Monthly Archives: January 2017

RECHARGING THE BOREWELL

When we recklessly draw water from below the ground, which has limited catchment sources, how can it be compensated? A look into the crucial issue.

 28bgp-greensensg8m169ng9-3-jpgThis essay is a tribute to one man who early in 1980s foresaw the water crisis and took it upon himself to research the traditional water knowledge systems embedded in the dry State of Rajasthan. It had open wells, irrigation ponds and underground ‘tankas’ which survived on the scanty rains, and he felt if that traditional wisdom were to survive, the settlements too would survive.

 

Anupam Mishra is no more with us; a fact majority of Indians may not care about. When Ramachandra Guha wrote in his tribute to Anupam Mishra that he was among the top five environmental activists of India but was among the least known even among environmentalists, he was very right. The least we can do to remember him is to apply traditional wisdom, wisdoms of the kind Anupam Mishra documented. If we draw water from a source, we should help returning water to it. We cannot reverse all the harm we have done, but we can at least reduce the impact of our harmful acts.

A case in point could be about borewells. All water bodies depend upon catchments and being in the open, get water from direct rain, surface run-off and top soil water retention.

Even if we do not help the water body, the water we have drawn from it returns to it. However, when we recklessly draw water from the underground, which has limited catchment sources, how can it regain the water?

Borewells are drying up the aquifers deep down, resulting in hundreds of dried-up borewells around us. We can let water into them during the rainy season, by directing the surface flow and roof water collected, after appropriate filtering process.

In the direct recharge method, an open well of manageable size, say up to 10 feet deep and diameter, is dug around the casing pipe.

The pipe itself is perforated with a drill machine and the holes are covered by a net, to let water in but not the dirt. The well is now filled with filtering media like sand, gravel, crushed stone, jelly and such others.

When the water is diverted into this well, it gets filtered and seeps into the casing pipe, refilling the bore well.

Indirect method

In the indirect method of recharging, the well is not dug around the casing pipe, but away within 20 feet radius. This well too is filled with filters and has water flow directed in to it, while the casing pipe will have holes covered by netlon. In this case, water flows through the ground, reaches the pipe and seeps in.

It is not preferred to let unfiltered water into the ground, for the contamination found in the surface water will spread into the ground water.

While recharging is most advisable to dry and drying up well with reducing yield, even a running borewell can have recharging in case of surplus surface water which otherwise goes to drains.

With ground water level going down rapidly, there is an urgent need to revive them.

Some respite for environment?

Demonetisation has some positives too. 

Everyone is talking money – demonetisation, political agenda, cash crunch, hoarding new currency, impacts on daily life, IT raids, eradicating black money and hoping for a white future. Rich and poor people alike are finding the daily needs hard to come by with little money in hand, irrespective of how much they have in bank balance or in old currency.

We all know there is less money in market; hence business is not as usual.

While so much has been spoken and written about the impact of demonetisation on varied facets of life, hardly anyone has touched upon its impact on ecology and resources. It is strange but true that cash crunch is beneficial to nature.

On a few fronts, the present cash crunch is comparable to the economic recession of the recent past, faced mainly in the west, with some implications for India too.

 People faced reducing income, challenge of loan repayments, increased unsold inventories, money getting blocked and financial uncertainties looming large. Between all the social tension it created, one of the benefits was reduced consumption, hence earth resources saved, energy used efficiently and wastage reduced. On a similar note, the recent demonetisation in the country has impacted larger issues of ecology positively. With no ready cash to spend, people have been buying and spending less, of course impacting on everything from tourism to rituals. Incidentally, lesser business does not necessarily mean shops and restaurants are facing losses. They earn less, in turn spend less hoping to extend the new currency they got for as long as they can. Of course, many people living on daily wages are suffering, for they are already living on minimum daily income and cannot manage with further reduced cash inflow. Money and materialistic lifestyle are directly proportional, where our lifestyle demands that we earn more money. In turn, income meets the expenditure, increasing production. People earning well may appear to have larger sums with them compared to the rest with lower incomes, but their monthly savings in percentage figure could be often comparable. This suggests that higher income group spends more, while those with lower income spend less, each spending proportional to their income categories.

 

A paradox

As such, it is a paradox where money and market fuel each other, which together increase the consumption patterns. We know that increased consumption is good for economy, but ecologically it is disastrous, irrespective of whether the consumption is for our present needs, future savings or mere personal greed. The rich may have the financial affordability to spend, but our fragile Earth cannot afford to take anymore of our wasteful life. So, if the present crisis due to demonetisation has reduced our shopping, travelling, holidaying, partying, conferencing, manufacturing, in general spending, it has reduced the consumption of resources. It could be temporary, until the money flow restores again; yet it is beneficial to nature. Can we ensure this benefit lasts long enough to save the climate?

