India is the 5th most vulnerable nation in the world to the impacts of the changing climate. Our forests are our carbon sinks and our armour to protect us from the climate crisis looming on our heads. India’s land area under forest cover stands at 21% currently. The government’s declared target is 33%. The State of India’s Forest Report 2019 shows a grim scenario. Since 2011, over the last one decade, the area under ‘Commercial Plantations’ has increased by 5.7%, while the area under ‘Moderately Dense Forests’ has decreased by 3.8%. This means that we are losing our ‘biodiversity rich native forests’.
This blog tells the story of a group of citizens who are trying to preserve the native biodiversity of the Western Ghats, one of India’s largest natural carbon sinks.
The main highlights of the blog are as follows:
Importance of the ecosystem of the Western Ghats for the Indian subcontinent.
How invasive species are destroying the native flora of Western Ghats?
Native planting efforts in the states of Karnataka and Kerala.
How can forest friends living anywhere in the world contribute towards restoring degraded lands in the Western Ghats?
WESTERN GHATS – A CRITICAL BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT OF OUR PLANET
Western Ghats are a highly sensitive ecological zone supporting the livelihoods of more than 250 million people. This mountain range traversing through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu functions as the water tower of peninsular India. Several rivers like Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra originate in the Western Ghats. The strategic location of the Ghats also influences the south west monsoons thereby making this mountain range play the critical role of climate regulator for the entire Indian subcontinent.
According to UNESCO, the Western Ghats are considered as one of earth’s 8 “hotspots” in terms of their global importance for biodiversity conservation. Out of the 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, nearly 352 (more than 50%) are endemic i.e. they are found nowhere else in the world. This region is home to more than 1500 endemic species of flowering plants and 500 species of endemic fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel proposed that the entire Western Ghats be considered as an ‘Ecologically Sensitive Area’ on account of the occurrence of such a high number of endemic and rare species.
WHY ARE THE WESTERN GHATS UNDER THREAT?
A study in South India in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu showed that between 1920 and 1990 about 40% of the original vegetation cover of the Western Ghats was lost or converted to another form of land use. It is estimated that not more than about 7% of the area of Western Ghats is currently under primary vegetation cover, though a much larger area is under some form of forest and tree cover. Two main reasons threatening the native biodiversity of this region are as follows:
Loss of forests due to a faulty development model
Diversion of forests for agriculture, mining and industrial projects, road construction etc over the past few decades have resulted in the state of Kerala losing 9064 sq kms between 1973 and 2016 and Karnataka losing 200 sq km of forest land in the Western Ghats between 2001 and 2017. See this link for more details and what you can do to help the citizens’ campaign to save the Western Ghats.
Loss of native biodiversity due to plantation of invasive species
The other culprit for loss of native flora in the Western Ghats is the plantation of alien species such as Eucalyptus, Wattle (Acacia), Pinus by the British which can be seen across the upper slopes of the Nilgiris and Pulney hills interspersed with Lantana Camara. Invasive species like Prosopis Juliflora and Parthenium Hysterophorus are seen on the lower hill slopes. 60% of the Western Ghats are covered by invasive species like Lantana. They create a mat-like structure leading to degradation of the land and destruction of the native biodiversity. As a result, herbivores like Gaur, Sambar and others are deprived of their food. This in turn negatively impacts the survival of carnivores such as tigers and panthers thereby affecting the entire ecosystem.
PLANTING NATIVE FLORA TO RESTORE LANDS DEGRADED BY INVASIVE SPECIES
This short film shows how an inspiring group of citizens by the name of Forest First Samithi are trying to conserve and revive the native flora of the Western Ghats.
Meera Rajesh, Founder Trustee, Forest First Samithi shares, “We are a non-profit working to rewild sacred groves, degraded forest lands, riparian buffer lands and private coffee estates with the help of local communities in Kodagu and Wayanad districts in the states of Karnataka and Kerala respectively. Our vision is to restore degraded lands by removal of the invasive species and preserve the biodiversity of Western Ghats by undertaking planting of native flora. We do this by engaging and empowering the rural communities in the process of sustainable ecological conservation.”
