The Mumbai Project: 24-hour water supply? It’s no pipedream | india | Hindustan Times
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The Mumbai Project: 24-hour water supply? It’s no pipedream

Middle-class Mumbai uses as much water daily as Shanghai. We have enough water and we will get enough water once the civic body replaces our British-era pipes. Gigil Varghese finds out. Talk to us...Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 17:32 IST
Gigil Varghese
Gigil Varghese
Hindustan Times

Mithesh Kapadia, a 30-year-old event manager who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in the upmarket Lokhandwala Complex in the western suburb of Andheri, uses up to 25 buckets of water a day. That’s the same as a middle-class citizen of Shanghai, the Chinese city our politicians look to as a model for Mumbai. (Check out the special on The Mumbai Project)

How does Mumbai match Shanghai?

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) supplies water to India’s financial capital for no more than six hours a day. Shanghai supplies water for 24 hours. That’s the same as international cities like London, Bangkok, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

Mumbai has enough water for its 14 million citizens, enough for a 24-hour supply. So say experts. So says the BMC. So says a World Bank study.

The city — from Churchgate to Dahisar on the west, from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Mulund and Mankhurd on the east — is supplied 3,350 million litres per day (mld) from five lakes. That’s 33,500 tankers of water a day. Yet, every Mumbai household knows the water announcements: Get ready, the water will go soon! Fill the buckets! Don’t wash your hair!

So, if we have enough water, why don’t we get it?

“Mumbai has enough water for a 24-hour supply but water gets wasted because there are too many leakages in the old pipe network,” said David Ehrhardt, chief executive of Castalia Ltd, a global infrastructure consultancy firm that in June 2007 studied Mumbai’s water supply — in Andheri with money from the World Bank.

Here’s what Ehrhardt found: “The amount of water Shanghai loses in its 24-hour supply is lost in Mumbai’s six-hour supply process.” Mumbai loses 670 mld of water.

Continuous water supply — a given in global cities across the world — will solve many of our water problems:
• To start with, people will no longer have to wake up at odd hours or plan their lives around the water-supply schedule.
• It will cut the waste of water. People tend to empty stored water every time the six-hour supply resumes, said the World Bank-funded study.
• It will reduce contamination. Sewer and water pipes, many a century old, run parallel. When there are leaks, there’s contamination and outbreaks of water-borne illnesses.

If there is a 24-hour supply, water will simply flow out if there’s a leak; sewage will not get in. When pipes are empty, contamination is easy, said Ehrhardt. Contamination is highest during the monsoons, between June and October.

The answer: Replace 4,000 km of leaky pipes, some up to 70 years old. The 2007 BMC budget set aside Rs 253 crore to replace and repair these old pipes.

Work began after the rains, in October. “We have replaced 150 km of the city’s water pipes and we will replace about 174 km more with money from this year’s budget,” said Madhukar Kamble, chief hydraulic engineer with the BMC. “Work worth another Rs 100 crore will be done in the next financial year.” The civic body also plans to repair 290 km of pipeline.

Replacing these pipes won’t be easy. Civic officials say there is no underground map of the city’s water pipes and sewage lines. “So we have to dig a section of the road and check if the pipes are actually there,” admitted an official from the hydraulic department, requesting anonymity. “We rarely find the pipeline we are looking for in the first attempt.”

Till Mumbai gets new pipes, our best hope is that the city quickly detects leaks and fixes them.

On an average there are 250 major pipe-bursts every year. That’s a pipe-burst every 36 hours. Each time, around 10 lakh citizens face water cuts for varying amounts of time — it could be from a few hours to two days.

Fixing the leaks would not be difficult, if the BMC had had an efficient system of detecting leaks. “We still follow the old method of listening to the water gushing in the pipe to locate the leak,” said P.R. Sanglikar, retired deputy municipal commissioner.

Isn’t there a more efficient way to detect water leaks? “Well, the BMC bought electronic leak detectors 20 years ago but they were never used due to lack of enthusiasm among the staff,” explained Sanglikar. “Now, they have rusted and do not work.”

