, in search of a day-wage. Asked what he would do there, Saidayanak pushed out his fists and shifted from foot to foot, as if cycling a rickshaw—and laughter diluted the gloom.

Many Indians share his worries. Around 450m live off rain-fed agriculture, and this year’s monsoon rains, which between June and September provide 80% of India’s precipitation, have been the scantiest in decades. Almost half India’s 604 districts are affected by drought, especially in the poorest and most populous states—such as Bihar, which has declared drought in 26 of its 38 districts. Uttar Pradesh (UP), home to 185m, expects its main rice harvest to be down by 60%. The outlook for the winter wheat crop is also poor, with India’s main reservoirs, a source for irrigation canals, one-third below their seasonal average. That also means less water for thirsty cities, including Delhi, where 18m people live and the water board meets around half their demand in a good year.

Belated cloudbursts in AP and other states have brought relief. But late sowing tends to produce a thin harvest. AP counted some 20 farmer suicides last month, and there will be more. A short drive from Hyderabad, Koteswara Rao watched as four Hindu outcasts and two blue-horned bullocks ploughed his 16 acres (14 of them leased) for cotton. If it fails he will be left with a $4,000 debt and, being of lofty caste, he said, he could never sweat it out as a labourer. “Suicide would be easier.”

No one should starve, at least. None of India’s previous five big post-independence droughts caused famine. And after two bumper years, the government says it has enough wheat and rice in store to prevent serious food-grain price inflation. With agriculture accounting for only 18% of GDP, compared with 30% in 1990, the drought will in fact cause relatively little damage to India’s economy; it should still grow by over 5% this year. Lavish spending on rural welfare since 2004, when the Congress party won power in Delhi, will also help. Almost 30m people have benefited from the government’s chief public-works project, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

Yet the drought underlines a grim truth. India’s extremes of hydrology, poverty and population present vast difficulties for water management which it has never mastered. And they are growing. Increasingly frequent droughts may be a sign of this—if, as some think, climate change is to blame. It will accentuate India’s problems, with the monsoon rains, which supply over 50% of much of India’s annual precipitation in just 15 days, predicted to become even more contracted and unpredictable. At the same time, the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers promises to deprive the great rivers of the Indian sub-continent, the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, of their summertime source. This threatens a triple whammy: of longer dry seasons, in which these rivers do not flow, and more violent wet seasons. That would mean more bad news for flood-prone eastern India, including Bihar, where over 3m were displaced last year when the Kosi river burst a crumbling embankment.

India’s water future was worrying even without climate change. Despite daunting seasonal and regional variations, it should have ample water for agricultural, industrial and household use. But most of it falls, in a remarkably short time, in the wrong places. India’s vast task is therefore to trap and store enough water; to channel it to where it is most needed; and, above all, to use it there as efficiently as possible. And on all three counts, India fares badly. Without huge improvements, according to a decade-old official estimate, by 2050, when its population will be a shade under 1.7 billion, India will run short of water.

There are already signs of the conflict this would cause. Having bickered for decades over their rights to the Krishna river, AP and upstream Maharashtra and Karnataka are now furiously building dams and diversions that the river might not support even in flood. In Orissa 30,000 farmers—for whom over 80% of India’s water is reserved—laid siege to a reservoir in 2007 to try to stop factories using its waters. The desert state of Rajasthan has seen similar protests against the diversion of water to its growing cities. In one, five farmers were shot dead by police.

The government is worried: “2050 is a very frightening sort of a picture,” says A.K. Bajaj, chairman of India’s central water commission, which provides technical support to the state governments who control India’s water. Its main solution is to build more large dams (390 are under construction), and river diversions, including a long-mooted extravaganza of 30 linkages which would unite most of India’s river basins. Indeed, India needs more water storage: it has 200 cubic metres per person, compared with 1,000 cubic metres in China. But given the decrepitude of much of its existing water infrastructure, and its profligate ways with water, its more urgent priorities are to repair and reform.
Worshipping old gods

Famine-prone for most of its history, India’s attachment to dams is understandable. Its ability to feed itself owes much to a splurge on big dams and canal projects in the 1950s-70s—for example, the colossal Bhakra dam in Himachal Pradesh, completed in 1963 and described by the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as a “new temple” of India. The Bhakra brought 7m hectares of north-west India, chiefly Punjab and Haryana, under irrigation. This prepared the way for the Green Revolution of the 1960s, when the introduction of new seeds and chemical fertilisers hugely boosted farm yields in those states and in the coastal region of AP—which was irrigated in the 19th century by a British engineer, Sir Arthur Cotton, who is still worshipped there as a god.