Most of the native tree species planted by Forest First Samithi have nutritional and medicinal value which helps the tribal communities in their traditional health care system. Every project site that the group works on supports local livelihoods for planting. They provide a 3 year maintenance programme for the saplings which involves tribal wisdom for the aftercare.
Read more about the work of Forest First Samithi on this link and their website:
Forest First Samithi would appreciate volunteer support for their activities on the ground as well as help in raising funds. Over the last 10 years, this citizens group has carried out the native planting work with their own personal finances and that of their network of friends. Occasional donations have sometimes come in from small companies and trusts. As a forest friend living anywhere on the planet, you can support this grassroots initiative to preserve one of the most precious biodiversity hotspots of the world by donating your own personal funds, organising crowdfunding campaigns in your circles of influence, getting your friends in the corporate sector to do CSR funding.
India is one of the most water stressed countries in the world. Niti Aayog (a prominent Government of India think tank) report of 2018 states that 21 major cities in India (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing towards reaching zero groundwater levels affecting access of water for more than 100 million urban Indians. The reportalso states that by 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for millions of people. If we want to prevent the water crisis that Cape Town in South Africa witnessed, a decentralised collective approach to water management is the key.
Watch this film to see 15+ practical solutions that different residential communities in Gurgaon city in the water starved National Capital Region have implemented to conserve water. These water saving measures can be adopted by any residential condominium, township, office complex or institution anywhere in India.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BLOG
How to be Water Rich:
Respecting water by following the 4 Rs of water conservation is the only way forward if we do not want to experience day zero conditions when our taps will run dry. This blog details some water smart solutions that residential communities / office complexes / institutions can adopt under each of the below heads:
Case Study showing how a community reduced its water use by 20%
Recycle Grey Water & Sewage Water
Recharge Ground Water (a short video where a water expert talks about how to design community level ground water recharge structures efficiently and a detailed write up on implementation of Swales, a permaculture based ground water recharge technique)
SAVING WATER BY REDUCING CONSUMPTION
Water Meters – “What cannot be measured, cannot be improved.” It is critical to install water meters to determine the amount of water being used on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.
Waterless Urinals – As shown in the Water Rich Communities film, Richmond Park residential complex in Gurgaon has been using waterless urinals in their high usage public areas – club house and common area toilets for the past few years.
See these links below and explore using waterless urinals for the men’s common area toilets in your residential community and office complex.
Sprinklers and Shower Handles –Horticulture uses a lot of water. Using sprinklers and shower handles attached to pipes to water green spaces reduces water use by 50%.
Mulching –Putting dry leaves in plant beds and around trees significantly reduces amount of water used for horticulture as dry leaves act as a natural barrier preventing the soil from losing moisture as a result of exposure to the wind and the sun.
Planting Native Species – Planting has to be thought through very well keeping in mind the ecology of the region. In a semi arid or arid landscape, if you plant species which are water thirsty i.e those belonging to a moisture rich climate ecology, then these plants will require more waterwhich is criminal in these water stressed times. For example, in Gurgaon city, it is not water wise to plant Bengali Kadam which is a tree species from the moisture rich Bengal area and thus will require more water. This short film presents the views of Vijay Dhasmana, an ecologist and rewilder who talks about why planting native species of the right ecology is critical from the water availability point of view and how native plantation helps to create more biodiversity rich habitats in urban areas.
SAVING WATER BY REDUCING WASTAGE
Water Audit – This is an essential tool which helps to determine where all the water is being used in the complex, points of water wastage etc. Conducting periodic water audits and addressing the following questions helps in reducing wastage of water:
What is the kind of water wastage happening in our residential / office complex?
Are there any leaking taps, pipes and toilet cisterns?
