panchgani


yeruli, maharastra
1200 m

*

we’re walking along the ridgeline, watershed boundary, and viewpoint with my team — jared (1) and renie (2).

renie explains to me the geological origin of line of springs we are about to visit (3). the springs are the primary source of water for the villages below. other water is polluted or not available during the dry season

earlier in the year, they had worked with the villages to protect the springs using spring boxex (4) which had been working well for a while.

jared tells me people in the villages we work with were complaining about a precipitious drop in water quality. the test bottles came out black and some people thought they heard sediment in the pipes, which drop the two kilometers from the springs at yeruli to the villages in the valley below.

we walked from spring to spring checking for potential disturbances. as always in the natural world, there is a lot to notice, and every step is different, every microclimate unique. i wrote about some potential threats to water quantity and quality of our beloved springs and noticed i was getting a little windy, so moved it to a separate poste (5). technical details are there but here’s the synopsis:

threats to our heroes (springs! sources of year round clean drinking water! where does yours come from, huh?)

– grazing in the sensitive spring area (read: pooping)
– “outsiders” drilling deep bore wells near the springs (dry ’em up)
– villagefolk ensuring their water supply by tapping into other peoples’ water supply (underground horizontal drilling)
– construction in sensitive area reducing infiltration, increasing erosion, and compacting soil (acquifer functions differently)

the next time you pass a reservoir near you, usually fenced off for hundreads of meters all around, i’ll understand why….

 

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*

 

finally after our tour of the hazardous things that can happen to public water systems, we find the springbox we suspect has some issues. not only was the cementing on top not done well, the construction of an access road out of the hillside just upslope destroyed the contour trench renie had put in to keep sediment off the top of the springbox, and we see evidence of sediment deposited from the now-eroding slope above, on top of the spring box. given the presence of grazing animals and human open defecation in the area, such sediment has potential for carrying fecal caliform into the system. we also noticed a cowpie sitting on top the tank, just a few meters below the spring, adding insult to injury…

enough observation you wan’t some idle speculation don’t you? don’t you? don’t you?

what i find most interesting about this all of this is how eager people are for technology and solutions to help them meet their needs without them having to do anything, without having to care. i’m not saying that people are careless or don’t want to care — au contraire — seems like they’re already doing and caring too much, and don’t have time left over for something as banal as their water supply. this morning we visited a village where they had built a HUGE (15 feet high by 20 foot diameter, perhaps) tank to store municipal water (piped in from mahabaleshwar, at least an hour away).

and not 20 meters away was a natural spring, producing (at a quick estimate) 3-5 L a minute year around, that was just dripping into a ditch, occasionally lapped at by cows, and then draining down the hillside. we are willing to work hard and spend money rather than work hard and spend time.

 

 

the difference between me and the bitter grandfather complaining about the laziness and consumerist penchants of the youth is resurgence in the Discourse of the notions of “resilience” and “security”. having your water (and food that matter) piped in from tens of (thousands of) kilometers away is The Opposite of Security. it places a resource (“commodity” or “relative”, dending on your culture) fundamental to our daily survival in the control of people we have never met. even if the cost-benefit analsis works out that it’s cheaper (and therefore somehow leaders to happier and more wholesome people, as welfare economists would have us believe, or ignore) to work X hours in town and contribute those Y rupees towards purchasing water than it is for people to work on managing their own water (and thus forest and topsoil and grazing) supply, from a security standpoint, the added expenditure is an Investment in security.

but actually, i don’t think the analysis would show that it’s cheaper to import the water, but simply that it’s easier. big concrete water tanks aren’t cheap. pipelines aren’t cheap (unless the Feds pay for it). but they’re easier. Why? because it doesn’t require working together. this isnt about paying someone or doing it yourself — it’s about the facing the possibility that our individual actions aren’t harmonious with the community welfare.

if your village came together in recognition that animal poop near the water supply was no longer on The Cool List, you could pay someone to build a fence (to keep out grazing). the hard part is to convince the shephards (in your family, your town, and others) why they should make do with less grazing land…

all of the threats we looked at above to the communal resource:

