A Participatory Integrated Urban Water Management Approach: Jakkur Lake

NAKULAN N

Jakkur is one of the largest lakes in the inter-connected grid of man-made lakes in the city of Bangalore. With a water spread of 50 Ha and a catchment area of 19.2 sq.km the lake is not only primarily responsible for recharging the groundwater in Yelahanka, Alasandra and Kogilu but also has historical and cultural significance.  Over the years, increased pace of urbanization and a transformation of land use pattern around the lake changed the lake from a scenic freshwater lake into a dump of the city’s domestic sewage and solid waste. The biodiversity around the lake was declining rapidly and lake was having a slow painful death. However, the timely intervention by the city and a concerted effort by citizen groups has not only resurrected the lake but has also opened the possibility of replicating this model in other parts of the country plagued with similar problems.

Jakkur – Participatory Approach

In 2005, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board constructed a 10 MLD (million litres per day) Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the northern corner of the lake (Srikantaiah 2016). The STP receives wastewater from neighbouring areas and releases the treated water into an artificially constructed wasteland adjacent to the lake. The wetland has natural vegetation that absorbs excess nutrients still present in water after treatment and the water flows into the lake.

The water quality has improved over the years with biodiversity in and around the lake steadily bringing the lake back to its pristine beauty and ecological function. In order to understand how and when a participatory approach was followed in the rejuvenation of the lake, it becomes imperative to understand the regulatory structure in place and the roles performed by these regulators over the years.

Organization Role
Bangalore Development Authority Built infrastructure around the lake
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board Owns and operates the STP
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike Owner of the Lake
Fisheries Department Regulates fishing in the lake
Forest Department Responsible for Vegetation around the lake
Groundwater Authority Supervises groundwater extraction
Karnataka Lake Development Authority Apex body for lake management
State Pollution Control Board Parent regulator of pollution and STPs

In 2005, the Bangalore Development Authority developed physical infrastructure around the lake including construction of bunds, pathway, lighting and barriers to prevent solid waste from entering the lake. In the same time, a citizen group with residents from the neighbouring areas was formed to assist and guide the authorities. The group slowly took a formal shape into ‘Jala Poshan’ and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the BBMP to manage the lake.

Amidst the network of regulators and delegated authority between institutions, the citizens group has found greater efficiency in handling the day to day management of the lake. First, they see to that the infrastructure built around the lake is not damaged and sensitize local populace on how to best use the lake. Second, they try to have maximum vigilance over miscreants who try to pollute the lake. Cases of medical waste, farm waste and poultry waste being dumped into the lake have been spotted immediately. Though said actions could not be prevented by the group, the rapport shared between the group and the authority led to the timely intervention to clean up the mess and prevent it from harming the lake in the long run. Third, they try to build awareness about their activities and involve other people viz., students, activists etc. and organize lake walks and other leisure activities around the lake. In addition to increasing their visibility, it also breaks the perceptional barrier that people towards an urban lake where alpine like attributes are expected. Fourth, the group ensures the real stakeholders which includes the fishing community and adjacent peri-urban area that derive their water from the lake (though recharge wells) are integrated into the management process and their connection to the lake is maintained.

A citizen-led approach diffuses the principal-agent problem and transfers ownership to the real stakeholders. The approach also diffuses the regulatory complexity and simplifies problems into simple variables upon which the concerned authorities can swiftly act. The reminder of ownership and the importance of the lake, helps local communities to have a strict vigil over the lake and they act as the first line of defense against miscreants. The cost of such enforcement techniques is much cheaper than centrally controlled techniques.

Integrated Urban Water Management and Jakkur Lake

“IUWM is described as the practice of managing freshwater, wastewater, and storm water as components of a basin-wide management plan. It builds on existing water supply and sanitation considerations within an urban settlement by incorporating urban water management within the scope of the entire river basin.” (Tucci and Goldenfum 2009)

In other words, integrated urban water management is an approach by which the city’s water resources are conceived as one single entity and managed towards satiating the water requirements in its entirety. The method enables a framework in which the true ecological cost of water is paid by all stakeholders who consume water.