Do our water tanks overflow at any time?
What mechanisms can we put in place to prevent different kinds of water wastage?
Installing Water Aerators in all the Taps – This simple solution helps to reduce water use by more than 60% per tap. Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant who supplies water aerators to individuals, residential communities, corporates and institutions says that aerators must be chosen on the basis of the purpose for which the tap is used. Mr. Pachar can be reached at email@example.com
20-25% of fresh water can be saved in homes / offices just by using aerators as per the below recommended specifications:
Bath showers: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 9-10 litres per minute.
Jet sprays: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 2-5 litres per minute.
Gardening: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 2-5 litres per minute.
Dish washing: Foam type aerator with flow rate of 5-10 litres per minute.
Wash basins: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 1-4 litres per minute.
Fixing Sensors in Overhead Water Tanks – Veena Padmanabhan, RWA member, Richmond Park complex in Gurgaon shares, “Earlier, there used to be a lot of water wastage in our condominium from overflowing water tanks on the roof tops. Now, after we have installed sensors, when the water tanks are getting full, the indication comes on a panel kept in our maintenance room. Even if the plumbers are busy, any staff member goes and shuts the valve which avoids any water from overflowing in the overhead tanks.”
Reducing Number of Common Area Taps and Switching to Push Taps – “Regulating water use is the key to reducing wastage of water. We figured that there were a lot of non-monitored taps in our condominium which could be opened by anyone (RWA staff members, drivers, part time helpers) at any point of time. We realised that quite often a lot of water would overflow because of some tap being left open by someone, somewhere by mistake. To address this problem of water wastage, we closed 3-4 of the common area taps. In the 2 existing common area taps, we have changed the system to ‘push taps’ to avoid water overflowing from buckets while people get busy chatting with each other,” shares Veena Padmanabhan, RWA member, Richmond Park complex in Gurgaon.
Prompt Fixing of Leaks – Leaking pipes, taps, toilet flushes are a big source of water wastage. System should be put into place to fix these immediately.
Mandating Designated Time for Car Cleaning – Instead of drivers and car cleaners having access to water taps all day long to clean cars, fixing car cleaning time for 2-3 hours in the morning helps to regulate water use.
Re-routing Water Dripping from Air Conditioners –Water dripping from the air conditioners in buildings is a big source of water wastage. This water can be easily rerouted to the water recharge pits using pipes.
Case Study: Water Management at Ireo Grand Arch Condo, Gurgaon
Water Use Reduced by 20% by following 2 Rs of Water Conservation
Raman Chawla, RWA President, Ireo Grand Arch, Gurgaon shares, “The builder handed over our residential complex to us without there being any piped water supply from HUDA – Haryana Urban Development Authority. The Grand Arch, located off Golf Course Extension Road in Gurgaon houses around 700 families and we have been dependent on getting water from tankers every day. HUDA water lines were connected to our condominium in June 2019 but they just meet about 10-40 percent of our total water needs as supply is very erratic. As a result, our dependence on water tankers remains high. At current consumption levels, residents pay a sum of INR 0.52 per sq ft for water use which works out to about INR 1200 per month for an average size 3 bedroom apartment.”
A Water Conservation Committee comprising of residents and RWA members was set up to study all possible aspects to reduce the huge water expenses being incurred by the residents. A detailed audit was carried out by the RWA and it was decided to monitor consumption patterns and plug-in wastages. Grand Arch has been helped by a Sustainability Consultant – Sunil Pachar, who helps RWAs, Corporates and Institutions to carry out water audits, suggests measures for water conservation and helps with the implementation of the same. Mr. Pachar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Following water conservation measures based on reducing water wastage and consumption were implemented by Grand Arch RWA:
Water aerators have been installed in all the sinks in the bathrooms and kitchens in all the flats using RWA funds. According to Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant who supplied the water aerators to Grand Arch, “Every RWA should adopt this extremely effective water saving approach. This simple step of installing water aerators has helped to bring down overall water use per household by 20-25% in Grand Arch. Buying in bulk reduces the price of the aerators significantly. The RWA ended up paying INR 80-85 per water aerator for a leading German brand called NeoPerl. Neoperl (www.neoperl.net) is the market leader with about 70% of the market share. The other players are too small and do not offer the diversity of water aerators that Neoperl provides. Moreover, the quality of Neoperl aerators is far superior as compared to other brands,”
The water audit pointed out that leakages in the basement were major contributors to water being wasted in the complex. Steps were taken to plug in all the leakage points.