– grazing in the sensitive spring area (read: pooping)
– “outsiders” drilling deep bore wells near the springs (dry ’em up)
– villagefolk ensuring their water supply by tapping into other peoples’ water supply (underground horizontal drilling)
– construction in sensitive area reducing infiltration, increasing erosion, and compacting soil (acquifer functions differently)

can boil down to a dulce de leche of of individuals or partial groups attempting to manage a shared resource, with neither communication nor consent of all those affected. in a world where fights start and people move out over who isn’t paying their fair share of the _groceries_, of course attempt to manage the water supply of _thousands_ of your neighbors (under the illusion that is is “your own”) is an open invitation to conflict.

if i were better at google i would footnote the phd dissertion (it must have been written by now) on the correlation between large-scale armed conflict and the mismatch of political boundaries and watershed boundaries…

in the literature, of course, these are called “commons” problems: if you act individually, overall welfare is less than if you’re coordinated. But, if you’re the only one to do the “right” thing, you could easily get screwed. another aspect of the “commons” problem is that it just takes 1 or 2 people to set fire to the mountainside, but you need _everybody_ to agree for the forest to have chance.

co-operation.

we need to be able to co-operate. i think that’s the next level. all of these water problems and soil problems and resource problems are
important, of course, but perhaps what is underlying them is an inability of us to get beyond our narrow self-interest, as a community. to work together for the good of all (including us), rather than choosing a narrow benefit that potentially harms others or the community as a whole.

on the walk down today I was thinking of Gandhi — one of his main messages was to live in a pure and non-violent way. i see the truth in that, of course, and do my best to heed it, but with all of these “natural resource management” challenges, i don’t think it’s enough. i’m coming to view our resource management issues as a symptom of a co-operation problem, which is a sort of material barometer of another sort of spiritual growth, of how much we have broadened (different than purified) the self and dissolved the narrow boundaries of the ego.

which is to say, the self-purification work isn’t complete — or perhaps, hasn’t yet begun — until we hit the membrane, and then break on through, this idea of the “self”. as long as the ‘you’ is perceived to be different than the ‘i’, both will have interests — yours and mine — that are irreconcilable. trace the sediment upstream, through 2 kilometers of rusted metal pipe, and we’ll — soon enough — get back to the source.

love only
ankur delight

(1) http://www.grampari.org
(2) http://www.in.iofc.org/renie-thomas-hydro-geologist-grampari
(3) http://thegeologieonthemove.blogspot.in/2012/08/laterites-water-buckets-of-western-ghats.html
(4) http://grampari.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/revisiting-the-spring-boxes-of-pachputewadi/
(5) http://www.mangolandia.org/archives/387

Yeruli, Maharastra. 1350m

Mountain springs, near the shoulders of the Western Ghats, seeping forth between layers of laterite and basalt, are a primary source of year-round, healthy, drinking water for local villages when managed properly. Their care and maintainence, of course, depends on love and co-operation.

These springs supply drinking water (by 3″ metal pipeline) to the villages of A and B, 2 km down the mountain. Our friends in the village — too busy planting rice to join our expedition — detected a recent drop in water quality, so Grampari’s watershed team came up to investigate.

What we found, in addition to what might be directly causing the problem, was an instructional Range of Threats to the existence, flow, and quality of these mountain springs.

 

threat the first: open defecation by animals (and humans) anywhere between the water source and its end (potable) consumption
as is evidenced by the footprint across the stream, and the dung on top of the pipe, contamination threatens any water that goes above ground between source and pipe

one solution: spring boxes, designed to protect the water as it flows out of the ground and into the pipe, from contamination, as well as filter it from any nearby sediment, and allow it to accumulate in a covered area. (1)

another solution: maybe animals shouldn’t be allowed to graze near water sources?

to me this taboo seems as logical as the incest one. indeed, uncontaminated water sources wouldn’t be your only benefit of banning grazing above a certain altitude. as uncle brad (2) points out over and over — the more we can stop water where it falls, the better chance we have of using it affectively and turnings it potential away from destruction. increased vegetative cover at the mountain tops traps a higher percentage of runoff and stops erosion

all
the
way
down.

