All the water that will ever be, is, right now. A simple statement, yet so often forgotten. With the 340 million people living in cities across India expected to double by 2030, water use and waste discharge are expected to explode. Forcible ‘re-allocation’ of water between urban and rural areas is already causing serious conflict. To prevent these from escalating, we need to manage water use in our cities better.
Excreta Matters, a recent report by the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE), details findings of a 71–city survey on water management in India. The results should cause sleepless nights to all of us.
According to the report, mega projects such as dams, canals inter-linking rivers and huge sewage treatment facilities are over-emphasised while conservation — be it domestic water usage, replenishing ground water resources, cost–effective and environmentally- friendly sewage management or the protection of local water resources receive little attention.
“Laying more pipes and thinking that you will solve the water problem is nothing but a pipe dream,” said Suresh Rohilla, a water expert at the CSE. Emphasis should also be put on sustainable water resource management. “Policymakers think like contractors — how do we build these mega projects? It’s as if there is an unwritten law that to increase water supply to a city, we have to go far away,” he added.
Traditionally, cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru sustained their water supply from local lakes. As demand grew, supply needed to be augmented, and this has meant grand projects, such as the Tehri dam to supply Delhi, and the Indira Gandhi canal to feed cities such as Jodhpur, were built.
The trend continues. For example, water for Agra through its future source, the Mathura-Vrindavan water supply scheme, will travel over 400 km. Narmada water from the Malia canal will travel a similar distance to Rajkot. Further the distance, greater the costs.
But not much focus has been given to curtailing demand.
“The problem stems from the cost of water,” said Nitya Jacob, another water expert at the CSE. There is a huge difference between the cost of production and the user charges as they currently stand. For sustainable and affordable solutions, we need an information campaign, which teaches people about the real value of water.
Systems add to our woes. In Hyderabad, Bangalore, Udaipur and Bhubaneswar, over 40% of water is wasted in transfer and distribution losses, according to the CSE study. This automatically doubles production costs.
Simple solutions exist. Similar to the ‘star’ rating for electrical appliances, lawmakers need to devise ratings for kitchen and toilet appliances based on water efficiency — and financial incentives should be given to those who install more efficient products. According to some estimates, simply installing water efficient faucets and dual flushes can reduce household water consumption by a third. This, combined with ‘reuse and recycle’ techniques, especially for grey water from the kitchen, can lead to huge savings.
Chasing dreams of supplying water 24x7 to our cities won’t happen unless we start protecting our local water bodies and use a better a mix of technologies to promote efficiency. Hopefully this will happen before our wells runneth dry. Water purification methods