All the gardeners in the complex have been trained to (a) use showers/sprinklers while watering the green spaces (b) stagger watering timing in summer to early morning/late evening to avoid wastage through evaporation.
All defective garden sprinklers have been repaired or replaced.
Members of the Water Conservation Committee have been sensitising the residents by sending e-mails/whatsapp messages, putting up posters on notice boards in different towers and the club house and by involving children who have been doing ‘Nukkad Nataks’ during cultural events and painting competitions on the critical importance of reducing wastage and consumption of water.
House-maids have been trained to save water since they participate in all the cleaning chores like washing utensils, clothes, mopping floors etc.
Measures were also taken to rectify the sewage treatment plant (STP) which was not working at the desired level of performance.
According to Raman Chawla, RWA President, Ireo Grand Arch, Gurgaon, “All these measures have translated to a tangible 20% i.e. 30 lakh litres of water saving within our condominium. There is however a definite scope of further improvement. Our RWA is currently in the process of exploring all available options to reduce water usage by installing smart metering systems which will help our residents to monitor and reduce water consumption at their home level. Another critical thing that we need to look into is ground water recharge.”
SAVING WATER BY REUSING AND RECYCLING
Can this water be given one more life?Can it be used one more time before it is finally drained out? These are powerful questions that help to flip our approach to the way we look at water management. All you need is some investment in piping or plumbing to reroute the water to reuse the same.
Reusing Swimming Pool Water for Horticulture – “We do not let any drop of water go waste in our complex. Even the swimming pool water is re-routed every year at the end of the season to the community garden using a pump. This water is used by the gardeners for watering the green spaces instead of just being drained. Our plants have survived the chlorinated water without any problem!”, shares Veena Padmanabhan, RWA member, Richmond Park complex in Gurgaon.
Using Recycled Grey Water and Treated Sewage Waterfor Horticultureare 2 extremely water smart solutions as the water saving on an everyday basis is huge as your community or office complex or institution is not using thousands of litres of fresh water for this purpose. As water availability in Indian cities goes down over the next few years, using treated grey water (waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines) and black water (sewage water from toilet flushes) is the only way, residential and office complexes would be able to maintain their green spaces. According to Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant, “Water recycling is very cost effective as the cost of water recycling works out to around 4-5 paisa per litre as compared to the huge cost of withdrawing water from the ground which is depleting at alarming levels in most Indian cities.”
Grey water recycling is really easy to implement as it just requires a tank to be built below the building to collect the water coming from the bathroom wash basins, shower areas and washing machines. This tank needs to be cleaned once in 15 days. A simple pre chamber can be built using small pebbles, carbon blocks and alum which helps in avoiding any smell issues.
Surbhi Iyer, Eco Team Member from Silver Oaks shares, “Total cost of setting up 9 grey water recycling tanks with a capacity of 5000 litres per tank came to approximately INR 3,60,000 (INR 40,000 per tank x 9 tanks). We built 9 tanks over a period of 5 years so it was not a drain on the RWAs financial resources.”
Researchers from Bangalore have shown that recycling and reusing grey water for gardening, flushing, cleaning cars etc in a residential complexreduces almost 70% of the total fresh water requirement. The study was carried out at ‘T-Zed Homes’ residential complex which saved almost Rs 10 lakh per annum in fresh water bills and reduced its groundwater withdrawal.
