LAHORE - Excessive extraction of water with little or no recharge is causing alarming drop in aquifer level in densely populated areas of Lahore.

Except for partial reliance of the agricultural sector on surface water resources like canals, all other sectors including domestic, industrial and commercial are totally relying on groundwater.

As per a recent study conducted by WWF-Pakistan, these sectors are meeting their requirements from groundwater, causing pumping of 7.17 MCH water per day. The largest share, 53 per cent, of this extracted water is consumed by the domestic sector. The industrial sector consumes 13 per cent; agriculture uses 24 per cent; and institutional sector 10 per cent.

In return to this excessive pumping of water, average recharge to groundwater is 6.50 MCH per day and that too mostly in suburbs of Lahore. River Ravi contributes 82 per cent of the groundwater recharge. The rainfall and canal system contribute only 12 per cent whereas return flow from irrigation fields is about 6 per cent.

As such difference between discharge and recharge of groundwater stands at 0.67 MCH per day, equivalent to 0.55 meter per year drop in aquifer level in Lahore. The drop in aquifer level is insignificant in rural areas due to sufficient recharge from the irrigation system and agricultural fields.

The situation is worse in urban areas where recharge is insignificant after concrete structures and roads replacing doongi grounds and grassy areas with the passage of time. As such excessive pumping and little or no rainwater harvesting in densely populated areas is causing drop of aquifer level to alarming proportions. Allama Iqbal Town, Gulberg, Samanabad, Cantonment and other such thickly populated localities are worst affected areas as far as drop in aquifer level is concerned.

Wasa supplies drinking water to 6 million people by means of 484 tube wells, extracting water from 150 to 200 meter depth. Water demand has increased from 180 liter per capita per day in 1967 to 274 lpcd in 2013.

In the absence of any municipal water act or water-right law, private housing schemes and industries pump groundwater indiscriminately. Private housing societies pump 0.37MCH/day to supply water to their residents. In areas where water supply network (WASA) is unavailable, estimated extraction is 0.35MCH per day. The situation will worsen with ever increasing requirements for domestic use and no infrastructure (grounds or grassy footpaths) for rainwater harvesting.

Out of 2,700 registered industries in Lahore, 75 per cent are large scale units which are main users of groundwater.

Experts have suggested measures for checking rapid drop in aquifer level. They suggested ban on boreholes and dug wells, defining limits of withdrawal, imposing groundwater extraction fee and raising awareness about prudent use of fast depleting water resources.

“There is need to devise strategy, enact law and ensure implementation to check wastage and conserve water resources. Rainwater harvesting should be kept in mind while developing road infrastructure and erecting concrete structures. Rainwater harvesting should be encouraged in new housing schemes. Water extraction quota should be fixed for old and new housing societies. Water should be treated as economic good and given at compatible prices to industrial sector. Water should be charged on volumetric basis to domestic users through a metering system,” said prominent environmentalist Rafeh Alam, adding, public awareness was a key to check water wastage and conservation for future use.