Delhi: Yamuna water too toxic to treat for 134 days last year

Updated on Jan 20, 2022 03:58 AM IST

The data from Wazirabad pond shows that ammonia levels stayed above 1 ppm for 16 days in January 2021, and for 27 days in February, 19 days in March and 13 days in April.

High levels of ammonia not only disrupts supply of water to several parts of the city, but is also an indicator of the inability of the river water to support aquatic life. (HT Archive)
High levels of ammonia not only disrupts supply of water to several parts of the city, but is also an indicator of the inability of the river water to support aquatic life. (HT Archive)
By, New Delhi

Last week, the ammonia levels in the Yamuna, the primary source of water for Delhi, went up so high that the Delhi Jal Board had to shut its three treatment plants. Though it is nothing new for the city, the episode yet again underlined the crucial issue of pollution in the Yamuna which at times become so acute that it renders the river water not even fit for mechanical treatment.

High levels of ammonia not only disrupts supply of water to several parts of the city, but is also an indicator of the inability of the river water to support aquatic life.

According to data from the Wazirabad water quality monitoring laboratory, the city witnessed 22 ammonia spike episodes spread over 134 days last year, during which ammonia levels went above 1 ppm level. Cumulatively, for over three months during 2021, DJB reported ammonia levels higher than the maximum treatable limit, the data shows. DJB’s plants have the capacity to treat up to 0.9 ppm levels of ammonia in raw water.

A senior DJB official said, “The problem is witnessed throughout the year, but the concentration of ammonia recorded in winters (between December and March) is relatively higher.”

The toxin in Delhi's river
The toxin in Delhi's river

“We try to divert water from other sources to dilute the raw water to keep the operations running at the treatment plants. Ozonation plants are also being set up to increase the treatment capacity to up to 4ppm of ammonia to help deal with the periodic problem,” the official said asking not to be named.

The data from Wazirabad pond shows that ammonia levels stayed above 1 ppm for 16 days in January 2021, and for 27 days in February, 19 days in March and 13 days in April. The DJB report shows that 15 smaller disruption periods varying between two to six days were observed between May and November 2021.

Of the total 935 MGD of Delhi’s daily water supply-- over 230 MGD is supplied by Chandrawal and Wazirabad plants both of which draw water from Wazirabad pond fed by Yamuna water.

DJB has maintained that the untreated industrial pollutants released from Panipat industrial is the main reason behind the periodic exceptionally high ammonia levels in Yamuna. In a letter to Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, DJB vice chairperson Raghav Chadha said the main source of Yamuna pollution are some drains in Haryana.

“The pollution is occurring due to waste water and industrial waste water discharge from Panipat drain DD-1 through DD-2, Rohtak X-regulator, DD-6 through DD-8 which reaches Wazirabad barrage and in turn pollutes Yamuna downstream,” the letter dated April 14, 2021 said.

A DJB official explained: “Panipat drain 1 and drain 2 carry pollutants from the dye industries. Also, DD 8 and DD 6 drains are vulnerable points in Sonipat as Delhi’s fresh water and industrial waste run parallel in these drains which are separated by just a few inches wide muddy wall.”

The Haryana pollution control board and the Haryana irrigation department, however, have repeatedly denied the allegations of DJB. The pollution board did not comment on the matter,

Experts say that while Delhi needs to expedite the much delayed upgradation of its water treatment plants, interstate agencies such as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Upper Yamuna River Board also need to intervene to curb pollution in the Yamuna.

Environmental activist Manoj Misra who heads Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said the main body responsible for controlling the ammonia level spikes is CPCB. “The problem has persisted for so many years and yet no resolution has been found. We require to work on both the technological upgrade of water treatment plants, and tackling the pollution at source. If we know that the problem increases during January to April period, patrolling should be done along industrial areas so that major culprits can be caught,” he said.

Misra said zero liquid discharge policy is the only permanent solution. It is a wastewater management system that ensures there is no industrial discharge into the environment.

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