Water priorities for urban India

The Twelfth Five Year Plan has proposed a paradigm shift in water management in India.

Why the shift in strategy?

The crisis of water and sanitation in urban India is even graver than in our rural areas.

As important as the quantum of water is the problem of its management and equitable supply

What are the reasons for the existing problems ?

In most cities, water supply is sourced from long distances and the length of the pipeline determines the costs, including costs of pumping.

Enormous losses in the distribution system because of leakages and bad management.

As the distance increases, the cost of building and then maintaining the water pipeline and its distribution network also rises. And if the network is not maintained, then water losses increase.

The end result is that the government finds it impossible to subsidise the supply of water to all and, therefore, does not deliver water as needed

Some facts:

As per the National Sample Survey (NSS) 65th round, only 47 per cent of urban households have individual water connections. Currently, it is estimated that as much as 40 to 50 per cent of the water is “lost” in the distribution system

Electricity to pump water is between 30 to 50 per cent of what most cities spend on their water supply.

How it affects the poor?

They have to spend a great deal of time and money to obtain water since they do not have house connections.

Groundwater Contamination and related costs

As surface water or groundwater gets contaminated, a city has no option but to hunt for newer sources of its supply. Its search becomes more extensive and as the distance increases, the cost of pumping and supply increases.

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Sewerage systems and urban India

The 2011 Census reveals that only 32.7 per cent of urban Indians are connected to a piped sewerage system and 12.6 per cent — roughly 50 million urban Indians — still defecate in the open

Currently, according to estimates of the Central Pollution Control Board, the country has an installed capacity to treat only about 30 per cent of the excreta it generates. Just two cities, Delhi and Mumbai, which generate around 17 per cent of the country’s sewage, have nearly 40 per cent of the country’s installed capacity.

Plants do not function because of high recurring costs (electricity and chemicals) and others because they do not have enough sewage to treat.

If the treated sewage — transported in official drains — is allowed to be mixed with the untreated sewage — transported in unofficial and open drains — then the net result is pollution.

The location of the hardware is also a problem

The sewage treatment plant — is not designed to dispose of the treated effluent so that it actually cleans the waterbody. The treated sewage is then disposed of, as conveniently as possible, invariably into a drain.

So what are the solutions?

Reuse and recycling

Investments in water supply must focus on demand management, reducing intra-city inequity and on the quality of water supplied.

Cut distribution losses through bulk water meters and efficiency drives.

User charges should plan to cover increasing proportions of operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, while building in equity by providing a “lifeline” amount of water free of charge, with higher tariffs for increasing levels of use.

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Each city must consider its local waterbodies as the first source of supply. Therefore, cities must only get funds for water projects, when they have accounted for the water supply from local waterbodies and have protected these waterbodies and their catchments

No water scheme will be sanctioned without a sewage component.

Unconventional methods of treating waste

Using alternative biological methods of wastewater treatment

The principle has to be to cut the cost of building the sewerage system, cut the length of the sewerage network and then to treat the waste as a resource — turn sewage into water for irrigation or use in industry.

Aquifer mapping

The Twelfth Plan has launched an ambitious aquifer mapping and management programme.

The aquifers in each city need to be mapped and participatory, while sustainable and equitable arrangements for groundwater management need to be worked out in a very location-specific manner.

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