Hyderabad's water warrior: Meet Kalpana who wants to change the city's tanker culture

From harvesting rainwater to recycling the water that flows from sinks and showers, Kalpana has left no stone unturned.
Hyderabad's water warrior: Meet Kalpana who wants to change the city's tanker culture
Hyderabad's water warrior: Meet Kalpana who wants to change the city's tanker culture
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For anyone who lives in Hyderabad, access to clean water is a perpetual problem. From ordering water tankers every week to making daily calls to nearby kirana shops for Bisleri cans, the city is yet to come up with a permanent solution for the crisis. Choked rivers and foaming lakes, our water woes are here to stay. Or at least this is what Kalpana thought when she shifted to Hyderabad from the US more than a decade ago.

Kalpana Ramesh, an architect, was vexed with the city’s dependence on tankers and water cans. “From the very beginning, our family had to order tankers on a weekly basis to fulfill our water needs. When I asked around, I discovered that this is somewhat of a norm in Hyderabad,” Kalpana says.

Soon, Kalpana along with her husband began harvesting rainwater on their terrace. Tasting success, Kalpana thought why not recycle the grey water that flows from the sinks, showers and basins in homes. Soon, her potted plants had enough water to quench their thirst.

Today, what began as an initiative to manage water at the household level, has grown into a city-based project to conserve lakes and rivers wherein even the government and forest authorities have joined hands with Kalpana in her endeavour.

Speaking to TNM, Kalpana says that initially, the idea of water tankers and cans was new to her as clean water was always a basic necessity and was supposed to be readily available. “Even after changing houses and localities, the water situation did not improve, and I soon realised that the only way to resolve this, at least at a household level, was to start conserving water. Coming from a design background, I decided to harvest rainwater at my home.”

“We put up a net on our roof so that leaves, twigs and other such elements do not enter the tank. Below the net, we installed a tank in which rainwater passes through sand and coal filters. They naturally take pollutants out of the water and make it usable.”

Now, instead of calling water tankers every week, they reuse the water that would otherwise just evaporate.

Kalpana also managed to convince the members of her housing society to adopt water conservation methods and now, around 40 houses have begun harvesting rainwater, thereby getting rid of the need for tankers. She proudly claims that the community is now a 100% zero waste green society.

But for Kalpana, this was only a baby step in her crusade towards water conservation. Soon she began asking herself why not recycle and reuse the gargantuan amount of water that flows from our kitchen sinks, showers and basins.

“There’s the black water from commodes and toilets, which cannot be easily recycled for obvious reasons, and then there’s the grey water, which flows away in showers, sinks, and basins. We started recycling the grey water at our home. People talk about using buckets instead of showers to save water. Sure, that may be part of the solution, but I decided to recycle the water that flows away.”

Kalpana says that in a day, she collects at least 150 litres of water recycled from grey water. This water is used for washing, cleaning and to water plants in her garden that grows organic vegetables and fruits.

As success followed, Kalpana became unstoppable. “I started reading more about water conservation in the state and realised how fast our groundwater levels are depleting and how people travel up to 200 km a day only to fetch water.”

Soon, Kalpana started utilising her weekends to take her rainwater harvesting initiative to a larger number of communities.

She successfully got about 200 families in and around the city to repair their defunct borewells and adopt water harvesting methods.

“I worked with the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) for three months with enthusiasts who wanted to save water. We gave them a 60-day city-wide awareness campaign plan. Awareness is the key to people adopting any initiative, and we wanted it to be supported by a policy change and strict implementation,” says Kalpana.

In a span of three months, Kalpana also held awareness classes for people who lived around the slums near lakes. “Improper disposal of garbage was a matter of concern. We got members from the community themselves to clean the garbage they throw and sought help from the GHMC to collect the garbage for disposal. In a matter of 15-20 days, we were able to clean the precincts of the lake,” Kalpana says.

“I also approached the government to get streetlights installed in places where snakes were entering their homes or drunkards would harass them," Kalpana adds.

Now, a Green Go activist, Kalpana has ensured there is regular collection of waste from around the lakes in the city.

Kalpana and her team have also encouraged people who have plots around lakes to build barricades and stop the flow of garbage into the water. We must at least save a little of what is left, Kalpana opines.

Working hand-in-hand with the GHMC and a couple of NGOs, Kalpana is now a part of the City Lake Action Committee. Talking about conserving lakes, she says that to bring a positive change, one needs to connect communities to the lake.

“As part of the initiative, we inspect issues of garbage cleaning and overflowing drains in front of homes. We also educate people on community health. Finally, we make sure that the garbage and drainage don't reach the lake bed. Often, members of the community themselves offer their services and commit to the protection of their lake. But despite all big initiatives, one question that we need to ask ourselves is 'Are we doing our bit in conserving water, at least at our homes?'”

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