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Water conservation

Our ancient religious texts and epics give a good insight into the water storage and conservation systems that prevailed in those days.
Over the years rising populations, growing industrialization, and expanding agriculture have pushed up the demand for water. Efforts have been made to collect water by building dams and reservoirs and digging wells; some countries have also tried to recycle and desalinate (remove salts) water. Water conservation has become the need of the day. The idea of ground water recharging by harvesting rainwater is gaining importance in many cities.

In the forests, water seeps gently into the ground as vegetation breaks the fall. This groundwater in turn feeds wells, lakes, and rivers. Protecting forests means protecting water 'catchments'. In ancient India, people believed that forests were the 'mothers' of rivers and worshipped the sources of these water bodies.

Some ancient Indian methods of water conservation
The Indus Valley Civilization, that flourished along the banks of the river Indus and other parts of western and northern India about 5,000 years ago, had one of the most sophisticated urban water supply and sewage systems in the world. The fact that the people were well acquainted with hygiene can be seen from the covered drains running beneath the streets of the ruins at both Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Another very good example is the well-planned city of Dholavira, on Khadir Bet, a low plateau in the Rann in Gujarat. One of the oldest water harvesting systems is found about 130 km from Pune along Naneghat in the Western Ghats. A large number of tanks were cut in the rocks to provide drinking water to tradesmen who used to travel along this ancient trade route. Each fort in the area had its own water harvesting and storage system in the form of rock-cut cisterns, ponds, tanks and wells that are still in use today. A large number of forts like Raigad had tanks that supplied water.
In ancient times, houses in parts of western Rajasthan were built so that each had a rooftop water harvesting system. Rainwater from these rooftops was directed into underground tanks. This system can be seen even today in all the forts, palaces and houses of the region.
Underground baked earthen pipes and tunnels to maintain the flow of water and to transport it to distant places, are still functional at Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh, Golkunda and Bijapur in Karnataka, and Aurangabad in Maharashtra.

Rainwater harvesting
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
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.


Agriculture
Conservation of water in the agricultural sector is essential since water is necessary for the growth of plants and crops. A depleting water table and a rise in salinity due to overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has made matters serious. Various methods of water harvesting and recharging have been and are being applied all over the world to tackle the problem. In areas where rainfall is low and water is scarce, the local people have used simple techniques that are suited to their region and reduce the demand for water.
In India's arid and semi-arid areas, the 'tank' system is traditionally the backbone of agricultural production. Tanks are constructed either by bunding or by excavating the ground and collecting rainwater.
Rajasthan, located in the Great Indian Desert, receives hardly any rainfall, but people have adapted to the harsh conditions by collecting whatever rain falls. Large bunds to create reservoirs known as khadin, dams called johads, tanks, and other methods were applied to check water flow and accumulate run-off. At the end of the monsoon season, water from these structures was used to cultivate crops. Similar systems were developed in other parts of the country. These are known by various local names ¾ jal talais in Uttar Pradesh, the haveli system in Madhya Pradesh, ahar in Bihar, and so on.

Reducing water demand
Simple techniques can be used to reduce the demand for water. The underlying principle is that only part of the rainfall or irrigation water is taken up by plants, the rest percolates into the deep groundwater, or is lost by evaporation from the surface. Therefore, by improving the efficiency of water use, and by reducing its loss due to evaporation, we can reduce water demand.
There are numerous methods to reduce such losses and to improve soil moisture. Some of them are listed below.
Mulching, i.e., the application of organic or inorganic material such as plant debris, compost, etc., slows down the surface run-off, improves the soil moisture, reduces evaporation losses and improves soil fertility.
Soil covered by crops, slows down run-off and minimizes evaporation losses. Hence, fields should not be left bare for long periods of time.
Ploughing helps to move the soil around. As a consequence it retains more water thereby reducing evaporation.
Shelter belts of trees and bushes along the edge of agricultural fields slow down the wind speed and reduce evaporation and erosion.
Planting of trees, grass, and bushes breaks the force of rain and helps rainwater penetrate the soil.
Fog and dew contain substantial amounts of water that can be used directly by adapted plant species. Artificial surfaces such as netting-surfaced traps or polyethylene sheets can be exposed to fog and dew. The resulting water can be used for crops.
Contour farming is adopted in hilly areas and in lowland areas for paddy fields. Farmers recognize the efficiency of contour-based systems for conserving soil and water.
Salt-resistant varieties of crops have also been developed recently. Because these grow in saline areas, overall agricultural productivity is increased without making additional demands on freshwater sources. Thus, this is a good water conservation strategy.
Transfer of water from surplus areas to deficit areas by inter-linking water systems through canals, etc.
Desalination technologies such as distillation, electro-dialysis and reverse osmosis are available.
Use of efficient watering systems such as drip irrigation and sprinklers will reduce the water consumption by plants.

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.

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