Air has been talk of the town lately. The Air Quality Index (AQI) reached above 400 in cities of Uttar Pradesh. Along with the hazardous effect on life, this has adversely affected the groundwater quality of the places. The relation between the two is imminent. Unfortunately, the levels of groundwater are at the critical state in Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh, and air pollution has added more impediments to its availability.
There are two essential needs of all living beings on our planet- clean air and safe water; rest all comes thereafter. India’s agriculture and drinking water supply majorly depend upon groundwater. About 89% of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation, 9% is used in household, followed by the industry that uses only 2% of it.
Also, India is the largest consumer of groundwater – 24 percent of the global total, more than that of China and the US combined, and we are the third-largest exporter of groundwater – 12 percent of the global total.
By meddling with the air quality, we have altered the quality of our groundwater and the availability of clean water.
How is Pollution and Rainwater Harvesting Related
Pollutants such as gasoline, oils, road salts, and chemicals can make their way into groundwater through soil percolation. These pollutants are either absorbed directly from the land surface, such as pesticides and fertilizers added into the soil or through the contaminated rainwater that has captured particulates from the bad quality air. We already know about the first part; let us dig more on the latter.
It is a known fact that rainfall reduces air pollution in the troposphere (the troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere where nearly all weather conditions take place) as it captures the contaminants and dissolves it. But in the present scenario, the amount of rainfall is decreasing both in the quality and quantity. Thanks to our non-environment-friendly activities. Consequently, the rainwater enriched in dissolved ions derived from the air pollutants percolates through the ground surface and reaches the groundwater levels, leading to its contamination.
The following will explain what happens:
- The rise in contaminated rainwater lowers the pH and alkalinity of the groundwater.
- Long-term percolation of polluted rainwater increases calcium, magnesium, nitrate, and sulfate in shallow groundwater.
- The increase in NO2 concentration is due to the burning of fuel, emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, and off-road equipment. The winter rainfall thus has a higher level of NO2 ions due to heating systems. This further adds more pollutants into the groundwater reserves.
- Non-point source (NPS) pollution is the nation’s largest source of water quality problems. NPS pollutants include motor vehicle contaminants, lawn and garden pesticides, and nutrients, sediment, road salts, thermal pollution from impervious surfaces such as roofs and roadways, heavy metals from homes and vehicles. When rainwater flows over impervious surfaces and the landscape, it picks up pollutants. Seepage of such contaminated water is another cause of depletion of groundwater quality.
According to the Central Water Commission, India receives enough annual rainfall to meet the need of over one billion-plus people. It receives 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain while we need a maximum of 3,000 billion cubic meters of water a year. So why we have water scarcity issues? The issue is the inappropriate treatment of the rainwater.
Depleting groundwater- Rainwater Harvesting is a solution & need
Along with contamination, high pace depletion of groundwater resources is another concern in our country. “Groundwater in northern India is being depleted at a rate of 19.2 gigatons per year,” said Matthew Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
A report released in the year 2018 by Niti Aayog predicts Day Zero for 21 Indian cities by the year 2020. Day Zero refers to the day when a place is likely to have no drinking water of its own. The Niti Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) points to Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad amongst the most susceptible cities.
This is because India captures only 8% of its annual rainfall. With the increasing demands of rising population and unplanned urban development, the traditional modes of water capturing in ponds are diminishing. There are other countries in the world, like Israel, where 100% of its used water is treated, and 94% is recycled back to households.
There is another reason which is contributing to this downfall. The Easement Act of 1882 regulates water usage by a person on his/her land. It gives every landowner the right to collect and dispose of groundwater and surface water within his/her limits. This law is still in operation and fails to keep the check on the extraction of groundwater.
There are new and recent innovations in the field of rainwater harvesting. The equipment has been made more economical, and there are new firms getting established to provide rainwater harvesting service. The government and non-government bodies are working round the clock to spread awareness. Private households and companies are becoming an active part of this trend, though there are some hindrances to it as well. As told by Ramesh Chauhan, Chairman of Bisleri, due to the number of permissions required at multiple levels and lack of proper processes, the intent of companies for harvesting rainwater is being compromised. The companies must undergo the lengthy procedures of taking permissions. The government also requires a look from this perspective.
Some alarming facts
- One billion people in India live in areas of physical water scarcity.
- Six hundred million people are in areas of high to extreme water stress.
- Among 122 countries, India is currently ranked 120 in terms of water quality index.
- India’s rate of groundwater depletion increased by 23 percent during the 2010-2018 period.
There is an urgent need to check on air and water pollution, by every organization and individual on this planet. The facts are not inspiring, and instead of so many efforts, we are still lacking in achieving a sustainable environment. It means we need to buckle up for more rigorous planning.
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