But, the world over, without expensive maintenance to prevent siltation in reservoirs and leakage from canals, grand dams and irrigation schemes tend to be as inefficient as they are environmentally destructive. And India’s corrupt, underfunded and overmanned state irrigation departments—UP’s, for example, employs over 100,000 people—often provide no maintenance at all. As a result, each year India is estimated to lose the equivalent of two-thirds of the new storage it builds to siltation. Bad planning, often as a result of inter-state rivalries, causes more waste. Thus, between 1992 and 2004 India built 200 large and medium-sized irrigation projects—and the area irrigated by such schemes shrank by 3.2m hectares.

Map with States of INDIA

Map with States of INDIA

The village of Veeralapalam offers a snapshot of this, and of the losers in a political economy where water is the main currency. From the early 1960s it received occasional water in a small canal, at the tail-end of a system off the Krishna river. But this has been dry since 1985 because of leakage up-channel and, the Lambadi farmers say, illegal tapping by members of a more favoured community. The canal was re-dug last year under the NREGS, but seems unlikely to get any water.

A few miles up-channel in Ulisaipalam, a village dominated by high-caste Hindus, there is water, but more problems. Wading shin-deep, P. Venkat Reddy transplants dark green paddy into his two acres of irrigated, but undrained, land. When there is water in the canal, for around four months each year, it is waterlogged, fit only for paddy. But in recent years the canal has held insufficient water for a full paddy crop—forcing Mr Reddy to supplement it with groundwater. He pumps this, with electricity given free to farmers in AP, from a borehole drilled 45 metres into his land.

Since the 1970s, when affordable water pumps became available and electricity reached many more places, millions have done the same. India is the world’s biggest user of groundwater, with some 20m bore-holes providing water for over 60% of its irrigated area. Being entirely in farmers’ hands, this is up to three times more productive than canal irrigation. In 2002, by a conservative estimate, it was worth $8 billion a year to the Indian economy—more than four times what the central and state governments spend on irrigation schemes.

Groundwater irrigation has transformed the lives of millions. It has also rectified problems, of water-logging and salination, caused by canals. But in many places, including productive Punjab and Haryana, whose rather well-off farmers also get free or cut-price electricity, the rate of groundwater extraction is unsustainable. Nearly a third of India’s groundwater blocks were defined in 2004 as “critical, semi-critical or over-exploited”. The World Bank reckons that 15% of India’s food is produced by “mining”—or unrenewable extraction of—groundwater, including in 18 of Punjab’s 20 districts. Satellite maps released by America’s NASA last month showed that north-western India’s aquifers had fallen by a foot a year between 2002 and 2008: a loss of 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of water, or three times the volume of America’s biggest man-made reservoir.

This is storing up trouble. As bore-holes run dry, as those over the hardrock aquifers of southern-central India do on a monthly basis, many poor people may be deprived of safe drinking water. Currently, 220m Indians lack this. Not all India’s groundwater is potable anyway; in places, it is getting seriously polluted. And India’s groundwater reserves will be especially missed when climate change makes surface-water sources even more sporadic. Their depletion will accentuate this, with springs, which could have provided a trickle of run-off during the extended dry seasons, increasingly failing.

Ground Water Changes in INDIA

Ground Water Changes in INDIA

Pump and be damned

Some excuse this resolute destruction by saying that India’s farmers do not understand groundwater. But they know when it is running out, as an impromptu conclave in the Punjabi village of Lubana Teku showed. “Punjab will become a desert, like Rajasthan,” said Jarnail Singh, a stately, orange-turbaned grower of rice. When Mr Singh began pumping groundwater in 1973, turning his 14 acres from cotton to paddy, it took a three-horsepower engine to bring it up from 1.5 metres. Now the groundwater is 20 metres down, and he requires a 15-horsepower pump to sluice his green paddy-fields. “We know the water is going,” said Mr Singh. “But we’re not going to change our ways unless the government makes us.”

Rather, it encourages him to keep pumping. Besides paying nothing for his water or electricity—seven hours of it a day—Mr Singh knows the government will buy all the rice he can grow, at a pre-ordained “minimum support price”. Set against this package, Punjab’s efforts to conserve its groundwater, mainly by telling farmers not to transplant paddy before the monsoon rains, are rather puny.

