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Time For Water Reuse To Gain Precedence

The water storage in 91 major reservoirs of India in February was a paltry 32 per cent of their total capacity, indicating that the country is heading for a very dry summer

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The 22nd of March every year is observed as the United Nations World Water Day. It is a day that typically passes without major fanfare since water is not something that has a great hold over the public imagination. This year could be a lot different, for problems related to water scarcity and access have been very much in the news.

In January this year, the World Economic Forum identified water as the biggest threat that we'd have to confront over the next decade. Last month, civil unrest in the state of Haryana which led to the damage of equipment at the strategic Munak canal supplying 543 million gallons of water per day from the Yamuna, disrupted water supplies for 10 million people in the national capital of Delhi.

This month, there was news from Tikamgarh in drought-hit Madhya Pradesh's Bundelkhand region, where authorities have employed armed guards to deter farmers from irrigating crops with water taken without authorisation from the Bari Ghat Dam. The presence of armed guards is a manifestation of wider regional water supply challenges. Last week, data published by the Ministry of Water Resources revealed that the water storage in 91 major reservoirs of India as on 25th February 2016 was a paltry 32 per cent of their total capacity indicating that Indians are heading for a very dry summer.

Across the world, in developing and developed nations, a cocktail of urbanisation, changing rainfall patterns and increased affluence - water use tends to rise with wealth - is putting pressure on water resources. Data from the Central Water Commission shows that India has witnessed a decline of over 60 per cent in per capita availability of water from 3,000 cubic metres to 1,123 cubic metres over the last 50 years, bringing it way below the global average of 6,000 cubic metres. In the light of this fact, Ernst & Young's prediction of the growth in industrial demand for water from 40.86 billion cubic metres (Bm3) in 2010 to 91.63 Bm3 in 2030 signals increased pressure on available water resources.

By including adequate water supply and sanitation in the attributes of a smart city, the government's 100 Smart cities initiative has put water in the center stage. This initiative is brimming with potential for smart water solutions to our urban water challenges. These include turning wastewater from a problem into a resource. This encompasses water reuse, when advanced treatment is used to turn wastewater streams into renewable sources of reusable water; relieving pressures on stressed surface and ground water resources. In addition, the Swachh Bharat agenda will help reduce levels of contamination of domestic water supplies by protecting water sources. While the technology exists to remove almost all pollutants, one very smart thing to do is keep them out of the water in the first place.

Singapore, Australia and the USA have shown us first-hand the difference that water reuse projects can make. Water reuse can be emotive, however, so its success is as much dependent upon the quality of public education programmes as the technical solution.

Using treated wastewater for non-potable applications is a good way of introducing reuse. In recognition of this the government is creating a market for treated wastewater. Developments include a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Railways to adopt reused water for cleaning rolling stock and other non-potable uses. On the power generation front, it is now mandatory for power plants to buy treated wastewater from sewage treatment centers, where two thermal power plants are within a 50-kilometre radius of each other. This is significant when you consider that, typically, 2,650 litres of water per MegaWatt hours (MWh) are needed for coal fired generation; and that coal accounts for more than 75 per cent of India's energy mix.

Wastewater is also an abundant source of energy. Advanced digestion of sewage increases the amount of bio gas produced as a byproduct of the treatment process. The gas can be used as fuel to generate heat and power for use in the treatment process or export to local power grids. Generating energy from wastewater supports the Swachh Bharat agenda and the Smart Cities Mission's sustainability goals by increasing the use of renewable energy.

Currently 40-50 per cent of the water entering India's distribution networks is lost due largely to leakage and illegal connections. In addition to wasting a precious resource, losses as a result of non-revenue water (NRW) also arise as the utility is unable to recover the costs of treatment and supply. High levels of non-revenue water hamper investment in water infrastructure. Smart meters can be an effective solution here and will play a major role in preserving strained water resources.

Smart metering is a highly successful way of identifying accurately how much water is being lost, where leaks are occurring and the location of unauthorised connections in the distribution network. This information helps preserve a stressed natural resource and increases the income available to invest in water infrastructure, something which is the need of the hour. Imagine a significant part of India's capital city still uses wastewater infrastructure that is over nine decades old.

The increasing pressure on water supplies means promoting water's value is central to ensuring long-term sustainability. Technology alone, however, will be insufficient to meet India's water challenges. It is not that people have chosen to undervalue water; it is rather that we need to be more effective at helping them understand its value, and thus better manage its demand and usage. A drive to use water more carefully is something to which we as citizens can all contribute - which is an empowering thought for World Water Day.

It is still not too late for us to understand and appreciate the words of the omniscient Benjamin Franklin - "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water."

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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environment water water resources rivers

Anand Pattani

Anand Pattani has 17 years of experience in the space of critical human infrastructure including planning, development, engineering, designing and implementation of nearly 25,000 MW of coal, gas and renewable power plant facilities. He is country manager and managing director of Black & Veatch India

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