This Pune based startup, Urdhvam, is revolutionising the way the severe groundwater crisis can be solved in India.
Water: The Depleting Lifeblood of Earth
Water is truly essential for the survival of life on Earth. Animals, plants, and humankind rely on water to live. We use it for drinking, bathing, washing, irrigation, and the list goes on. There are various water sources in India, but roughly 80% of India’s booming population depends on groundwater for drinking and irrigation. Although agriculture comprises approx 17% of India’s gross domestic product, it employs more than half of India’s workforce.
In India, about 90% of the 245 billion cubic metres of extracted groundwater is used for growing crops every year. The remaining is used for household and industrial use. Source.
Unfortunately, an element so vital to us is accompanied by its shortage. The Green Revolution in the 1960s changed the approach to agriculture as the use of fertilisers, pesticides, and groundwater increased rapidly. This ensured food sufficiency in India by 1975. However, due to over-pumping and overexploitation over the decades, the groundwater level in India has declined by 61 per cent between 2007 and 2017. Moreover, improper waste management results in severe pollution of underground aquifers. Thus, groundwater is facing a double whammy of depletion and pollution.
This double attack has caused a domino effect: It impacts crops heavily and leads to a decline in crop harvest which in turn decreases farmers’ incomes as the borewells dry up. The lack of government and local initiatives to replenish around four crore borewells that are rapidly drying up across the country adds to the agrarian distress, that results in the unfortunate and system inflicted farmer suicides. Thus the lives of more than 12.5 crore small and marginal farmers are paradoxically intertwined with groundwater: They are its top users and will suffer the most as water levels go down further.
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A Scientific and Sustainable Innovation
Despite the data on the dwindling groundwater levels, India has not witnessed a holistic, scientific solution to the issues caused by it. This motivated Rahul Bakare and Vinit Phadnis to establish Urdhvam to create a scientific and impact-driven enterprise that solves the grave predicament of groundwater depletion.
Rahul is an engineer and Vinit is a hydrogeology expert. They worked together to address the agrarian distress while taking into consideration the engineering, hydrology, and hydrogeology aspects to resolve the problem of drying borewells as they devised the BoreCharger.
BoreCharger is a smart and affordable rainwater harvesting system that extracts water from the upper aquifer and recharges the underground water level of borewells. It does so by making perforations in the inner casing of the well, allowing more water from the topmost unconfined aquifers to enter the borewell. This promotes environmentally sustainable practices whilst simultaneously increasing the yield of borewells.
This technology replenishes water and has a holistic impact on the lives of farmers, especially those residing in drought-prone areas. It increases the flow of clean water that can be used for personal and agricultural purposes, leading to increased crop production and income generation. To put it into numbers, a farmer in Karnataka who had installed BoreCharger got water for 6 hours compared to 15 minutes that he was previously able to pump each day. Consequently, his income increased from Rs. 1.5 Lakh to around Rs. 4 Lakh during the cropping season.
There are many such instances across the country in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and various other states, as this technology has positively impacted the farming community. BoreCharger thus helps revolutionise irrigation practices and also has the capacity to cater to other sectors such as townships, residencies, industries, and central, state and local government bodies. With hardly any competitors in the market, Urdhvam has patented their products that has resulted in widespread deployment of their sustainable innovations. This has also resulted in BoreCharger helping people beyond India’s borders, specifically in Benin, Africa.
Holistically Addressing Groundwater Problems
An abundance of water can often be mismanaged, and recharging borewells can also become a temporary solution. The tendency to draw excess water can hinder BoreCharger’s mission, which is to sustainably stabilise groundwater levels in our country.
As BoreCharger increases water supply in the short run, efforts are being made to manage and curb the excess demand for water. Because it is impossible to know the water levels in borewells, farmers end up drawing more water than they need. Thus, Urdhvam is developing sensors to be placed in wells, which would provide knowledge of groundwater levels to the farmer. The data can make the farmer conscious of the excess water drawn, and the farmer could make an effort to extract only as much as necessary.
Urdhvam also provides services like aquifer mapping, that is, displaying an x-ray like image of groundwater systems. This three-dimensional image illustrates data and relevant information on groundwater. Groundwater Simulator is another such three-dimensional product that can be used in educational institutions to teach people about groundwater movement, behaviour, etc.
Mr Bakare acknowledges that awareness plays a huge role in the groundwater crisis, and Groundwater Simulator is a stepping stone towards enhanced knowledge. To increase outreach, Urdhvam is developing a groundwater awareness and training programme that will provide inputs on the crisis in a highly localised manner in local languages like Marathi and Hindi. A water and sanitation museum is also in the works, which is an intervention that educates individuals on hydrology and hydrogeology in an audiovisual and experiential manner.
The Challenges Encountered
The lack of awareness of groundwater issues is a hindrance for the Urdhvam team. Water depletion is prevalent throughout the country, and not understanding its root causes will lead to ineffective solutions. Water is an aspirational need, but the lack of interest in investing money in scientific and reliable technology to resolve issues related to water scarcity is widespread.
No one realises what they have until it’s gone; similarly, the seasonal nature of water supply makes one realise the challenges only when they face a shortage. Thus, individuals resort to instant relief, such as water tankers and other cheaper options. People also give in to misinformation, making it difficult for advanced and effective technologies to rise to the need. These are some of the biggest challenges that Urdhvam is facing.
However, their challenges are met with a will to overcome them. Urdhvam’s holistic initiatives to educate and increase outreach is part of the mission of water conservation. Their multipronged and scientific approach provides a clear idea to individuals that groundwater is an issue that needs to be addressed. Urdhvam also aims to create a groundwater repository for India and positively impact communities through its revolutionary products.
Mr Bakare finds hope in his work that positively impacts low-income farmers, making the journey of hard work and innovation worth it. Recharging borewells can change essential processes, especially for farmers in dry regions who undeniably suffer the consequences of overexploitation of water and global warming.
The transformative vision of Urdhvam to spread awareness and take action to conserve, preserve, and replenish groundwater has impacted many lives. To realise it, we should also emphasize the need to be an active and responsible citizen to help save the essential natural resources that support life on our planet.
Article by Ruhi Nadkarni, Team ulaunch.