 

threat the second: construction of numerous deep (bore / tube) wells next to springs.

there have been some recent problems. after all the hard work grampari and the village had done to rehabilitate the springs and build the spring boxes in the last year, some developers with big name friends moved in a few months ago and sunk 16 deep bore wells into the ground. the fear is that the springs will dry up (3). why so many wells? well (haha), they cleared the land with bulldozers and sent down a foundation X feet into the ground. word on the street is that they’re building a resort overlooking the picturesque valley.
one solution: don’t put deep wells next to springs/surface wells used for public drinking water.

as renie’s graphic points out, this logical consequence of this is a draw down of the water table and the drying up of the springs. again, it would seem obvious not to place bore wells near springs or any kind of private well where it could threaten a public drinking water source (“its called privataization of a public good”). for those of you who still believe in government, there’s actually a state groundwater law that explicitly prevents this within 500m of a public drinking water source, allowing an exception for agriculture. (4, chaptapter 3, parageaph 21 [ note i dont see the exception for ag, but i was told it is there ] )

the great thing about this particular exception is that the wording of the law places no priority on need nor specifies what we mean by agriculture. somebody needing supplementary irrigation for his monsoon crop is at a different level of need than someone irrigating a kharif crop — something that may or may not compete with the need for safe/clean/available drinking water for the town, and certaintly at a different level than commercial cash-crops or large monocultures.

the other great thing, about exceptions in general, is that they lend themselves nicely to abuse without proper consciousness (or force) to maintain them. thus, in our particular case, the 16 bore wells dug within a few hundred meeters of the springs that nourish the neighboring X towns are permitted because the development is registered as a “farm house”, even though the foundation is clearly set for a large multi-story building

 

threat the third: sideways extensions of surface wells

Note the side bore holes on the side

lest you think i’m here only to observe the faults of big-money politicians displacing poor villagers (like the tottering old man living on the top of the (former, now bulldozen) ridge, who claims he never sold anything to anybody…), here’s another example of a threat to our endangered heroes (the springs, people, the springs) .

rather than building a box to protect the spring where the water seeps out of the earth and into the air — where feces and mosquitos and sediment are waiting to infest it — the village of X decide it would be a better idea to blast a hole in the hillside, turning the spring into a well in the hopes of water storage (but now no longer at the same quality) and possibly increased flow. they also then decided to take the same bore-welling machine used to go _down_ hundreds of feet and send it _sideways_ at various points in their (newly exploded) well, to tap into other veins in the acquifer and drain water into their well.

an expensive and fabulous gamble, and working out really well for village X, as you can see. one gathers, of course, that it could be working out equivalently less well for village Y, dependent on a spring a few hundreds of meters away (horizontally) whose water source is now draining here…

threat the fourth: ancillary effects of building a ridgetop resort

[ picture will be here event-a-mally ]

my friend, the great daniel baptista, once an enthusiastic catholic priest in buenos aires, but a ruined restauranteur and flourising peasant farmer (when i met him, ages ago, during the epoch of the trueque in el bolsón), once confided in me how he spent years of his life living the message that jesus was going to save us all. and now (then, rather), selling together at the farmers’ market, he was in the midst of spending years of his live spreading the message that organic vegetables were going to save us all. always with a smile.

similarly, i used to think it all came down to food. wasn’t long before i realized it all came down to how we produce our food. and, less than a decade later, the simple realization that how we respect (modern translation: manage) our water underlies how (and whether) we produce food. at some point, maybe, you get the message that It All Depends on It All — that is, there’s a reason all those ancients worshipped the 4-5 elements and not just One of them.

