A rainwater harvesting expert has been preserving for decades to bring clean drinking water to 200 drought-hit villages in India.
For the last two decades, Dombivli resident, Dr Ajit Gokhale has been persevering to end the drought-like conditions in over 200 villages across India. By putting to use his years of research and experience, he has introduced easy rain-water harvesting techniques that conserve water from the springs, making them last through various seasons.
His desire to provide people living in far off villages, not just in Maharashtra, with easily accessible drinking water started way back in 1986 when he was a second-year BSc student. While the plan didn’t materialise then, he persisted, honing his skills for the next 13 years till he came up with a concrete plan. In the years spent learning, the botanist informs that the areas of Raigad, Thane and Palghar district face severe annual water scarcity despite an annual rainfall of 2500-5000 mm. “The water doesn’t stay there and people have to trek to a distance of three kilometres to fetch drinking water,” he says.
In the years spent working at Ion Exchange India Limited, an energy and water management company, he expanded his knowledge and came up with a formula in 2003 that could help save the rainwater in villages from evaporating.
“We developed a technique called Participatory Rural Drinking Water Appraisal, where we meet villagers in neutral cities, talk to them about the water situation and identify the water sources for different seasons. We then physically go to each of the water sources, and study their behavioural patterns,” says the founder of Natural Solutions.
Depending on the site condition, the cordon of the spring is built, wherein tiny walls are constructed in front of the spring that holds water. “These walls act as a valve on a tank. It helps in reducing the drainage on the hill slopes. Thus the available water lasts longer,” he says.
While the village recce takes about two days, the making of cordon is entirely the work of villagers, done in association with NGOs. Right from identifying various water springs to the building of walls around it, the villagers are trained on the various aspects of the project. “There are no trained engineers or supervisors. We practically train the villagers, from concrete mixing to laying it, fixing of the plate, and so on. During the execution period, we visit the site several times. If they are stuck somewhere, we explain and give them solutions,” he shares.
From his study in the Konkan region, the findings indicate that since the entire area is saturated with water during the rainy season, the approach is to conserve water during and after the rainy season.
Out of the 200, 170 villages in Maharashtra — Vihule Kond, Dongroli, Bhandival, Dhamini, Dhapti, to name a few — have received the benefits. “One of the villages called Kotha has 23 springs on a big plateau. It used to get dry between February to June. After we did interventions, they started retaining water for a longer time. Dhamani village had 15 springs. These springs are tiny and don’t appear on any satellite images or land survey map,” he reveals.
Another service specialty that Dr Gokhale introduced was wastewater recycling. “We look at sewage water as 95 per cent good water and take care of 5 per cent of impurities. We make a tank called MBABR (Multi Baffled Anaerobic Bio-Reactor) that helps in anaerobic digestion of sewage water. Then the partially treated water is taken to the reed bed system that is a large pond or tank laid with a thick plastic liner. The bed is filled with porous media that is available locally. Then we introduce the bacteria and cultures that purifies the wastewater and plant hygroscopic plants suitable to site conditions,” he explains who is currently working in the villages of Ambarwadi and Pendhari, ensuring that villagers have an access to this basic necessity.