State governments know that this is madness. Over a quarter of India’s electricity is given free or cut-price to farmers. As a result, the state power utilities are bust. Understandably, however, politicians balk at reform. Two chief ministers recently tried charging farmers for electricity, in AP and Madhya Pradesh, and were kicked out of office. The Congress party chief minister of Haryana, which is going to the polls in October, will not make that mistake. He is demanding $200m from India’s Congress-led central government as a contribution to Haryana’s agricultural-power subsidy.

The subsidy raj is not confined to farmers. Many municipal governments price water well below cost, and therefore struggle to supply it. Delhi, where the water board’s revenues cover only 40% of its operating costs, should have plenty of water. It draws 220 litres per citizen, more than Paris. But half of it disappears from leaky pipes. To mend these, workmen, having no underground maps, must dig up and sift through a tangled mass of pipes and cables, like untrained surgeons manhandling intestines.

Predictably, for a couple of hundred rupees a month, posh south Delhi gets the best water supply. When its taps run dry, the locals, including India’s political and bureaucratic elite, pump groundwater—often illegally. By one estimate, bore-holes provide 40% of the capital’s water; and south Delhi’s groundwater, which underlies the offices of India’s Central Groundwater Authority, is being depleted by up to three metres a year. But tube-wells, which cost around $600, are no option for Delhi’s poor, including 4m slum-dwellers. To augment their supply they must buy water, of dubious quality and at extortionate prices, from a well-connected water mafia.

In fiery June residents of Sangam Vihar, a poor suburb of south Delhi, rioted after getting no water for two weeks. In normal times, according to Vishnu Sharma, a 36-year-old resident, he and his family receive, at unpredictable times, around an hour and a half of muddy piped water each week. They pay $2 for this, he said—and another $20, or a quarter of his factory wage, to private water-sellers in cahoots with corrupt water-board officials. “So why bother complaining?” he said angrily.

An increasingly precious load

An increasingly precious load

Who could deny that rich Delhiites must pay more for water, so the city’s poor can get more? The rich, of course. In 2005 a World Bank-sponsored effort to reform the water board was shot down by local NGOs. As well as worrying, reasonably, about the bidding process for contracts, they were outraged to discover that, in return for round-the-clock clean water, the targeted households would be charged about $20 a month—or what Mr Sharma pays his local water don.

Pay more, use less

To make farmers use less water, they must pay, or pay more, for electricity. The longer state governments wait to institute this, the higher the cost of pumping groundwater will go—and the more difficult reform becomes. Nor is pricing alone a panacea. According to a World Bank study, farmers are already paying rather a lot for subsidised but poor-quality electricity. In Haryana, farmers with electricity spent 25% of their incomes on it and on repairing burnt-out pump-engines; those without electricity spent 31% of their incomes on diesel. To charge farmers more for electricity, utilities will have to improve supply. And farmers must learn to use water more efficiently.

Selling groundwater to cities, as farmers outside Chennai have done, is one possible answer. Another, to keep up India’s food production, is to spread the use of modern seeds and other technologies—such as an improved system of paddy cultivation that uses half as much water and has boosted yields in Tamil Nadu and AP. Ideally, commercial cultivation of thirsty sugar-cane and paddy should also be shifted eastwards, to the poor and sodden parts of Bihar and West Bengal. For now, alas, the political trade-offs and mammoth infrastructure development this would require make it seem unimaginable.

Farmers on arid, rain-fed land need help of other sorts. Even if they had electricity—which 400m Indians do not—they could hardly pay for it. Nor would it be altogether desirable for them to pump groundwater unless they could be enjoined to sow appropriate crops, such as pulses and millet, and water them wisely. In dry areas, where profligate water-use by one farmer can make many wells run dry, farmers have been persuaded to share information on rainfall, groundwater levels and cropping, and so collectively regulate themselves. One attempt at this in central AP involves 25,000 farmers.

And India must have more dams. These need not be large; indeed, given problems of maintenance and resettlement, it would be better if they were not. For these and other reasons, most experts also seem to want the ambitious river-basin-linkage idea to be scrapped. In most places, urban and rural, India’s state governments would do better to concentrate on building and restoring millions of small water storages, tanks and mini-reservoirs, and put local governments in charge of them. There is no simple solution to India’s complicated water crisis. But if prayers are necessary, let them be offered in small shrines, not vast concrete temples.

From Economist