In Chennai, during summer, groundwater levels dip. Water supplies through tankers or pipe lines also dwindle in many areas. So people naturally look at borewells to provide water at least for essential purposes such as washing. Drinking water anyhow is purchased.
However, borewell drilling leads to plenty of problems. Some of my observations and thoughts are:
- Cramped spaces between houses. This essentially is a city planner problem and India cannot afford to provide spacious housing to all its citizens. Only the very wealthy can have some elbow room. The poorer you are, the less space you occupy. Therefore, those who do own a house with enough space to get a borewell, are in some sense lucky. However, many house owners have only a parking lot or a small entrance that is quiet often shared with other houses. Often they do not have pipe lines that supply water. So they have no other go but to go underground in search of water.
- Total lack of scientific approach. While the house owners desperately need water, the water well drilling services agencies seem to take up any job they can. Of course they need the money. Yet, in many cases, I have never seen a hydrogeologist or some qualified person make an initial assessment. If there is space – such as in large apartment complexes or shopping malls, then yes a geologist uses geophysical resistivity methods and provides an assessment. It doesn’t make sense to do a study when you just have room enough for a car or motor cycle to be parked. So if you can spare only 15 feet, then what options do you have?
- Are basic factors looked into? Yes hardly enough ground space exists but at least are the basic factors addressed? I hear people say that the groundwater smells of sewage. Now how is that possible? Are there adjacent drains that leak? Or are ponds of sewage mixing with groundwater? Or are the pungent smells due to another factor? Is the salt content due to fluorides or nitrates? Are there any other harmful elements? Is the surface clean or is it capable of polluting the groundwater?
- A nuisance to all residents nearby. I watch borewell drilling as I am interested in the Geology and hydrogeology. However, for many people this is sheer noise. Often these rotary drilling jobs take up to 4 hours. Plenty of dust flies into homes whenever the drill bit hits rock in between.
- Scientific monitoring and management not available. Is there an aquifer in that area? If so what type? Would puncturing the aquifer have any impact? How many wells can the aquifer support? What were the geological conditions 30 years ago? Was there a lake bed on which these houses were built? Are standard procedures in place and followed? I don’t see any of this. The wells are not numbered or used for mapping.
- Safety aspects not considered. The drillers don’t have any protective equipment. Am sure they are not insured. They don’t provide any specific masks or other such equipment to residents. What if there is an infant or an ailing person? What if someone is allergic to dust? Finally, is the hole sealed properly? Okay these are small holes but this negligence is what devours young children across suburbs in India. How horrific can we get? A well cap to seal water wells is mandatory for large diameter wells such as for agricultural or small factories. However, these have become “graveyard holes”. Okay the urban borewells are smaller – yet should they not have some indication? A marker maybe?
A subject so close to heart and fascinating – hydrogeology. What is the use of developments in technology and science if the basic standards are not followed? What use is a new modelling software that can calculate infinite parameters and provide stunning 3D visualization if safety is compromised? No GIS tool will be able to use data if the wells are not licensed and monitored.
The driller in these pictures was okay as this did not compromise safety issues. However, I have seen far worse borewell drilling reports on YouTube and elsewhere.
Maybe it will take a catastrophe of monumental proportions to stir something and lead to better practices.
In this piece am not discussing the effects of non-pervious surfaces such as roads and concrete that prevent proper rainwater drainage. Am worried about the drilling approach in populous and cramped cities.