All citizens of cities in Rajasthan have access to natural mineral water like Himalayan or Evian for Rs 3 a litre. Fact or fiction?
What is mineral water? Forested hills like the Aravalli are the result of billions of years of evolution. Such a forest has a layer of humus on the ground that sits on old rock formations full of cracked pathways. When it rains on this forest, the water percolates into the ground, where it picks up minerals and nutrients from the forest floor, seeps through these crevices in the rock and finds its way to the bottom to create aquifers. Unlike mountain springs, the water in the Aravalli forest flows as a subterranean aquifer and does not come out as a spring. As a result, we have a local and perennial source of natural mineral water that collects at the bottom of the ridge and is replenished every year.
However, taking out more water than nature can recharge every year will do irreparable damage to this resource. A scheme of ‘conserve and use’, if applied correctly, could allow the Aravalli forests to be sustained as a mineral water sanctuary. It could then provide natural mineral water to several cities in Rajasthan, such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Udaipur, Bhilwara, Alwar, Kishangarh and others.
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Averaging recharge estimates over the Aravalli forest, we can take at least 20 per cent of the rainfall as net recharge. (The total recharge is 30 per cent; we are assuming that 10per cent of the water would be lost by gravity flow out of the aquifer.) Using meteorological data and mapping the Aravalli thorn forest using Google Earth, we find that the Aravalli can provide mineral water to the cities named above, and several others, at 2-3 litres per person per day.
Through a public-private partnership, such a scheme could also yield substantial revenue for the cities. By selling natural mineral water at a nominal cost of Rs 3 per litre for a population of about 3.5 million people, Jaipur could earn a revenue of over Rs 10 billion per year. At the price at which Himalayan Mineral Water is sold (Rs. 50 per litre), the city could earn approx. Rs 160 billion per year. The capital cost for such a project remains minuscule compared to the revenue it can generate. For a city the size of Jaipur, it would cost less than Rs 500 million to set up the wells, monitoring stations, pipelines and storage tanks as required.
A subterranean source of mineral water has potential health benefits as well. Potable water remains a variable around the country. A few years ago, the WHO issued a warning against demineralised water, saying, “… not only does completely demineralised water have unsatisfactory organoleptic properties, it also has a definite adverse influence on the animal and human organism.”
However, reverse-osmosis continues to be the preferred way of purifying drinking water, despite the fact that it removes many of the nutrients, minerals and trace elements that our bodies need. We now drink unnatural water and water that is sometimes acidic.
Our research and chemical analyses of several samples that we tested from different locations at the Asola Bhatti Sanctuary and on the Aravalli indicated that the forested subterranean water is rich in calcium, magnesium, carbonates, phosphates and subscribes to the WHO’s standards for total dissolved solids, acidity, sodium, potassium, phosphates and nitrates. It is comparable to expensive brands of packaged mineral water.
Subterranean mineral water is rich in minerals and trace elements required for our bodies to maintain, enrich and regulate vital functions. It also eliminates the need for artificially manufactured vitamins and mineral supplements, reducing the burden on an average individual’s finances.
The neighbourhood preserved forest could be elevated to the status of a water sanctuary and transformed into a source of all natural mineral water consumed by the inhabitants of a city. At the same time, it could help regulate extreme temperatures from urban heat islands and sustain biodiversity.
Currently, natural mineral water is obtained from faraway sources and packaged in plastic bottles. Subterranean natural mineral water can provide a source of water that is local and can be piped to underground storage tanks and then dispensed through vending booths. This would reduce the burden of transporting water as well as our use of plastic items. This scheme would work for any forested formation near cities around the globe. Cities will be able to provide a perennial supply of healthy drinking water, preserve their remaining forests and generate revenue from dispensing this water without generating any waste.
If these schemes are implemented correctly, they will be a boon for the people and government while setting an example for the rest of the world.
Vikram Soni and Aditi Veena are affiliated with the PI Sci Foundation (Science in Public Interest).
In arrangement with TheWire.in