Centuries ago, when the city of Bengaluru was founded by Kempegowda, it was a crown jewel of the state of Karnataka, endowed with beautiful lakes and gardens. But, the present reality cannot be farther from the past.
After years of urbanization, poor water management, pollution and an accelerated population, Bengaluru has become a city of traffic and concrete, languishing in falling groundwater levels, toxic frothing lakes and dry taps.
This image of slow-poisoning of his beloved city and home pushed a Bangalorean, Uma Maheshwara to take a positive step towards a solution—rainwater harvesting.
A plumbing contractor working with the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Uma has spent the last 13 years installing over a thousand Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) systems across the city, in an effort to save its future.
“I was born and brought up in Bengaluru and have seen the city change and transform with time. But infrastructural development has come with its own share of disadvantages and sacrifices, some of which are graver than the advantages. One such sacrifice has been that of the city’s natural resources, especially water. With each year the condition is only depleting and owing to this trend many studies have also compared our city’s future to be similar to that of Cape Town, in South Africa. And, with my expertise in this area, I couldn’t have stood back and let the impending crisis unfold, not when I could be part of the solution,” says the 54-year-old.
From a Plumbing Contractor to an RWH expert in Bengaluru
Uma started his rainwater harvesting journey in 2007, by enrolling in an upskilling certificate course on RWH at Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. He realised in a city with a burgeoning population and depleting sources of water, most people had to rely on buying water tankers to meet their daily needs–a practice that was both uneconomical and harmful.
“A tanker of 5,000 litres usually costs Rs 500 to Rs 800, depending on the season and area. And usually for an average person demand for water is 150-200 litres per capita per day, while an average supply is around 100-125 litres. But, on top of that the water in tankers is heavy with chemicals such as chlorine and abound with impurities that are extremely harmful. However, owing to the crunch, people still go for tankers despite the huge expense. And, RWH which is a sustainable source of pure water, is the best solution for this problem,” he explains.
Hence, aiming to solve this one building at a time, Uma, shortly after receiving his certificate began work in installation of RWH systems in various commercial and residential buildings, including his own house, in addition to providing free consultancy services for RWH.
“When you want to spread a good message to the masses, it’s important that you walk the talk. So setting up my own rooftop RWH system was important to set a positive example. So in my house in Banaswadi, I built my own RWH system in 2007, with a one-time investment of Rs 10,000,” says the Bengaluru resident.
Saving the Environment and Money
Following the set up, that summer, Uma did not need to purchase even a single tanker to meet the water supply deficit. Instead, he had enough to not just fulfil their daily needs but also recharge the groundwater, thus setting a great precedent for a forked positive impact both personally and environmentally.
“Since then I have not only been saving lakhs of money, but also have saved 20 tankers worth water every single year. That roughly amounts to almost 1 lakh litres of water every year,” says Uma while adding that he earned back his initial investment of Rs 10,000 for installment, with the savings of the next 2 years.
“Usually it costs Rs 15,000 for install an RWH inclusive of labour (depending on the size), which was not needed in my case. But I earned it all back in 2 years. Technically, by 2009, the installation was all free and I had already saved over 3 lakh litres of water!”
Having worked with several housing societies and commercial buildings in Bengaluru, Uma feels that there is still a lot to be done for people to realise the need for RWH and that this the future that we all need to embrace as soon as we can.
Senthil Kumar, a resident of Golden Louts, a gated society in Varthur is one of the many people who approached Uma to install an RWH system in the society. “We have 108 flats in our society and would require to order at least 70 tankers every month. But, after the installation last year, it has considerably come down to 30-50 tankers a month depending on the rainfall. We have also saved Rs 1.3 lakh in a year and hope to recover back the entire investment cost of Rs 2.8 lakh by the end of this year.”
“In my experience, there is still a lot of hesitation floating around especially among owners of independent houses. Gated societies and housing complexes on the other hand have been more receptive to this idea. If you are short-sighted and not see the long-term benefits of RWH, you will end up in the middle of a water crisis. With my work and free consultation, I am doing everything in my power to help people avert that situation as smoothly as possible,” concludes Uma.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)