point being, up here, a lot of it comes down to geology. or so renie (5) says anyhow. the reasons these springs are so plentiful is that, unlike the rest of the valley slopes, which have less than 2 feet of topsoil before the gravelly murum layer starts, leading quickly to bedrock — here there can be a good 4-6 feet of topsoil, a giant spongy layer full of holes for air and water at the top of the mountain. the springs are between the laterite and basalt layers and provide a crack for this spongy goodnness to let out, slowly, the water it’s absorbed over the course of the year.

two important components of this system are:

– barriers to detain rain when it falls, giving it a chance to be stored
and
– the capacity to store the rainwater once it leisurely infiltrates into the soil.

bulldozers tend to threaten both — by

– clearing the surface of the land (no surface area from leaves to trap rain, no roots to hold soil and stop erosion)
and
– compacting (or removing) the top soil layers, thus affecting the waterholdingcapacity of the soil.
Turns out that the main short-term threat to drinking water quality guaranteed by the spring boxes (solution 1) was construction rubble and moved soil from the earth movers that ran off directly onto the top of one of the spring boxes (the diversion ditch had also been destroyed by the work) and down the hatch. hence the sediment (and, likely, little bits of cow and human poop) in the water supply.

The long-threat, of course, is #2 …

(see next post for ruminations on solutions more elegant than bribery or suit)
(1) http://grampari.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/revisiting-the-spring-boxes-of-pachputewadi/
(2) http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
(3) http://thegeologieonthemove.blogspot.in/2012/07/our-spring-water-water-for-life.html
(4) http://www.mangolandia.org/archives/385
(5) http://thegeologieonthemove.blogspot.in/

For future reference. Will be relevant to future posts, I promise.

 

Maharastra Groundwater Bill 2009

near panchgani, maharastra.

living the consultant life after a fashion. new place, new beauty, everything exciting. no pre-existing community, lovers, or patterns. thus: work and life make a playful melange and all my free minutes are occupied with schemes / ideas / brainstorms for intensifying and extensifying the work here.

by work i mean play of course, so far. my projects include (a) helping revamp this (NGO’s) two-acre campus to be a model of water-harvesting techniques, (b) measuring and analysing rainfall, well-depths and stream-flow in a couple of local villages, in an attempt better to understand local hydrogeology and, therefore, be able to guide our interventions towards recharging groundwater, (c) analyze waterflow, drainage, and storage in our parent-NGO’s seventy-acre campus to prevent erosion and save watergy (come on people: water+energy), and primarily, of course (d) collect data for and improve the model i’m building in paris with CIRED, to estimate cost/benefits for flood risk reduction as a result of implementing water-harvesting earthworks.

but most importantly, naturally, it’s the people. this morning, walking back to my lodgings after finishing some small terrace installation around our greywater system at grampari, i saw an old gentleman with a gorgeous thick grey moustache squatting by the side of the muddy road. i sat next to him and introduced myself. we looked out over a grazed field with the occasional bush, his two animals, and the north view of the valleys amidst the Western Ghats ahead of us. everything is green and red — the young grass exuberant with the recent rains, and the dirt roads and eroded patches in thick red clay. laterite caps the mountains and — you dont have to believe this — my geologist roommate says the tops of the mountains now were really the bottoms of the mountains Before, and everything else just washed away…

eventually we ask where the other is from. kisankaka (farmer uncle) is from the next village. we can see it over some eucalyptus trees (yes, they are everywhere. centralized forestry wins again). i am from ahmedabad, gujarat (a long train ride away) but grew up even further away (no train can take you there* ). my parents are there, far away. i have no brothers and sisters.

at this kisankaka stops short. i see the beginnings of tear as he shakes his head. such presence, such compassion. we are silent for a few moments. he tries to make sense for me —

“with a sister, you will be together, brother and sister. it is good like that. but alone….” he trails off. a deep desire for balance, for harmony. he looks up at me again and says, to soothe us both, “vo nasimka kam hai” — “that is the work of luck”. no one is to blame.

