Participatory aquifer mapping: Giving citizens the knowledge for action

Aditi Hastak, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 9 February 2016

The city of Bengaluru is growing rapidly, and the pressure on the city’s resources, especially water, is immense. At least 40% of the city’s population depends on groundwater. The groundwater space is heavily under-regulated and over-exploitation is everywhere. The rampant exploitation has led to issues of quantity and quality, and this calls for a critical groundwater management response. The Participatory Aquifer Mapping (PAQM), an action research project, was conceived with an intent that mapping of the aquifers with assistance from citizens would help in developing knowledge about aquifers essential for appropriate groundwater management responses.

PAQM is a collaborative project of Biome Environmental Trust (Biome), a Bengaluru-based organization working in the space of sustainable water and sanitation; ACWADAM, hydrogeologists from Pune; Mapunity, a software team from Bengaluru; and financial assistance from Wipro technologies private limited as part of the company’s sustainability initiatives.

"While working with different communities in the area, we realized that there are lot of citizen-led activities happening for lake revival and sustainably managing the groundwater. However, they are disparate and hence, not creating an adequate response. So the attempt is to learn from them, integrate their learnings (from within the campus) and develop an aquifer-scale groundwater management response," says Shubha Ramachandran, program manager of Biome.

The unique methodology adopted by PAQM is based on the three hypotheses the program is trying to validate. The hypotheses are:

1) Can the process of developing an understanding of the aquifer be driven by the participation of these actors? And the can the results better equip the community with groundwater knowledge when interpreted through hydrogeology and shared back with them?

2) The better groundwater knowledge in the context of lived experience of the water crisis will drive citizens towards forms of self-regulation: demand management, rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and appropriate wastewater re-use and management. This will constitute a groundwater management response.

3) And such self-regulation and associated behavior change will have learnings for governance institutions to embed in the policy for water and groundwater management in Bengaluru and across India.

The team now has a preliminary understanding of the aquifers in the region. However, the biggest learning and the challenge has been communicating these results to the community in an intelligible way, so that the community benefits and this knowledge doesn’t become a mere academic exercise but rather an actionable resource.

“We are also conscious that there are many open questions as we move ahead,” says Ramachandran. The team will continue to probe how the groundwater can be accessible to the urban poor and how the city’s governance institutions will respond to this issue.

Photo credit: Biome Environmental Trust

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