KARACHI, Aug 3: The British left behind a fine system for the distribution of water that we in this day and age are finding a challenge to maintain. It is due to the sand and gravel mafia, power cuts, climate change and shortage of water here that the water wells in Dumlottee, remnants of the ingenuity of English engineers, are drying up and closing down, one after the other.
“Out of the original 16 wells in Dumlottee just 12 remain today and only three of these are functioning. The rest of the nine we had to close due to shortage of water and lack of maintenance,” said Mohammad Riaz, superintending engineer of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board’s (KWSB) bulk transmission at Dumlottee while adding that four wells were levelled and demolished due to silting and flooding.
“But Karachi is only supplied around two million gallons per day (MGD) from the Malir River and the three wells are more than sufficient for that. The rest of the supply to the city from here, which is around 12 to 14 MGD we inject from the Indus River,” he said.
It is said that the wells were designed and built by British engineers Temple and Currie in 1882, but Eng Riaz pointed to the date ‘1926’ inscribed in stone on one. “They were all built around the same time,” he explained.
During the Raj and for several years afterwards, too, the water in the wells used to be pumped out to the city channels or conduits by engines that ran on crude oil. “Listening to the engines pumping out the water had its own charm. The pulleys and belts attached to the engines made them sound like puffing steam locomotives and one could hear them from afar,” described Eng Riaz.
But the system had to be converted to run on electric motors as crude oil was proving to be far too expensive. Electricity comes with its own price and Dumlottee experiences 12 to 14 hours of loadshedding every day. It is a rural area that has also seen two-day-long blackouts in the past. Using generators is, of course, expensive, probably as much as running the old crude oil engines. Then several technical faults, too, come up and have to be dealt with on almost a daily basis due to voltage fluctuations.
“It is not uncommon for our motors circuits or their winding burning out due to excessive fluc-tuations. Getting a direct cable connection instead of receiving power through overhead lines will help but that’s something we have to convince the Karachi Electric Supply Company [KESCJ to do for us,” the engineer said.
The wells in Dumlottee are around 70 to 80 feet deep but those being used by the farmers for irrigation in the surrounding agriculture areas are deeper, around 150 to 200 feet, and the boring system sees them digging even further to 400 feet deep.
“The Malir River is a continuation of the Dadu River and the water table in Dumlottee has gone down due to sand being dug out from the river bed and the adjoining nullahs such as the Thaddu Nullah and Bazaar Nullah by the sand and gravel mafia. There is a ban under Section 144 [of the criminal procedure code] imposed on excavation of sand and gravel by the home department now, but a lot of damage has already been done. Then the farmers, who have their own deep wells, use tube wells to suck the water out from the ground,” said KWSB Managing Director Misbahuddin Farid.
“It’s not like this in neighbouring India. There the local farmers have to get special permission from the government to dig the wells and use tube wells. They also have to pay extra taxes for it,” he
The dams built nearby help recharge the wells as will the rains, when they come eventually. “But there, too, we will see how much water enters the wells and how much silt it brings with it,” he said.
Meanwhile, his superintending engineer at Dumlottee said that the sand in the Malir River used to absorb the water. But with the sand being frequently dug out over the past many years, now it doesn’t get much water to their infiltration galleries from where it used to come into the wells. “The water now just flows out to the sea instead,” he said.
“During the rains there is usually an increase of eight to 10 MGD of water supply to Karachi and de-silting of wells by us can also result in an additional four to five MGD. But right now the interconnections help us add the water from the Indus to the supply thanks to KWSB Greater Karachi, K-II and K-m water schemes,” said Eng Riaz.
The water reserves near all the wells have several valves for mixing the water additional sources. The air vents in the water conduit along the side of the roads in Dumlottee also invite nearby villagers to fetch water. A man with a small bucket tied to a long rope was busy pulling out small quantities of water to fill the clay pot he
had brought with him. A few women carrying aluminium pitchers over their heads also stopped by near the water passage to wash clothes and collect water.
There were cement bases near the closed down wells that once had steam engine accessories but those have been auctioned out by the water board over three decades ago. The metal rails around the reservoirs and collection chambers are also gone and have not been replaced to this day. “The water board keeps sending proposals for the maintenance of buildings of these old facilities but we keep running into walls. Still these places are not too badly damaged due to being surrounded by the KWSB staff quarters. The staff understands their value. Otherwise if left to the mercy of the general public here, even these historical assets would have disappeared by now,” the superintending engineer added.
“The Dumlottee wells were the only means of channelling w’ater to Karachi before Partition. But it is not like that anymore. The climate change in the past few years has resulted in less rain in the area. There used to be more rain here before the 1970s. And the power crisis emerged during the 1990s, making our dependence on these wells less and less with time,” he said.