“that is the work of luck. what do we have in our hands? nothing. nothing at all.”

aho. he is 70 and 5, 75 years old. two sons and tree daughters, all married, all with children. his work here is done. i suggest he take sannyass and go to the himalayas (that’s what i’m going to do…) and he points out his beautiful animals, a buffalo and a cow, grazing in front of us. they still need him. the cow is black, healthy, shiny, and clean.

for a moment i am able to drop my philosophy and ecology, to cease thinking about biomass, nutrient cycles, erosion, open grazing, and land cover. i see the cow with nirali’s eyes ** — a sort of vision that penetrates the realm of appearance and perceives the grace and compassion of all beings. i see how giving and gentle she is. how calm is her demeanor, how perfect and ordered her mowing of the grass. a small bird jumps into vision and hops along her, eating where she has just cleared a patch of grass. they continue together for some minutes, gracefully. in nirali’s eyes there is friendship before symbiosis, i think.

“when i first started working for the center,” he gestures up the hill to the buildings where i live and eat, “the rate for daily labour was 15 rupees a day. 15 _a day_. and that was well paid”. he had bullock carts and would spend the day driving them to the quarry and back again, loading large red laterite bricks for construction. the same bricks i admire every day walking to lunch or to the garden. he built those walls, now vivid with moss, some falling apart from lack of maintenance, all weathered and loved. the daily rate now — his younger brothers still work, i think — is 500 or 600 a day. which is good. i remember it being 200 in ahmedabad 3 years ago, and 80-120 on farms during my pilgrimage (2006).

i thank him and move along to take a shower. digging + monsoon – shower = worms. the new hygienic calculus.

it bears noting that i haven’t written publicly in what may be years. it’s been hard for me to a) dedicate spacetime to writing, b) find the right level of personal/public. i want to write more about this work i’m getting into, a sort of nexus of water harvesting, food sovereignty, spirituality, reforestation, and the humanitarian industry. maybe it’ll coalesce, maybe it won’t.

what’s clear so far, in a week of living at 4000 feet in the tropics, surrounded by biomass, is our conceptions of and language for wealth and poverty is quite strange. we already knew that, of course. but to be here, now, in a part of the world that gets more than 4 feet of rain in a year, and yet which is dry and suffering drought and lack of clean water for eight months a year, seems to me to be a problem of wealth, not of poverty. we don’t need people giving advice about how to climb out of the “pit of poverty”, we need to hire wealth management consultants, who can make a living by skimming the fat of our incompetence.

what i mean by that is: there’s whole industries out there (financial advisers, wealth management, even accountants) who make their livings because people don’t know how or don’t want to spend the time dealing with their wealth. so they can contribute value, optimize the situation, and do such a _great job_ that the can even get paid, handsomely. and that’s exactly the situation here. there is SO MUCH water and SO MUCH biomass and fertility that is being wasted — washing away, mixing with black water, flooding rivers, eroding, mixed with garbage, unsorted — that you could hire someone to sort/clean/organize/store it for you, and they could end up with sizable take. which, in the past, perhaps nobody would have wanted, it’s true.

but with imminent crises in both water and soil fertility associated with the (don’t say it!) declining performance of industrial agriculture and increasing cost of petrochemical-based inputs, biomass and water are now The Hot Shit. they key change though, is a spiritual one, ie, it’s on the level of consciousness. if we think about garbagehumans and waste management, we have a certain reaction. if we think about financialhumans and wealth management, we have a different one.

no conclusions yet, but my next experiment might be to have a nice (khadi) silk suit tailored in panchgani and wear that while chopping up fallen banana plants and raking mango leaves, just to hammer the point home.

one love
psychadelic india
strikes again,

ankur

 

ps there are some recordings from the last week or two online. most involves some morning flute practice i’m down, and at their best moments, are suitable for meditation or straight chillin’. some are songs — notably by our dear amanda, originals, even. check ’em out:

http://mangolandia.org/audio/ankur/2012/

 

pps india phone number below. you can call me. it’s cool. no worries. really. it’s cool.

 

 

* but the love train. chug-a-chug-lug.
** we’re talking about a person/worldview who cries in front of a plate of fruit, feeling the incredible selflessness of the trees involved. Respect.


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