In regions receiving heavy monsoon rains followed by dry spells people are always looking for ways to take advantage of all that water. For the people of Kerala, a state in the south-western part of India, the answer has come in the form of Mazhapolima. Mazhapolima is a community based well recharge program started in 2008 by Mr. Kurian Baby, former District Collector and current Senior Program Officer, South Asia and Latin America team at IRC International Water and Sanitation Center.
The goal of the Mazhapolima program is to “contribute towards enhanced health and welfare of the community through improved access to drinking water”. The program reaches this goal by satisfying a number of objects including, but not limited to, recharging ground water, improving drinking water availability and service level throughout the year, significantly reducing the impact that drought has and the costs associated with trucking in drinking water to satisfy demand, and improve agricultural production and productivity.
This program was started in Kerala because of a couple of reasons. One is that there are 6.6 million wells in this state according to a study conducted in 2007, the highest density of wells anywhere in the world (72% of the population depends on wells for drinking water). And although Kerala gets an average annual rainfall of 3000mm (~118 in), its topography leads to the water quickly running off into the sea. Because of this you have a lot of wells but they are dry soon after the monsoon rains leave.
In order to remedy this problem Mr. Baby came up with a program which uses rooftop rainwater harvesting to recharge the wells. Although each set up is a little different they all follow a basic model; set up a way to catch the water coming off of the roof (in most cases this is a gutter system), then pipe the water through a simple filter (nylon or sand filter) and into a nearby well. That’s it! With this very simple method wells will be able to provide water throughout the year while at the same time recharging the groundwater. Another benefit for people living near the coast is that the fresh water suppresses any saline water that has migrated inland from the sea.
People receiving this system only need to clean off their roof before the start of the monsoon season to keep leaves and dirt from clogging the system, as well as cleaning out the filter, and they’re ready to harvest all that free water. It is also highly recommended that a fine net is placed over the well to keep leaves from falling into the water and to keep mosquitos from breeding in the water. Other than these few things the system is basically maintenance free.
The program is supported by funds from private organizations working in the water and sanitation sector, private individuals that pay for the system at their home, banks, as well as resources from government. Also, a funding agency called Arghyam supported the implementation of a project management unit which helps to implement Mazhapolima’s scheme.
The Mazhapolima program has been a big success throughout Kerala and is on its way towards meeting the goal of recharging 450,000 wells (from May 2009 to February 2011 6,665 setups were installed). However, because in the majority of cases they’re working with dug wells there is always a chance of contamination through groundwater migration. Fecal contamination is a huge factor in India where more people openly defecate than anywhere else in the world. And even if people are not openly defecating they are often using deep pit latrines that can also lead to groundwater contamination. There is also the risk of naturally occurring heavy metals in the water, as well as contamination from agricultural fertilizer.
In one case that I read about a habitation that had taken part in the Mazhapolima program had a fully functional water treatment system to remove iron, nitrate, and bacteriological contamination from their well water. This system was maintained by one woman, and the people using the water paid about Rs 30-50 per household (around $.50-.90 US) per month for maintenance of the system. I should mention that this system is piped to the houses, and therefore has higher costs than a non-piped system would.
I should also note that the rooftop rainwater harvesting systems that use a filter are put in place to provide drinking water, however there are other options, such as rooftop rainwater harvesting without a filter, surface run off pits, and rain pits that the program employs for non-potable water.
The success of this program is based on education and awareness. Because this is a community driven, participatory program the government, NGOs, PRIs, and the Mazhapolima program itself must work to get the word out that this program even exists, and follow that up with education on how the system works, how to keep the system running smoothly, and how to keep your water clean. They do this by providing handbooks on the subject, sending people out to talk to the communities and schools, and advertising about the program.
If you follow this blog you know that I am I big fan of simple technologies that enable people to access water. Mazhapolima is another great example of this and for that reason should continue to be very successful. From what I have read right now the program is only being implemented in Kerala, however I see no reason why this couldn’t be used throughout the world where wells are a main source of water and rainfall is significant during the wet season. As with anything, it’s all about educating the public to the possibilities and then hoping they see the benefits, and in this case it seems to be working. Below you’ll find a video the talks about the program and shows the system being used. Thanks for reading.