Grey water recycling is an eco-friendly, economical and effective way of providing water security to every residential and office complex in India. Countries such as Japan are using grey water recycling extensively to overcome their water deficit. Using small treatment plants and closed-loop water supply system at the building level, Japan reuses more than 53 million litres of water every single day.
“While using STP water, an important precaution that needs to be taken is to use the treated water within 24 hours. If it is stored for longer, issues of smell can come in. In such a situation, it is best to re-filter the water before using it for horticulture,” shares Keshav Jaini, Eco Team Member from Garden Estate.
SAVING WATER BY RECHARGING GROUND WATER
‘Will our children and future generations get water to drink’ is the thought that should motivate every community, office complex and institution to invest in constructing rain water recharge structures. Currently in India, we barely recharge 10% of the rain water. In urban areas, rain water recharge is negligible. With so much concretisation in our cities, there is hardly any place for the rain water to sink in and it leads to water logging in all our streets across urban India every monsoon. This needs to change. Groundwater recharge needs to be taken up on war footing in all our towns and cities if we do not want to face ground zero situation when our taps will run dry.
Ground Water Recharge Structures – From a community / office / institution perspective, what are the things to keep in mind while designing an efficient rain water recharge structure that will allow maximum percolation of rain water into the ground? This video presents the views of Sunil Pachar, a Sustainability Expert working in the area of providing water management solutions to RWAs, corporates and institutions. Mr. Pachar can be reached at email@example.com
Swales as shown in the Water Rich Communities film are trenches dug on gently sloping land / natural drains / storm water drains (nallahs) to capture rain water so that it is absorbed in the ground rather than let it flow out of the area which would then be lost in drainage.
The permaculture principles at work in swales are called the 3S: Slow it, Spread it and Sink it. The swale is blocked at every 10 feet or so using wooden logs or sand filled bags to further slow and collect the rain water thereby allowing only the overflow to go to the next trench. Soil holding, filtration plants can be planted in the swale to help more water to sink in. Organic brown material in the form of dry leaves and wooden branches from the horticulture waste can be added to make the soil more porous. The worms and microbes start acting on this carbon material. As it decomposes and becomes mulch in the ground, it helps to open the soil below, thereby making it easier for the water to seep into the ground.
Typically, the site where you want to dig the swale has to be assessed and studied for soil, slope, erosion, porosity and the flow, volume and speed of water. It is important to study the water coming in. If the water is too polluted, a natural filtration process using plants or filtration media (stones, pebbles) should be created. Please note that soil is a natural filter and will clean the water as it gets absorbed.
Keshav Jaini, Eco Team Member, Garden Estate, Gurgaon shares, “In our residential complex, we already had several rain water recharge structures made in 2002. We implemented the swales project to capture the rain water flowing out of our estate in the storm water drain. We have created individual trenches of 2ft X 2ft over a length of 150 feet. The total holding capacity of the entire swale is 600 cubic feet which can hold about 17000 litres of water. Initially, when it starts raining, the soil is dry and so the rain water seeps in very quickly. Once the soil absorbs the initial rush of water, the absorption rate becomes slower. In one normal 30 minutes rain, we collect and sink about 25000 litres of water in the complete swale. Time taken for the water to sink in ranges from 1 hour to 3 hours. If it rains again after 3 or 4 hours, the swale is again ready to absorb another 25000 litres. We calculated that in the month of August 2019, when we had 12 rounds of monsoon rains, our swale helped us recharge about 300,000 litres of water (25000 litres x 12 rains) into the ground. This is a very economical, ground water recharge solution. All we spent was INR 5000 as labour cost for digging the swale. The whole project is completely natural helping to regenerate mother earth in multiple ways.”
For queries and guidance on implementation of swales techniqueas a ground water recharge solution,please contact: Mr. Keshav Jaini, Garden Estate, Gurgaon at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author Neelam Ahluwalia at the email: email@example.com