Preserving Bengaluru’s water resources A critical race against time to save the lakes

As Bengaluru braces for the impending heat of another summer, the city is already facing a severe water crisis, which has left citizens struggling to access clean water for their daily needs, despite the city pumping 1,450 million litres of water daily (MLD) from the Cauvery River. The situation is so critical that Bengaluru faces a shocking 1,680 MLD shortfall. Even the upcoming activation of the Cauvery V Stage in April 2024, which promises an additional 775 MLD, is not enough to alleviate the problem. The city’s heavy reliance on groundwater, with a daily extraction rate of 700 MLD, only serves to worsen the crisis, putting immense pressure on aquifers and further increasing vulnerability. This dire situation calls for effective management as officials grapple with uncertainty and competing demands.

Urbanisation’s Impact on Natural Resources

The rapid pace of urbanisation and industrialisation in India has taken a tremendous toll on the country’s natural ecosystems, vegetated regions, and wetlands. Bengaluru, a prime example of this trend, is one of Asia’s fastest-growing megacities, and home to over ten million people. The city’s exponential growth, largely driven by the IT sector, has led to significant changes in land cover and encroachment on natural ecosystems. These changes, coupled with shifts in farming practices and water pollution, have further exacerbated the situation. 

Dr. Prakash Chauhan, Director of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), revealed that 65 lakes have been lost since 1965, and that average temperatures in Bengaluru have climbed by 1.5 degrees Celsius during the last two decades. 
Over the past 25 years, urbanisation in Bengaluru has surged by over 87%, resulting in a significant decline in lake and wetland areas. According to Dr. Chauhan, this expansion has led to a 30% decrease in the area previously occupied by these crucial water bodies. He highlighted the deplorable state of Bengaluru’s urban surface water bodies, pointing to dramatic decreases in both quantity and quality. Bengaluru has lost nearly 10 square kilometres of lake area in the previous two decades alone, worsening the city’s water shortage. 

Bengaluru: The City of Lakes
Bengaluru lakes

Bengaluru, often known as the “Garden City” or the “City of Lakes,” has a long history of lake and tank systems that date back to the Vijayanagara dynasty. Originally created by King Kempegowda to address drinking water needs, these systems grew under following rulers such as the Wodeyars and the Maharajas of Mysore. As the landscape changed, the once-natural flow of water became intricately linked with human activity, laying the groundwork for both success and peril in Bangalore’s aquatic environment. 

Bengaluru has launched ambitious water supply projects in response to rising water demand and the strain on groundwater resources. One of the first attempts was constructing the Hessarghatta tank, roughly 24 kilometres from the city centre. Originally built as a reservoir in 1894, it was extensively renovated and expanded to serve as a stable water source for Bengaluru. Furthermore, reservoirs such as Sampangi, Sankey, Ulsoor, and Dharmambuddhi replaced local wells and tanks, indicating a shift toward more reliable river-fed sources. 

The Arkavathy river’s critical significance in Bengaluru’s water supply became clear with the construction of the Thippagondanahalli tank in 1934. This reservoir, designed to supply 135 million litres of water per day, helped to alleviate some of the city’s water shortages. However, as the metropolitan landscape expanded, the Cauvery River emerged as the principal lifeline, now providing 80% of Bengaluru’s water supply. Despite this reliance on external sources, ancient reservoirs like Thippagondanahalli continue to play an important role in the city’s water security, highlighting the complex relationships between traditional and modern water management systems in Bengaluru’s changing urban fabric. 

Wetlands are shrinking, and water bodies are diminishing
shrinking bengaluru lakes

The most major change in Bengaluru since 1965 has been the rapid expansion of built-up regions, which has resulted in the destruction of natural resources such as wetlands, woods, and crop-shrub mosaic. Built-up areas grew threefold, from 7.3% in 1965 to 52.4% in 2009, with the fastest development rate occurring from 2014 to 2018. In contrast, the overall area of water bodies declined from 3% to 2% over the same time, compounding the loss of natural ecosystems.  Moreover, the decline in community involvement in lake maintenance has accelerated the rapid decline of lakes in Bengaluru, providing a serious challenge to efforts to preserve the city’s decreasing water resources. 

