Bangalore, India's high-tech capital, is experiencing serious water shortages

27 May 2024 by The Water Diplomat

In the 20th Century, Bangalore was known as the "Garden City"» of India, or the city of 1000 lakes. The city had a long history of construction of artificial tanks for irrigation, fishing, and as a source of drinking water. These lakes served to replenish the groundwater on which the city largely relies.

Today, however, only a handful of these lakes still exist, and they are endangered both by a lack of water and by an unsustainable level of pollution. This is in part driven by urban expansion : the surface area of lakes has declined over time from from 2,324 hectares in 1973 to 696 hectares in 2023, which has impacted on the water table.

Bangalore is India's 3rd largest city, with a population of nearly 14 million, and it is currently suffering one of the worst water crises of the past 500 years. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board stated in a recently published report that 90% of Bangalore's (remaining) lakes are in a state bordering on extinction. Currently, amid an intense drought, the Karnataka state government has stated that the city is facing a daily water deficit of 500 million liters, or 20% of demand. This situation reflects what India could become on a national scale by 2030.

There is no river running through the city. It relies for 50% on a feeder canal from the Krishna Raja dam on the Kaveri River. However, the previous rainy season provided significantly less moisture (with a 40% rainfall deficit in South India) and did not allow the water reserve to be properly replenished.

The remainder of the city's needs are met by groundwater, which is unfortunately being rapidly depleted.  Experts estimate that there are over 400,000 private wells in the Bangalore region. Controlling the use of these wells remains a crucial issue in a city where urbanisation has been rapid and relatively unplanned over the past few decades.

On March 12th, driven by the shortfall in rain, authorities have imposed a 20% cutback on water consumption by large scale users such as businesses, hospitals and the airport. Already, 257 neighborhoods in four zones of the city had been affected by drastic water restrictions. Inhabitants of these neighbourhoods have to rely on tankered water, for which the prices have soared over the past three months from $ 10 to $ 30, and the government has had to intervene to cap water prices.  In other neighborhoods, water is cut off from 10 a.m. into the evening. Some neighbourhoods are supplied every other day. The city of Bangalore had to introduce a system of penalties to limit abuse and wastage.

Access to water has become a social issue, with the poorest districts being the worst affected, and access to water became a political issue during the second round of the last general elections in India on the 26th of April.  Many of those involved point out that the problem is not really really a problem of quantity, but more of planning and resource management (which could be improved with effective systems for rainwater harvesting and maintaining sufficient, appropriate water reservoirs for groundwater recharge. For this purpose, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has indicated that it has completed 986 recharge wells at vaious locations since April 2024 to enable recharge to take place.

Stakeholders agree that the solution to Bangalore’s water crisis crisis will need to come from a number of actions, including raising public awareness of the need to conserve water, the installation of smart water meters to understand consumption and losses better, and measures to increase the infiltration of water into the ground.