It took between seven days to a month to get a pipe repaired, until recently: A BMC meeting had to be held and a committee had to sanction money for repairs. Additional municipal commissioner Manu Kumar Srivastava, who heads the water department, has now put a system in place where pipe-bursts are attended to in a few hours instead of weeks. “If a pipeline bursts, work will not have to wait,” Srivastava. “Work is being given to private contractors and money has been budgeted so that repairs don’t get delayed.”

No waiting for water, no fear of contamination, no water cuts. Mumbai can make all of this happen, once the new water pipelines are laid and dams are built. The work is on. Let’s hope we meet the deadlines

Is this enough?

Problem 1: We need more than sharp ears
The civic body needs to invest in technologically advanced equipment that will detect leaks, then train employees to use the equipment — instead of relying on a staffer’s sharp hearing to detect pipe-bursts.

Problem 2: How do we get to the pipes?
Slums built on water pipes need to be cleared and slumdwellers quickly rehabilitated. That will make repairs easier and ensure pipes don’t get damaged.

Problem 3: Where are the pipes?
Water pipes — many laid up to 100 years ago — need to be mapped urgently. Projects are often delayed as workers dig blindly trying to find pipes. Indiscriminate digging also mars roads and snarls traffic.
Problem 4

Poor water pressure

The city needs booster pumps so every part of Mumbai gets enough water. Neighbourhoods on hills do not get enough water because it flows at a pressure that is worse than most international cities.

Other initiatives

Universal meters will be installed in flats to make sure users pay as much as they consume. “We are inviting tenders from agencies to supply, install, operate, maintain and read water meters throughout Mumbai for five years,” said Srivastava. The agency will be appointed by the end of January 2008.

Introduction of telescopic rates to ensure people who consume more pay proportionately more. The proposed tariff rates include doubling the rates if you consume more than the global standard quota of 150 litres per day. “This proposal is before the BMC standing committee. It will check excessive consumption,” said Srivastava.

Prepaid water meters will be introduced soon. Officials hope easy availability and low cost will discourage slumdwellers from tampering with pipes and stealing water. This proposal is pending before the standing committee.

A heavy monsoon. A forgotten plan. A 13-year delay

1994: Mumbai is reeling under a severe water crisis.
A team of eight experts, headed by Dr Madhavrao Chitale, an expert in irrigation and water management, put their heads together and came up with a master plan that would be the answer to the city’s water shortage. Not a stopgap solution but a plan that would sustain the city’s water needs for 26 years, till 2020.

The plan was to build five dams. Permissions from the state government were in place, Rs 2,599 crore was allocated, work was set to begin.
It rained heavily that year. Monsoon was normal and the water crisis resolved itself. And the plan? It was forgotten.


Thirteen years later, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) dug out the report and revived the five-dam plan, starting with the Middle Vaitarna project. The proposal has survived the termites, but its deadlines have been left far behind. “What would have cost the BMC Rs 2,599 crore is an estimated Rs 9,609 crore, if work starts today,” said P.R. Sanglikar, retired deputy municipal commissioner. The difference? A cool Rs 7,010 crore. With that money the BMC could have built five more dams.

The civic body got clearance in May this year from the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation and the Ministry of Environment and Forest to build the first dam, called the Middle Vaitarna project. Its new deadline is December 2011. Once ready, it will supply Mumbai an additional 455 mld of water, that’s about 4,550 tankers of water. Feasibility studies are now underway for two other dams, the Gargai and Pinjal projects.

If the civic body had followed the original plan, the Middle Vaitarna dam would have been ready four years ago and by 2013, Mumbai would have had enough water to meet the projected demand for the year 2021. Water supply would have gone up from the current 33,500 tankers per day to 53,880 tankers in Mumbai.

“When I was appointed to do the study 15 years ago, the main focus of the study was that the city should continue to develop without water becoming a constraint,” said Chitale.

