“My daughter and I used to carry eighty-hundred litres of water per day, not for our needs, but for the school. How else would the children have survived at school?” – Saliman, Anganwadi worker, at the school in Sukhpuri, Nagina block, district Nuh.

The sheer challenge on one hand and the utmost dedication of an individual on the other are two sides of a coin, depicted through this one poignant statement. There are many more.

Nuh district in Haryana is a semi-arid region and has few surface water resources. Groundwater is the primary source of water for domestic and agricultural purposes. However, as the groundwater is highly saline and of poor quality, it is unfit for human consumption. Most villagers suffer as a result of lack of availability of potable water. Owners of sweet water bore wells indulge in water trade. Since the cost of boring a well is high, villagers are compelled to purchase water from commercial water tankers. However, those with limited resources are forced to fetch water from distant sources to meet their needs. These sources of water are either government tube wells, ponds or hand pumps.  

representation image. courtesy: india.blogs.nytimes.com

With the support of the Millennium Alliance (MA), the Sehgal Foundation has installed high-pressure recharge wells in four schools in the water-scarce villages in Nagina block, during 2015-16. The aim is to create freshwater pockets in saline aquifer to make water available for drinking purpose in the school. Apart from high-pressure recharge wells, the project includes awareness generation among the community about the usage and applicability of high-pressure recharge wells in a way that the community will adopt the model at their household and community level, which will help mitigate water scarcity and salinity in these villages. 

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What are these high-pressure recharge wells and how do they actually work? A high-pressure recharge well is a rainwater harvesting system that creates a freshwater pocket in a saline aquifer. An overground open cylindrical tank of reinforced cement concrete is constructed, with the depth of its foundation reaching beyond the existing groundwater level. The rainwater from the rooftop is channelized into the recharge well through PVC pipes. As the tank is constructed above the ground, sufficient pressure head is created that enables the harvested water to push the saline water sideways creating a freshwater pocket within saline aquifer.

This phenomenon is possible because saline water is denser than rainwater. The pressure exerted by the surrounding saline groundwater keeps the rainwater pocket intact. A hand pump is then used to extract the harvested rainwater. The water passes through a biosand filter that removes physical, suspended, and biological contaminants. The filtered water is drawn through water taps at the school.

Says Susmita Guru, social scientist, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation, Sehgal Foundation, who assessed the impact made by the structure in schools, “In the case of schools in Sukhpuri and Danibas, the installation of the structure has reduced the burden on children in terms of bringing water bottles from home. Besides this, the assured access to clean and safe drinking water helps in maintaining the health of the students through proper hydration across their day at school – something which is very important.”

Sayira, student, grade eight of the government school of Sukhpuri, says: “I used to bring a water bottle from home and drink small quantities only, fearing that it will finish. Currently, I do not need to worry about this anymore, as there is sufficient drinking water available in the school.”

Israil, a resident of the village Danibas, said that he often asked his child to bring water from the structure installed in the school because the water is clean and tasty. The students say that the water extracted from the high-pressure recharge well tastes good and is similar to bottled water available in the market.

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In schools, there has been a transition from using purchased water for drinking purpose to rainwater extracted from the high-pressure recharge well. For a particular school, one water tanker lasts 20 days and costs INR 700-1200. With a total of 230 days of school in a year, the total financial savings amount to around INR 11,000. This amount saved can be spent on other useful activities by the School Management Committee.

Replication of the model at household and community level is one of the objectives of the project. Findings of a study confirmed that the model has yet to be adopted at the household level even though everyone realizes that the structure could be a good solution to mitigate the ongoing water problems in the villages. However, on the flip side, installation of high-pressure recharge wells is expensive.

Siraju, a resident in the Sukhpuri village, in Nagina block wants to install a high-pressure recharge well in his compound. “I am interested in installing the structure after my visit to one of the schools, where such a well has been installed. In fact, I often visit the school to understand the structure and its functionality of bringing quality water to the school. The water is clean and tastier than the water I use at home. Due to the presence of high salinity in water, I and my family rely on purchased water for household consumption, which is an expensive matter. I feel this could work out as a permanent solution to my everyday water problems, provided I receive financial support and technical guidance,” adds Siraju.  

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“The challenges are many. The first was to make people understand what clean and safe drinking water is, along with its importance. This included members of the school management committee, parents, teachers, and students. The second was to encourage a more participatory role, in contrast to passive acceptance of the asset created. The third issue was that the criteria of a shallow water table and the characteristics of soil that had to be met in the prospective area of intervention. In the case of clay soil, for example, the intervention cannot be executed as the infiltration rate of water in the clayey soil is very low. However, with the passage of time, interventions have seen innovative tweaking and improvisation, which has resulted in the successfully overcome the challenges concerned,” adds Parth Gohel, program leader, Water Management, Sehgal Foundation.

The above is just another step taken to address the challenge of water quality in this geographical area. Other new avenues are being explored on a continual basis of research and development. The idea is to draw innovative and cost-effective solutions for the challenges at hand, enabling an all-encompassing change.

– Story Contributed By Sarah Berry, Sehgal Foundation

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