“India gets enough rains to fulfill its needs — domestic, agricultural, industrial, commercial — provided water conservation efforts are taken on a war footing. Even with the utmost efficiency, we can conserve only 40% of water the rains brings to us annually. Another 50% will inevitably run off into the water bodies to enable navigation, fishing, boating, religious rituals and all other activities conceivable with water.”
The statement inspires hope, given the reports of water scarcity from diverse areas. This comes from Ayyappa Masagi, who has come to be known as ‘Water Gandhi’ in villages skirting the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border. Masagi, an engineer by training, has turned almost 26,000 hectares of dryland into wetland, rejuvenated thousands of ponds, lakes and borewells and successfully executed rainwater harvesting projects for nearly 170 industries in and around Bengaluru.
For nearly 15 years, Masagi has been leading a crusade aimed at making India a ‘water-efficient nation’. According to him, if all the rainwater that pours over Bengaluru (i.e., 827 sq. km. BBMP area with 100 cm annual rainfall) could be collected for a year, it could be sufficient for meeting the needs of the city and its people for three years. “Suppose we raise a boundary wall over the entire municipal area and allow no water to run off or percolate, the water level would go up to one metre in the obtaining large well,” he visualises.
An unassuming man, Masagi says India is currently categorised under ‘water stressed’ countries with several areas being perpetually drought-prone. But the country has enough potential to emerge as a water-rich nation. “Currently 2 to 3% of rainwater percolates into the ground nationally. If we can harvest around 35% of the annual precipitation and reuse or recycle grey water from homes, we need not look for grandiose river-linking projects or billion-dollar irrigation schemes,” he claims.
Charity begins at home. And Masagi who worked for Larsen & Toubro for 26 years (he took VRS to realise his dream of making people ‘water-literate’), applied his ideas on his own 23 x 33 ft. house in Sahakarnagar in Amrutahalli suburbs of the city. The three-storeyed building that currently accommodates five families, survives on just a 68-feet borewell since 1986 when the house was constructed. Besides the borewell and harvested rainwater, he recycles grey water.
Masagi’s techniques involve collecting, pre-filtering and filtering rainwater underground to recharge the subsoil natural springs. He first supervises the land and constructs ponds and filtration wells in keeping with the gradient. The ponds are laid with stones, gravel and sand and if necessary polypropylene sheet underneath to stop percolation. In order to minimise waste, he advises drip irrigation through a maze of tubes that take the water to the roots of the plants. He dug 32 soak pits (10ft. x 10ft. x 10ft.) and constructed 11 infiltration wells in his four-acre farm in Holavanahalli (in Koratagere taluk) in Tumakuru district, 82 km north of Bengaluru. This arrangement allows him to conserve enough water to draw 80,000 litres of the precious liquid everyday throughout the year whereby nearly 7,000 trees are irrigated through drip network and sprinklers.
Masagi has honed his skills through practice and has perfected numbers. According to him 4,000 litres of water if collected over an acre (i.e., around 44,000 sq. ft. area) will fill it ankle-deep (i.e., 4 inches deep). So all that water he draws in a day can fill up a nearly two-acre farm with ankle-deep water.
Island of greenery
Move over 80 km east to another farm in Subbrayapet village in Hindupur taluk across the border from Karnataka. Masagi’s water conservation techniques have turned an 85-acre farm in the perennially drought-prone area into an island of greenery amid vast stretches of dry farms. The annual precipitation in the area which is part of Rayalaseema, is just around 35 cm. But four ponds and 10,000 pits dug by Masagi harvest nearly 18 to 20 crore litres of water annually. Masagi and his group of friends bought this land in 2014 which is located 40 km from Hindupur town. They are now raising 25,000 saplings into trees, of which 60% fall into the category of forestry (i.e., mahogany, Arjuna terminalia, rosewood, jamun etc) while the remaining are orchard trees. Looking at the massive effort at greening the drought-prone land, the Andhra Pradesh Government has offered him two solar-operated pumps of 5 horsepower. Besides the trees, the farm is being used for animal husbandry with dozens of cattle heads and sheep being reared on it. The ten labourers who work on the farm use a gobar gas plant for their cooking needs.
Ayyappa Masagi’s family hails from Nagaral village in Gadag district. He recalls his childhood days when his mother would rise at 3 a.m. to fetch a few pails of water from a well three km away. Raised in dire poverty, Masagi would see the roots of problem in lack of access to sustainable supplies of water and slowly grew aware of the ways to ensure stable supplies. His first appointment was at BEML in Bengaluru after he earned a diploma in mechanical engineering. Still later while working at Larsen & Toubro, he studied the problem closely and developed his own expertise to conserve, store and recycle water.
It was in 2003 that he plunged into water conservation headlong despite his family’s opposition. He formed the NGO Water Literacy Foundation in 2005 and took up programmes for educating farmers, industries and urban households. He has conducted 7,000 programmes in 13 States in 14 years. He was helped by the Deshpande Foundation in Hubballi to develop water resources in 18 villages. In 2009, he was conferred Jamnalal Bajaj National Award for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development. He helped several developers (Sobha, Mangalya Suryodaya, Mahaveer Zephyr etc), IT companies (Wipro, Tata Elexi, Tyco Electronics etc), apartments and educational institutions in implementing rainwater harvesting techniques. He has been honoured with titles like ‘Indian Water Doctor’, ‘Water Gandhi’ and ‘Doctor of Barren Borewells’ by various organisations.
Masagi says the City today requires 130 crore litres of water a day but the BWSSB supplies just about 90 crore litres. The City could harvest 34 crore litres of rainwater falling on 42 km track of the Namma Metro itself.
(Masagi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Life & Style> Homes and Gardens / February 03rd, 2017