In urban areas, the construction of houses, footpaths and roads has left little exposed earth for water to soak in. In parts of the rural areas of India, floodwater quickly flows to the rivers, which then dry up soon after the rains stop. If this water can be held back, it can seep into the ground and recharge the groundwater supply.

This has become a very popular method of conserving water especially in the urban areas. Rainwater harvesting essentially means collecting rainwater on the roofs of building and storing it underground for later use. Not only does this recharging arrest groundwater depletion, it also raises the declining water table and can help augment water supply. Rainwater harvesting and artificial recharging are becoming very important issues. It is essential to stop the decline in groundwater levels, arrest sea-water ingress, i.e. prevent sea-water from moving landward, and conserve surface water run-off during the rainy season.

Town planners and civic authority in many cities in India are introducing bylaws making rainwater harvesting compulsory in all new structures. No water or sewage connection would be given if a new building did not have provisions for rainwater harvesting. Such rules should also be implemented in all the other cities to ensure a rise in the groundwater level.
Realizing the importance of recharging groundwater, the CGWB (Central Ground Water Board) is taking steps to encourage it through rainwater harvesting in the capital and elsewhere. A number of government buildings have been asked to go in for water harvesting in Delhi and other cities of India.

All you need for a water harvesting system is rain, and a place to collect it! Typically, rain is collected on rooftops and other surfaces, and the water is carried down to where it can be used immediately or stored. You can direct water run-off from this surface to plants, trees or lawns or even to the aquifer.

Some of the benefits of rainwater harvesting are as follows

  • Increases water availability
  • Checks the declining water table
  • It is environmentally friendly
  • Improves the quality of groundwater through the dilution of fluoride, nitrate, and salinity
  • Prevents soil erosion and flooding especially in urban areas

Rainwater harvesting: a success story

Once Cherrapunji was famous because it received the largest volume of rainfall in the world It still does but ironically, experiences acute water shortages. This is mainly the result of extensive deforestation and because proper methods of conserving rainwater are not used. There has been extensive soil erosion and often, despite the heavy rainfall and its location in the green hills of Meghalaya, one can see stretches of hillside devoid of trees and greenery. People have to walk long distances to collect water.

In the area surrounding the River Ruparel in Rajasthan, the story is different – this is an example of proper water conservation. The site does not receive even half the rainfall received by Cherrapunji, but proper management and conservation have meant that more water is available than in Cherrapunji.

The water level in the river began declining due to extensive deforestation and agricultural activities along the banks and, by the 1980s, a drought-like situation began to spread. Under the guidance of some NGOs (non-government organizations), the women living in the area were encouraged to take the initiative in building johads (round ponds) and dams to hold back rainwater. Gradually, water began coming back as proper methods of conserving and harvesting rainwater were followed. The revival of the river has transformed the ecology of the place and the lives of the people living along its banks. Their relationship with their natural environment has been strengthened. It has proved that humankind is not the master of the environment, but a part of it. If human beings put in an effort, the damage caused by us can be undone.

Water conservation

The most important step in the direction of finding solutions to issues of water and environmental conservation is to change people’s attitudes and habits¾this includes each one of us. Conserve water because it is the right thing to do. We can follow some of the simple things that have been listed below and contribute to water conservation.

  • Try to do one thing each day that will result in saving water. Don’t worry if the savings are minimal¾every drop counts! You can make a difference.
  • Remember to use only the amount you actually need.
  • Form a group of water-conscious people and encourage your friends and neighbours to be part of this group. Promote water conservation in community newsletters and on bulletin boards. Encourage your friends, neighbours and co-workers to also contribute.
  • Encourage your family to keep looking for new ways to conserve water in and around your home.
  • Make sure that your home is leak-free. Many homes have leaking pipes that go unnoticed.
  • Do not leave the tap running while you are brushing your teeth or soaping your face.
  • See that there are no leaks in the toilet tank. You can check this by adding colour to the tank. If there is a leak, colour will appear in the toilet bowl within 30 minutes. (Flush as soon as the test is done, since food colouring may stain the tank.)
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Put a brick or any other device that occupies space to cut down on the amount of water needed for each flush.
  • When washing the car, use water from a bucket and not a hosepipe.
  • Do not throw away water that has been used for washing vegetables, rice or dals¾use it to water plants or to clean the floors, etc
  • You can store water in a variety of ways. A simple method is to place a drum on a raised platform directly under the rainwater collection source. You can also collect water in a bucket during the rainy season.