Additional Municipal Commissioner Manu Kumar Srivastava said, “Since I took over two-and-a-half years ago, water supply has increased by about 355 mld. This was done by getting more water sanctioned for Mumbai from the state.”

Work in progress

For more water: New dams
Middle Vaitarna
The project involves construction of a 300-feet-high dam on the Vaitarna river, located in the forest area. From the river, water will be brought down to Lower Vaitarna. From there, a 7.5-km-long tunnel and a 35-km-long pipeline will bring water to a new water treatment plant in Bhandup, where water will be treated and then supplied to the city.
Cost: Rs 1,600 crore
Effect: Mumbai will get 4,550 tankers of water
Deadline: “It will take four years to build,” said Srivastava. “We will be able to draw water from the dam by December 2011.”

Gargai and Pinjal
The dams will come up on the river Gargai (about 120 km north of Mumbai) and Pinjal (about 130 km north of Mumbai). Work on the two dams is likely to start simultaneously, as recommended in the feasibility study. The Japanese Bank For International Cooperation is currently studying the project and may fund the project.
Cost: Not yet determined
Effect: 4,550 and 8,550 tankers of water respectively
Deadline: 2017 and 2021

For better supply
: New pipes

• The BMC has set aside Rs 253 crore in its 2007 budget to replace pipes in the city. Work began in October.
• The BMC also plans to repair 290 km of the pipeline.
• Another Rs 100 crore will be allocated in 2008 budget to continue replacing the city’s 100-year-old pipelines.

Tunnel vision

The civic body has started constructing tunnels instead of laying huge pipes to bring water from the dams into the city as these underground tunnels are low maintenance and cannot be encroached upon.

Tansa: A tunnel is being built at the Tansa dam site. The 17-km-long tunnel will run between Gundawali village, about 90 km from the city on the Mumbai-Nashik highway, and the Bhandup water-treatment complex, from where water is released to the city. The project also includes replacement of the existing pipelines. The existing water lines from Tansa, Vaitarna, Upper Vaitarna — Middle Vaitarna and Pinjal will come later — will be connected through this tunnel to the Bhandup water treatment complex.
Cost: Rs 1,650 crore: Rs 800 crore for the tunnel; Rs 850 crore for the pipeline. The BMC will seek funds from the Centre.

Others tunnels:

Malabar Hill-Cross Maidan
Cost: Rs 150 crore
Length: 3.6 km

Cost: Rs 350 crore
Length: 12 km

Yerawali-Yari Road
Cost: Rs 250 crore
Length: 6.1 km

Deadline: Work on all projects has started; the BMC deadline is 2010.

The buck stops here

Manu Kumar Srivastava, Additional Municipal Commissioner

What are the BMC’s plans to improve water supply to Mumbai?
We are taking up many initiatives under the Sujal Mumbai campaign. We have taken up work worth Rs 2,800 crore. The initiatives include creating new water sources by building dams, like the Middle Vaitarna project, and improving the city's water distribution system by replacing old water mains with three tunnels. These tunnels are easier to maintain and inaccessible to miscreants. We are also repairing and replacing water pipelines. In addition to this, to speed up the repair of smaller pipes carrying water to the consumer, we have fixed contracts with agencies to carry out work as per the directives of the hydraulic engineer.

Why did the BMC not build a single dam to increase water supply for 13 years?
I can only talk to you about the last two-and-a-half years since I have taken charge. We have got all the approvals for the Middle Vaitarna dam project, including funds from the Centre. The project is on track. We are also doing a feasibility study for the Gargai and Pinjal water dam projects.

What measures are you taking to improve water supply in the city?
We are aiming at a 24x7 water supply by minimising water wastage, through improvements in the distribution system and by developing new water sources.

Why is the civic body not investing in equipment to detect leaks?
We are improving the water distribution system with the help of a reputed consultant. We will divide the city into smaller areas and conduct water audits in each area to identify the leaks and rectify it.

For more details: Check out the special on The Mumbai Project