Ground water recharge scheme or scam?


Water flowing after the rains

There is this hero who goes into a meeting about recharging underground water. Being a little humbler than the standard cinematic heroes, he announces that he has a well, that he’s going to fill it with rain-water and increase ground water level. Quite unexpectedly the group of water experts laugh at the foolishness of the idea. Why will you use a well to recharge the underground aquifers, when it is the other way around. The increase in ground water level, will make water seep out from the wells, that then gets used for irrigation.

The hero, being of the humble sort decided to follow the experts. What do they suggest?

Well, in Coimbatore, there is a certain organization that is in the process of “reviving” lakes. The lake is first de-silted, and mostly levelled. So that it is of almost constant depth everywhere. We need some number to thump, the storage in cubic feet available in the lake, don’t we. Then the bunds are neatly straightened, or rounded off. Shrubs, grasses and weeds are removed. All streams bringing water to the streams are similarly straightened, de-weeded, and fixed, so water after the rains immediately get to the tank. At the end of this, apparently the ground water level improves.

Of course our hero realises that a lake is just like a well, just bigger. So to become an expert you just need to scale up, your foolishness should be on a grand scale, that people look at you in open-mouthed awe.

Half a kilometre away from the farm, there is a big lake, spread on  15 to 20 acres, when full. The water here is muddy, from the silt washed from the farms. This lake, we should say, is rather foolish. A quarter kilometre away from its shore, there are a few wells, at a lower level, than the lake, but when the rains failed, didn’t have any water. Even when the lake had  water. Some wells within a hundred meters had water, and some didn’t. Of course, there is a possibility, the fine silt at the bottom of the lake, might prevent water seepage underground. And where the rock formation was mostly sedimentary or loose gravel, water seepage would have occurred, re-charging wells within a few hundred meters of the lake. Yet for the most part, here was a lake, too foolish to not do what the experts expect it to do.

The big lake near Ukkadam, in Coimbatore is probably 20 kilometres away from the  foothills of the mountains. Since creeks carry water from the foothills to the lake, the lake, should in consultation with the experts recharge the groundwater upto the foothills.

How did our beliefs get inverted? With modern education?

What makes a river flow? What makes it perennial?

When we were young, in our vacation to the village, we did occasionally play in Tamaraparani river. This was about 20 kms away from the base of the mountains. The water was clear, and the sand nice. What one would notice, is that water springs from underneath the river bed.

Shouldn’t water seep into the river bed, and recharge the groundwater, as the experts say? Therein lies the tragedy of our times.

If water behaved the way the experts want it to, in the mountains, then the creeks and rivers in the upper reaches of the mountains, should be free of water, right after the rains stop. But it is these creeks and rivers that flow round the year, even during the dry off-monsoon season.


Water in the fields

Rain in places with thick vegetation, and uneven ground, soaks the land, and seeps out as springs, which flow as small creeks, and join together to become a bigger river. And along the course of the river, water springs out from the river bed and feeds the river,  as it flows on to the sea. Why, in fact there is also huge underground flows along the river, which sometimes shows up as freshwater springs under the sea, closer to the shore.



Uneven land, with rich vegetation lets rain water soak into the land. This makes the streams run long after the rains stop

It is the same with lakes. Many lakes are fed from underground springs, right under the lake bed. Rainwater that soaks the landscape, flows downhill, through underground aquifers, and springs out from the lake bed.


Swales are an artificial way to let the water flow underground. These have to be planted with vegetation.

That is how nature works. For man to benefit, the farms should be like forests, with vegetation, that recharges the aquifers, and lets the springs and creeks flow. These should flow long after the rains stop.

The reason we have rivers drying up, springs drying up, lakes disappearing, and groundwater receding, is that we have our belief system from education and science, that is the exact reverse of how nature works.

You wouldn’t then be enraptured about de-silting of lakes or rivers, the shrill hysteria that pops up every year. When lots of water is in underground aquifers, you are less concerned about storing several trillion cubic feet of water overground. Sure we need lakes with overground water for life, but that is a consequence of high ground water levels, and will happen on its own, if nature works.

30 years back, in Tamil Nadu, on a bus trip, you’d see so many lakes with lilies, lotuses, fishes, and water birds. They have vanished, and it has nothing to do with population. It has everything to do with foolish environmentalists, and scientists who improved “agriculture”.




An yellow scorpion waiting for a snack.

We have youth going on hunger fast, wanting a certain groundwater recharge scheme implemented. “Farmers” similarly do the same.

Some farmers want the canal lined with concrete, upto the point where it reaches their farm. Just recharge ground water in their farm alone. If canal is unlined, clever people sink borewells near the canal, and suck the water. Yes, the borewells have to be near the canal.

Farmers have to let rain water soak the landscape, and  contribute to underground water, springs and rivers. Rather than sucking water from lakes and rivers. They have to participate in the cycles of water. Rains play a very important role. Once we realise that, we wouldn’t look up to distracting side issues, brought up by people like Maude Barlow in Blue Covenant –

On a naturally flowing river, you can get water from a bore well far away, because it is the groundwater that makes the river flow.

There are a few people who have understood and revived creeks, rivers and lakes. Revival of Noyyal in Coimbatore and Tirupur has received 650 crores, I doubt anyone in that team has an intuitive understanding of river flow.

Like Ganga, don’t be surprised if the fractal edge of rivers is straightened, de-silted, shrubs and trees on the banks removed, and concrete ghats established. Non-corrupt scientific and technical excellence to the fore! The rivers will flow, if at all, stinkier, lifeless and nastier than ever.

Cauvery can be several kilometres wide, when it reaches the sea.  The overground flows into the sea of silt laden water serves a rich ecological purpose. Also don’t forget the bigger underground flows of freshwater to the sea. Yet experts do not want not a drop of water to reach the sea. It seems such a waste to let fresh water mix with the sea.

Stopping the river flow, and sucking underground water near the shore, will cause salt water ingress into coastal aquifers. The rear-plugingers want this! A majestic river, with a deep cultural past is destroyed.


A river in a desert region may be exploited the way experts want to, but for a tropical country like India, expert opinion is wrong. Even without river interlinking, technical solutions are leading to water crises everywhere.

We want God to come to our aid, to attain moksha, or  to be seated on the right hand side of God. Yet we can’t appreciate God’s creation and wisdom. Rivers are meant to flow in all their glory. Our children can then splash around in the water and renew their relationship with the cycles of earth and the very basis of life.

Lots of effort in food production, electricity generation, healthcare and entertainment will not be needed if the land opens up, springs, creeks and rivers flow. As they did a few decades back, in this sacred land.


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