The comfort zone

The verandah is the only place in a building where all design factors blend.

verandah-pp_gsfgsa14b100-3-jpgLet us try imagining a magnificent monument. Among the obvious choices are buildings with lofty columns supporting a majestic high roof with a deep set-in space, may be with some dignitaries waving at us. If we are walking in a poor village, surprisingly, there too we find hutments with pillars supporting a thatch roof, with a shaded space beneath, may be with a child playing there.

From palaces to huts, verandahs have been omnipresent around the world.

The spaces between two major activity spaces are important in good architecture, verandah being one of them connecting the inside and the outside. They complement the two, automatically becoming multifunctional spaces serving varied purposes. However, their significance goes beyond architecture, in them being possibly the only place in a building where all design factors blend – social, cultural, spatial, functional, cost effective and of course, climatic considerations.

In our region, a south facing room with verandah is best suited to get wind and light, even while avoiding glare and direct rain. East facing verandah creates one of the best sense of entry with morning sunrays peeing through the columns. One can enjoy the setting sun in the west, doing any odd job there, with sun going low without unpleasant heat. Finally, with neither direct rain nor hot sun from the north, verandahs there are open for any idea from active to passive use.

If the interiors need to be inevitably air conditioned, verandahs can act like a buffer between inside and outside. While the human body is made to live both in open and enclosed spaces, ideally it cannot take sudden variations in temperatures, light intensities and humidity. A smoother transition from open to enclosed via a semi-open space is a comforting factor for us, which only a verandah can provide.

Disappearing

 Despite these accolades, why are verandahs vanishing? Architects feel they predetermine the elevation; owners say they may not use this space, mostly living indoors; developers find it difficult to fit them in multi-storey buildings; they are kept empty with no objects due to security worries; and those with low budget, of course, simply avoid it. Incidentally, most of these apprehensions can be resolved.

As we learnt how to control climate, using electrical and mechanical means, the passive ideas like verandahs got ignored. We could control climate, which is now revengefully hitting us back with climate change.

Unfortunately, instead of retreating from our high energy consuming lifestyle and regretfully accepting our mistakes in controlling climate, we continue to be defensive, trying to find ways of mitigating climate change.

We need not prove that humans are mightier than nature, even if such impossibility were to be true.

Alternatively, we can try proving how humans can live with nature. Returning to verandahs could be a minuscule example of such ideology, where the rays of hope for a safer future may begin.

BUILDING ON WELLS

Once well rings are filled to the top with concrete, plinth beams are laid connecting all of them which help in transferring loads.

07bgpgreensensegtt13ct5p-6-jpgPeople who have visited Varanasi would have wondered about the lofty palace-like structures on the banks of river Ganga. How were they built many centuries ago and how are they still standing tall? What is the secret behind their sturdy construction? Look at port cities like Fort Cochin or the early buildings of Kolkata harbour. How could they stand on watery ground without our modern mass concrete foundations?

What our elders did then is today called as pile foundation, where thick and long trunks of hardwood trees are driven into the loose ground until they hit the hard strata deep underground. The mechanism driving them down will stop at that level indicating that the tree trunk has reached a safe level, capable of taking building load. Simultaneously, as these straight trunks are driven close by, they tighten the ground, increasing the effective density of the soil. In turn, the load bearing capacity of the ground increases by the combined effects of wooden piles driven up to hard strata and overall compaction achieved by close placing of these piles.

Concrete piles have replaced wooden piles today, but this is done mainly for large buildings with advanced mechanism, professional designs and skilled supervision. Thousands of smaller buildings and residential structures cannot afford to go for concrete pile foundation, due to exorbitant costs.

There is a simplified system called well ring foundation, applicable to any building on loose, water logged sites, where the conventional stepped stone foundation is not possible. Concrete footing would be expensive due to the excavation depths or in general we wish to reduce the consumption of steel and concrete towards more eco friendly architecture.

Pre-cast round rings are generally available in most parts of India, which are inserted into the ground while the open pit is dug manually. Though this method is for open water well, same could become a foundation by pouring concrete into the well. Most rings come in 3 to 4 feet diameter, ideally for the foundation width. The depth of the well ring foundation, diameter and spacing distance needs to be calculated by structural engineers. Further, either load bearing or frame construction can be adopted as decided by the engineers. In case unequal settlement is suspected, the well rings may have to be tied together not only by the plinth beam, but each ring foundation will need to be fixed into the plinth beam.

In very loose soil, while digging, the side walls may cave in or in high water table areas we may have to continuously pump water out while concreting. Very few engineers have designed well ring foundations; as such, ensuing proper technical calculations are mandatory, followed by quality workmanship at site.

Such ideas which resemble wooden pile may sound difficult; however once done, we realise they are doable again.