An underground water reservoir system, recently installed at Baghe Jinnah, Lahore, is the country’s first project aimed at storing rainwater lessening chances of flooding. But is this the best solution available to us?
With the recent launch of the country’s first underground water reservoir system at Baghe Jinnah, Lahore, built with the aim to store water from seasonal rains and lessen flooding, hopes are pinned on similar ventures in other parts of the city.
Modelled after the water reservoirs in countries like Japan and the United States, the project was carried out at a cost of Rs 149 million. It took over three months to complete.
The location was important, as it was a major problem area that would be inundated after every downpour, affecting the many important buildings nearby. The project, called Monsoon Underground Water Reservoir, involved the construction of a 600-foot drain that links Baghe Jinnah to the nearby underground water reservoir. Developed by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in collaboration with its subsidiary Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) and the Urban Unit, it has the capacity to store up to 1.5 million gallons of water.
The LDA as well as Wasa officials are confident that in the near future the project will completely transform the techniques and methods employed to deal with water scarcity in the country, some environmentalists say that the authorities have not proceeded in accordance with the relevant laws. They accuse the LDA and the Wasa of depriving the stakeholders such as civil society, ecologists and NGOs of the opportunity to closely observe the process and offer suggestions.
LDA vice chairman Sheikh Muhammad Imran says, “We are committed to saving water. For this purpose, we are using the latest methods and technology. Underground rainwater harvesting is one of them.”
According to him, the LDA plans to extend the underground rainwater harvesting project to all of Lahore: “You might remember that the LDA has made it mandatory through its building bylaws revised some time ago for every new building in the city to have an underground rainwater harvesting system. We will make sure that people strictly abide by these rules.”
Imran admits that such project require funds, adding that the “government should provide funds for such projects of public interest and welfare.
When the tank is filled to the brim, there is an additional outer-surface reservoir that will store over 0.2 million gallons of water. If the second reservoir begins to spill over, there is yet another system in place through which most of the stored water will be used to irrigate the city’s gardens, parks and green belts.”
“The LDA can also raise funds through its subsidiary organisations, if needed. We may borrow money from banks and monetary organisations.”
He also hints at shifting the financial burden on the consumers by charging them for the services provided by the LDA and the Wasa.”
Imran mentions recent news from Karachi where heavy monsoon showers have caused flooding. “Do you want to see the same thing happening in Lahore?” he asks. “Surely, you don’t. In order to comprehend the importance of a project such as Monsoon Underground Water Reservoir, one has to consider its human impact first.”
Future plans include reusing rainwater for drinking purposes by passing it through a variety of purification methods. But that is for a later time. For the time being, the government is looking at using it to water plants and for other inferior purposes.
Wasa Managing Director Syed Zahid Aziz says, “Despite the fact that rains are forecast every year and our urban areas are submerged, the country faces a serious issue of water shortage. I call it mismanagement and not the scarcity of water.”
In order to deal with the issue, Aziz says, the latest underground water storage system will collect rainwater and reduce chances of flooding of residential areas. Besides, it will be used. “Lahore is suitable for rainwater harvesting, as it receives an average annual rainfall of 715 mm,” he says. “We’ve launched an underground rainwater harvesting project at Baghe Jinnah. In the future, we hope to be able to employ other methods and techniques such as underground pipes and construction of covered ponds under the roads etc. Besides, we are making arrangements to store water in the recently laid tunnels.
“For a start, a 600-foot drain has been laid. Once the tank is filled to the brim, there is an additional outer-surface reservoir that will store over 0.2 million gallons of water. When the second reservoir begins to spill over, there is yet another system in place through which most of the stored water will be used to irrigate the city’s gardens, parks and green belts.”
Rainwater can be an important source of water to recharge the depleting aquifer of the city. The project is expected to help revitalise the irreplaceable groundwater which is getting exhausted fast due to excessive pumping and massive urbanisation.
Sardar Asif Ali Sial, a US-returned environmental law practitioner, however, says every project has costs and benefits. “The process of acquiring NOC for the project is not in accordance with the rules and regulations and with the nature of this project,” he says. “If the project is initiated on a small scale, the IEE NOC is obtained from Environment Protection Department (EPD) while for mega projects like the Monsoon Underground Rainwater Harvesting Project, That way, the stakeholders have an opportunity to raise objections, if any. The LDA and Wasa authorities have deliberately excluded the stakeholders.”
He says unless there is proper supporting infrastructure the project can have adverse effects.