In Jakkur, the freshwater the lake receives from rainfall, the sewage water received through BWSSB pipeline (from the STP) and the storm water received through the storm water drainage are all passed through the artificial wetland to the benefit of entire lake ecosystem. It does not differentiate between the source of water. Such an approach maintains the ecological flow of water in the lake.

Benefits

The approach has yielded rich benefits to various stakeholders over the past decade. The fish population in the lake has increased substantially with the catch reaching as high as 600 kg/day during season. In a rapidly urbanizing city, this provides direct employment to communities that have traditionally depended on the fish in the lake for livelihoods and maintains their historic connection and sense of responsibility to the lake. The recharge wells in the vicinity are regularly recharged and the peri-urban population outside the city jurisdiction are able to meet their domestic water requirements.

The increased recharge rate of groundwater around the lake has enabled the extraction of groundwater which is then transported to the city through tankers which reduces the water stress in the city. The ecological landscape around the lake has increased the usage of lake for leisure and cultural purposes which has modified the complexion of the lake. Such sustained benefits to various stakeholders has placed this model as a potential game changer to be replicated.

Problems

While the STP treats the sewage water, the storm water largely enters the artificial wetland untreated. Over time, this has eroded the capacity of the wetland to filter out nutrients and the lake is seeing an increased growth of algae with turbidity of water increasing. Unless this is corrected there is every chance that Jakkur might fade into oblivion.

The 370 MW Yelahanka Thermal Power Plant, which is currently under construction will receive 15 MLD water from the Jakkur STP (Joshi 2016). While the current capacity of the STP is 10 MLD, authorities are increasing the capacity to 15 MLD with funding from Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. In order to sustain the ecological flow and maintain its characteristic as an IUWM practice, the lake requires 7 MLD from the STP. Any reduction in this quantum will adversely affect health of the lake along with its biodiversity.

In this context, the limited role of a citizen’s group has been founded wanting as there is no resource and mobilizing capability for a citizens group to undo decisions that are taken by regulatory agencies with powers above the citizen.   

Future Prospects

As observed earlier, Jakkur is a model that has the potential to change the way we perceive the sustainability of urban water management. While there is a merit in arguments that claim replication of the model is not possible as water management cannot follow one-size-fits-all approach, there can be little doubt over the fact that there are attributes in the model that definitely warrant attention in a populous, rapidly urbanizing country.

In order to ensure the survival of the lake as well as to scale up the model, there are two immediate concerns that need to be addressed:

The proposed diversion of water from STP might have economic justification as most STPs are planned and operated as cost centers under both PPP and Government owned model. This is chiefly due to a lack of understanding of the revenue potential of waste water. The nutrient contents of the sludge and the irrigation potential of waste water is largely untapped. The moment a demand is created around them, the STPs have the potential to become ecologically-sustainable revenue generating entities. To operationalize such a scenario, the city immediately requires changes to its Waste Water Policy which can create a market around a STP.

The second concern is that participatory water management can become effective only when the movement gains traction and becomes visible to the larger population. This will not only ensure the sustainability of the movement but also place a caveat to the decision makers higher up the ladder that decisions taken against the collective interest of stakeholders cannot be sold in a democratic polity when there is a concerted voice of stakeholders.

(Nakulan is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at nakulan@nls.ac.in)

References

Tucci, C., & Goldenfum, J “Integrated Urban Water Managemet: Humid Tropics”,2009 .

Joshi, Bharath. “Yelahanka Power Plant Could Kill Jakkur Lake – The Economic Times“. The Economic Times. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.

Srikantaiah, Viswanath. “Water for Sustainable and Inclusive Cities“. http://www.cseindia.org/. Web. 9 June 2017.

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One thought on “A Participatory Integrated Urban Water Management Approach: Jakkur Lake”

  1. Nice review article. It is important that the custody of all Bengaluru lakes come under one institution. The ‘Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority’ was envisoned as the apex body for lakes rejuvenation. However, several parastatals (BDA, BBMP, BWSSB, etc) are responsible for one or more functions which leads to overlapping of functions and ineffective utilization of funds.

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