My subdivision is a vanishing buffalo common (commentary on the interviews

What do you get when you overlay a drought, a network of open drains, a subdivision, and its sewage on a buffalo common? The common is enclosed, the lake is fouled and then dries up, and the water that was free for washing clothes and buffalo is free no longer. That lack of a common makes other water necessary, in the form of borewells, and new extensions, too, are required to get by on borewell water for a few years until the corporation can lay new lines (lowering the water table, creating more septage that fouls more lakes).

But all this extension stresses the water system, creating another overlay of protest and rebellion (as happened 5 years ago when water came only twice a month, and people tied the executive engineer of the water board to a post. Such uprisings catch the attention of the World Bank, which decides to fund a project improving the pipes. A private company does the work, which is paid for with higher water rates, and safeguarded with volumetric billing (paying a set rate per liter of water used). This new service it is very desireable to the extensioners, for whom paying 400 Rp. a month for water is trivial. It also offers many benefits to the people in the old “slums”–the buffalo herders and craftspeople and rickshaw drivers who spend hours each week waiting for and storing water. But once they hear how much they will pay for this service, some, especially the buffalo herders, say they did just fine on their common ponds and taps. Though water wants to be free, the infrastructure to pipe it to people’s homes, and the plants to make it safe to drink, are expensive to build and maintain, so someone “needs” to pay for this water service. Though the water tariffs in Hubli-Dharwad are supposed to include a “lifeline” rate for the first 6000 L a month, buffalo herders and people with large families often find themselves facing large bills.

When I tell this story to Zach Burt, a co-investigator, he points out that this is the pattern that urbanization follows everywhere (minus the buffalo perhaps). He says that in Rohnert Park, the Sonoma town he’s from, conflicts between new subdivisions and existing water users over groundwater extraction are the rule, followed by arguments between the city and residents of new areas over who will pay to extend water and sewerage there.

Field trip

I found the headwaters of our little lost lake, they are in the forest that we pass on our way to the good fried noodle place on Station road. There are two large chunks of pasture there, one just below the tracks, bisected by the road, and one alongside Udai Hostel road. The first is forested in Eucalyptus, and gullied in its upper end, above the road. Below the road it drains towards one corner, where there is taro and reeds. It drains between two large apartment buildings, into a large storm drain that gathers more drains and then flows past our house on its way to Shivgiri Lake.

I stopped to take photos of the boggy area on the corner. There’s only one house there, and like most (all?) in this neighborhood it’s raised up about 3 feet above the top of the drain. I talked with the guy who lives there for a while, and he said the lake dried up 10-15 years ago. Then the subdivision was built. But the drains weren’t built right at the beginning, so during the monsoon all the runoff from the neighborhood up the hill would run down into the depression, turning the basin into a lake and the houses into islands. Then the boys would bring their buffalo down to the muddy waters to give them a bath. They weren’t supposed to do it, and other people would yell at them, but not him. Then the developer put in the drains, and the flooding eased. The drain in front of his house is clear, but the drain across the street clogs and floods sometimes.

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~ by waterunderground on July 23, 2011.

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