Water management: What Bengaluru can learn from towns like Devanahalli

Two towns – Hunsmaranahalli and Devanahalli have made their water system remarkably resilient. Can Bengaluru follow in their footsteps?

If you have travelled on the new Airport Road to or from Bengaluru, you would see the quarried hill in Bettahalasur, a village near the outskirts of the city that looms large on the westward horizon. Abutting this quarry is the old village of Hunasamaranahalli, now part of Bengaluru’s peri-urban area. In a narrow lane in Hunasamaranahalli, there is an open well. This is its story.

At a time of an acute water crisis, this story holds many lessons for us in Bengaluru.

From quarry to community: The story of an open well

A couple of years ago, Hunsmaranahalli and its neighbouring Gram Panchayat, Sonapannahalli, were merged and urbanised into a town municipality (also called Hunsmaranahalli) with a population of 40,000 residents. My colleagues and I have been working with this new municipality to help fulfil its responsibility to supply water to its citizens.

Its foundation stone declares that it was built by K M Parvatayya of Bettahalasur in 1973, to serve the drinking water needs of the public. Our conversation with the women, who lived around the well, revealed much more. Their community migrated here a generation (or more) back as quarry workers for the Bettahalasur quarry. The stones they quarried must have built the foundations of the Bengaluru we know today.

This well served the entire community of quarry workers and fulfilled their drinking water needs. As Bengaluru grew, Hunsmaranahalli urbanised and occupations diversified. The piped water supply reached the community’s households, but it faced issues with intermittent and inadequate water flow. Over the years, maintenance of the well also suffered.

We asked the local women, “Can the town authorities revive this well and integrate it into the water supply?” Their response was quick: “Help us relocate the pulleys so we can manually withdraw water without affecting traffic on the street, but please do not install a pump!” Their firm stance against modern pumping solutions intrigued us.

community well
Bettahalasuru well. Pic: Avinash Krishnamurthy

Read more: The ‘Million Wells for Bengaluru’ campaign aims to recharge the city’s groundwater


Why were the women of Hunsmaranahalli against a motor pump?

“A few years ago, a pump led to overuse and the well’s depletion,” the women shared, explaining their preference for manual water withdrawal to prevent the well from drying out. “This way, we only use what we need, ensuring the well remains a reliable source during municipal shortages or power outages.”

Honouring the community’s wisdom, the town municipality chose not to install a motor at this well. Today, it is rejuvenated, and over a hundred households manually draw water from it daily for their domestic non-potable needs!

Women from the households around the well now rely on the well for their everyday domestic non-drinking needs even during the peak of summer.

An open well properly guarded by grills
Open well at Devanahalli. Pic: Ayushi, Biome

Safeguarding lakes and aquifers

How conscious are we of our usage, so that our wasteful demands don’t dry ‘our wells’ up? Do we recognise the natural water bodies and heritage that serves us – our keres (lakes), kuntes (ponds), kalyanis (step wells) and bhavis (wells)? Do we think about building our resilience for difficult times, like the women of Hunsmaranahalli did? Can we hold our institutions accountable to these needs?

Beneath the surface of Bengaluru’s water crisis lies a critical question:

  • Has the city acknowledged its significant reliance on groundwater, which accounts for nearly half of its supply?
  • Are we, along with our institutions, fully aware of and actively managing the crucial aquifers beneath us?

We need to safeguard our lakes for recharge, maintain our wells, and enhance the utilisation of our groundwater aquifers effectively. With a heritage of open wells, Bengaluru needs to acknowledge the critical role of the shallow aquifer – the aquifer that open wells tap into – and proactively manage it as a resource that is as important as the Cauvery river.

The shallow aquifer is one resource where conflict, if any, will be local and not with neighbouring states. Can we work to ensure that these aquifers are filled up during the monsoons so that they can help us become resilient when we face a drought, while mitigating floods in case of heavier than normal rains? Appropriately treated wastewaters of Bengaluru can fill up the city’s lakes, which can also recharge our aquifers. By prioritising the shallow waters, Bengaluru can become climate resilient in its practices.

Today, Hunsmaranahalli is leveraging its shallow aquifer to enhance the resilience of its water supply system. The town has rejuvenated and so far incorporated five of its traditional open wells. Two of the larger ones from which the town regularly pumps water have added 85 million litres to its water supply over 14 months. Communities withdraw water for domestic use from the other wells.

A portion of the treated waste waters of Bengaluru, under the Hebbal and Nagawara (H&N) Valley project is let into the Hunasamaranahalli lake, and without any river source for the town, this import of treated waste water is important. Under the H&N Valley project 210 MLD of Bengaluru’s domestic waste water is treated upto secondary levels and pumped to 65 lakes across Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural Districts. This approach of using treated waste water by first recharging its shallow aquifer and then tapping into it, is a way Bengaluru is sharing the Cauvery river with the town.

The municipality of Hunasamaranahalli is currently working with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partners to explore how more of its shallow aquifer waters can be integrated with its water supply, through the revival of other old open wells, by digging new ones and by digging ‘filter borewells’. Hunsmaranahalli has learnt from another town nearby – Devanahalli.


Read more: Averting Day Zero: How Bengaluru should manage its water


A model of wastewater integration: Devanahalli’s story

Devanahalli is a town of 30,000 residents located behind the Kempegowda International Airport, and it too receives treated waste waters from the H&N Valley project in two lakes within its administrative boundary – the Sihineeru Kere (meaning “sweet water lake”), once the town’s primary source of drinking water) and a lake that is locally called Dodda Kere.

Through CSR initiatives, Devanahalli restored a neglected well near Sihineeru Kere and installed two filter borewells. These were then connected to the town’s water supply, with the water treated to meet BIS-10500 standards before use.

This new system currently treats and delivers:

150 – 200 Kilolitres per day (KLD) and is in the process of being upgraded to 500 KLD. The town is exploring if its entire need of about 4MLD can be met through the shallow aquifers recharged by H&N Valley waters by identifying and tapping other open wells and filter borewells. Bengaluru should learn from this and lead the way in understanding risks and developing risk barriers and mitigants to reuse treated wastewaters.

sihineeru lake
Sihineeru Kere, Devanahalli. Pic: Ayushi, Biome

Reimagine the role of our institutions

Officials from the institutions of governance of Bengaluru and Karnataka have visited Devanahalli to see and learn from the town. During the recent crisis in Bengaluru, the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) declared that using treated wastewater in lakes for recharge is going to be a key response from the institution.

It is promising that these initiatives are gaining attention, but there is much more to be done. Bengaluru’s institutions must understand the intricate connections between surface water, rainwater, groundwater, lakes, and the Cauvery river water that is being pumped into Bengaluru from around a 100km. If we understand these connections, we will also reimagine our infrastructure to integrate local groundwater into our water supply formally.

We also need institutions to acknowledge the link between the health of the Cauvery river’s catchment forests and ecosystems, and Bengaluru’s water security. Are these institutions equipped to guarantee water access for everyone in Bengaluru? Can they communicate these challenges to make the entire city a part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem?

Only by answering these crucial water questions, reimagining our institutions, and acting on that new understanding can Bengaluru guarantee water security for all – now and in the face of climate change.

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Comments:

  1. Shiva Hanumanahally says:

    Supplying treated water to lakes is a good thing. But I wonder if we are letting chemicals, heavy metals (from household cleaning) into these lakes. The water is not potable means it might not be free from these. Are we polluting our underground water resources doing this ? We might drink after RO but ground water is polluted

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