Both surface and groundwater today in India and other South Asian cities is facing huge quantity and quality threat. Urban areas are facing water logging due to torrential rain. It is time to engineer the ferocious events of rain. Channelising and holding rain water must become the nation’s mission. Lakes, ponds, tanks which are built to hold water must be protected. These waterbodies not only provide drinking water, support livelihoods and biodiversity but also control the rate of runoff and subsequently control the runoff. Every city used to give its land for rain but now these "holes" in the ground are either lucrative real estate for builders, the last resort for slum dwellers, or garbage dumps.
CSE's work on waterbodies started about two decades ago with the publication of "Fourth Citizen's report: Dying Wisdom" in 1997, where CSE talked about the decline and relevance of traditional waterbodies in the modern context and its protection through community management. The report helped to spread the message of protection and conservation of waterbodies across the country and helped CSE to establish a network of people interested in promoting community-based water management systems. CSE continued to put out the research findings through its fortnightly magazine Down to Earth. In 2001, CSE published another book, "Making Water Everybody’s Business: Policy and Practice of Water Harvesting", which captured numerous case studies of village communities involved in protection and conservation of waterbodies across the country. CSE tried to catalyse the movement on lake protection by conducting a meeting with the protectors across the country in early 2000. Later in mid 2000 CSE produced "Surface Tension " which documented the legal cases filed to protect the waterbodies across India. In 2011, CSE updated the cases on waterbodies in court. In the following year CSE produced its seventh State of India's Environment report - "Excreta Matters". This book talked about the state of water and waste in different urban areas of our country. Since waterbodies form a very important source of water and also helps in recharging groundwater and city level, this book covered some important ideas on waterbodies. This book not only covered the state of waterbodies in the country but also analysed the existing policies and acts which protect them. CSE talked about the need of a comprehensive act for the protection of urban waterbodies.
CSE continued its research on the state of waterbodies in India and South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The policies, acts and conservation plans of these waterbodies have also been critically reviewed. CSE created a database of the endangered waterbodies from different parts of South Asia. As a part of advocacy programme, CSE conducted series of meetings with the lake protectors in India and South Asia. Anil Agarwal Dialogue in 2012 marked the starting of such meeting. This was followed by series of meetings in different cities of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A need of legal framework for the identification of waterbodies in the South Asian countries was identified in all these meetings. CSE worked jointly with the Enviro Legal Defence Firm (ELDF) to come up with a draft framework legislation which may be presented to different law making authorities in the South Asian countries (including India). The framework has taken care of the loopholes of the existing laws and policies related to the protection and conservation of wetlands. The legal framework is the starting point for a set of activities that will include recommendations to the central and state governments about appropriate institutional and technical measures for wetland protection.
CSE's work on waterbodies helped to mainstream the idea of conservation and preservation of waterbodies. After the publication of Excreta Matters, CSE was successful in initiating the formation of a forum of activists, lawyers, government officials, etc., who have worked on lake and river restoration. The idea is to provide them a mechanism to pool efforts and scale up their efforts. CSE was also part of the formulation of the 12th Plan working group on urban water and industry. Policy recommendations and approach from our research and publication Excreta Matters has been incorporated in to the five year approach to sector management by the Planning Commission. CSE submitted different approach strategies on lake conservation through this formal mechanism.
Currently, India is far off-track in achieving its sanitation targets. Apart from open defecation and lack of sanitation facilities in urban and rural areas; the management of septage has been largely neglected and is not a priority due to the lack of awareness of its heavy contribution to environmental degradation, poor sanitation and ill-effects to health. “Septage” is the waste that accumulates in onsite sanitation systems (OSS e.g.