Pollution Threatens Bengaluru’s Wetlands: A Statistical Overview

Pollution in Bengaluru’s existing wetlands is a severe problem, with serious consequences for both the ecosystem and public health. Untreated wastewater influxes have resulted in a massive increase in pollutant levels. This influx has resulted in a significant increase in nutrient enrichment, promoting the rapid growth of macrophytes while disturbing the fragile ecological balance of these ecosystems.

Furthermore, the problem has had a significant impact on Bengaluru’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to recent studies, the city emits roughly 19,796.5 gigagrams (Gg) of CO2 equivalents, most of which come from the waste and domestic wastewater sectors. Domestic wastewater emits an astonishing 759.29 Gg, whereas municipal solid waste generates 374.73 Gg of CO2 equivalents. 

Bellandur Lake, sometimes known as the ‘Lake of Fire,’ represents Bengaluru’s water crisis. This huge lake, once a key supply of water for the city, has been neglected for decades and polluted by industries. Its reputation peaked when it caught fire on February 17, 2017, spewing hazardous smoke into the air. Earth5R’s ‘Lake of Fire’ cleanup project highlights the urgent need for action. The survey results show a harsh reality: hazardous waste and sewage have poisoned the lake’s waters for more than 20 years. Residents and businesses worsen the problem by dumping rubbish randomly around the neighbourhood.

The environmental consequences are grave, with toxic foam creating health dangers during rainy seasons, and the water’s miserable stench and green colour indicating significant contamination. As a result, animals and local populations suffer, underscoring the critical need for intervention. Bellandur Lake’s struggle mirrors past environmental tragedies, providing a wake-up call to protect Bengaluru’s water bodies before it’s too late. 

Community Initiatives: Promoting Local Action

Kyalasanahalli’s rehabilitation represents the blooming resurgence of Bengaluru’s waterbodies. Historically, Bengaluru, or Bengaluru, had over 1,500 interconnected bodies of water, which played an important role in controlling the city’s water cycle and microclimate. However, increased urbanisation over the last 50 years has degraded and shrunk these waterbodies, aggravating urban concerns such as flooding and water scarcity. 

In response to these serious challenges, a slew of citizen- and government-led projects have emerged to revitalise Bengaluru’s lakes, many of which have fallen into disrepair and served as waste and sewage disposal sites. Over the last six years, these efforts have successfully rejuvenated other lakes, including Kyalasanahalli, changing them from dismal wastelands to thriving ecosystems. Plans are ongoing to revive an additional 150 lakes in the Bengaluru region, highlighting the city’s momentum in water restoration initiatives.

As Bengaluruans work together to recover their water legacy, community-driven projects provide promise for a sustainable future in which water resources are valued and preserved for future generations.

Anand Malligavad’s Impactful Conservation Efforts

In an extraordinary tale of conservation, Anand Malligavad emerges as a light of hope, advocating for the repair of Bengaluru’s contaminated lakes. Malligavad, a Karnataka native, is widely recognised as one of India’s leading experts in lake rehabilitation. His journey began with an unexpected plunge into a contaminated lake in 2017, which significantly altered his life. The stench it left on him was so strong that the security guard at his residential complex initially refused to let him in. The following day, Malligavad pitched the idea of restoring the lake to his company, Sansera Engineering – despite having no experience or knowledge about lake restoration. His idea was initially met with scepticism, but his relentless perseverance paid off when the firm provided a $100,000 project fund. 

Drawing inspiration from historic Chola dynasty methods, he launched a massive cleanup effort, meticulously eliminating tons of debris and restoring the lake’s natural ecosystem. His innovative feat signalled the start of a new professional chapter in which he handled the restoration of 35 lakes throughout Bengaluru, greatly increasing groundwater levels in the area. Malligavad’s unwavering commitment demonstrates the critical need for environmental conservation in India’s water-stressed landscape. 

The transformation of dirty lakes into flourishing ecosystems overflowing with native flora and animals demonstrates Mr. Malligavad’s steadfast commitment to environmental sustainability. His vision of restoring a hundred thousand lakes before his time serves as a rallying cry for communities across the country, emphasising the critical role of water conservation in preserving our shared future. 


Water every other day: Bengaluru is drying up & destruction of lakes is the reason 
Why Bengaluru is running dry ahead of peak summer 
Bengaluru lakes, in crisis! 
Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Urban Wetlands in an Indian Megacity over the Past 50 Years 
Reviving the Lost Waterways of India’s ‘City of Lakes’ 
India’s ‘Lake Man’ Relies on Ancient Methods to Ease a Water Crisis 

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