Debit Card Model For Water Conservation

Debit Card Model For Water Conservation

Article originally published in Sep 2011 issue of GOVERNANCE NOW magazine

The monsoon brings in its wake a primeval expression of joy as the first showers bring welcome rain, followed by sporadic outbreaks of seasonal diseases, mudslides and water-logging, and finally panic as the season reaches its peaks with a deluge of water in some areas. With 1,200 mm annual rainfall,Indiais one of the wettest countries in the world. Yet, it is a largely water stressed nation with no plan in place to manage its water wealth. Why have things come to such a pass?

We are living in an age of instant, post-paid gratification. Despite the harsh consequences of living on credit cards or the spend-now-pay-later principle, as evident in the developed economies, the mad rush for satiating our greed continues unabated. In India, our water consumption too reflects this syndrome. Our water planning is completely demand driven. Planners take demand of a unit as a given and then plunder water resources from further and further upstream to satisfy that demand.

The result is there for all of us to see. From a per capita annual average of 5,177 cubic metres in 1951, fresh water availability in India dropped to 1,720 cubic metre in 2001. It is predicted that by 2025, per capita annual average fresh water availability will be 1,240 cubic metres approximately. This is despite the fact that the potential of most river basins is being exploited beyond 50 percent and several basins are considered to be water scarce. Over 80 percent of the domestic water supply in India is dependent on groundwater.

The groundwater scenario too is bleak. Of a total of 5,723 groundwater blocks in the country, 1,615, i.e. 30 percent, are classified as semi-critical, critical or overexploited. By 2025, an estimated 60 percent of groundwater blocks will be in a critical condition. Climate change will further strain groundwater resources. Water is being brought in from surface water sources further and further away – sometimes more than 500 km! Water pollution is also destroying fresh water sources – 15 percent of the total river length inIndiais severely polluted and 20 percent is moderately polluted (based on BOD, or biochemical oxygen demand levels).

Effectively, it means that we are living off our water wealth accumulated over generations and off our accrued water wealth yet to be earned over the coming years.

This can only lead to unmitigated disaster. In a primarily agrarian economy supporting the second largest population in the world, the collapse of the water regime spells an incalculable loss of lives, livelihoods and food security, besides festering potential for conflict.

The only way to avoid disaster is to go in for a paradigm shift in water planning – the debit card model instead of the credit card one. Plan water supplies based on what you have in internal replenishable water sources. Buying water from outside sources or static reserves must be allowed only in severe crisis.

waterIf we were to create a ‘yearly water saving bank account’, all fresh water (river, rain, groundwater) and recycled water (substitute for fresh water) would be credited to the account. The withdrawals from this account would be the quantity of water used annually. To make sure that the water withdrawals do not exceed the water savings, we would need to either increase the savings or decrease the withdrawals or do both. We would also need to create a large enough bank to lock in our water savings.

Take the case of Delhi – a city with a 1.6 crore population and poor water resources – a river that is barely there and is hugely contaminated, groundwater levels going down by 1 m/ year; average rainfall of 611 mm and dried up lakes. According to Delhi Jal Board’s (DJB) own figures, the demand-supply gap in water inDelhiis 255 MGD i.e. approx 26 percent of demand (990 MGD). The probability of bridging this gap in the foreseeable future is nil – no new large sources of water are available and current sources are depleting. It seems ridiculous to even think of makingDelhiself-sufficient in water.

Yet, the figures below show it is possible. In water savings we would first includeDelhi’s share of the Yamuna river’s yearly flow – 4.6 percent i.e. 724 billion litres. Then add the total annual rainwater runoff (i.e. rainwater flow available after subtracting soil absorption and evaporation) from all 1,483 sq km ofDelhi. According to figures available from the national capital region (NCR) planning board, this is 364 billion litres per year. Add to this 692 billion litres per year of recycled water (treated sewage) for which capacity already exists in the city. This is a total of 1,780 billion litres per year.

On the water withdrawal side, DJB estimates annual demand at approx 1,450 billion litres. Though this figure is already lower than our water savings – 1,780 billion litres – it can be further reduced by adoption of water conservation measures. An average middle-class home can easily reduce its treated fresh water consumption by 30 percent without making any significant effort or lifestyle change.

As this example shows, even with a debit card approach to water expenditure in one of the most densely populated, relatively dry parts of the country, we can easily have a positive water balance – not just now, but also in the foreseeable future. In cities like Chennai (1,400 mm rainfall), Mumbai (2,129 mm) and Kolkata (1,582 mm) which have higher rainfall, milder climate (thereby reducing per capita water requirement) and smaller populations (excluding Mumbai), achieving this water balance will be possible.

Unfortunately, the biggest impediment to trying out this approach is our mindset of eyeing outside water resources rather than planning inwards. Our planners assume that any water flowing in any river upstream of the city is surplus and hence available to serve the city’s needs. The task of planning for internal water security must start with them internalising the notion that sustainability lies in minimal dependence on outside sources.

Having done that, their first step should be to declare every planning unit (district village, city or state) as a ‘zero rainwater flow-out unit’, i.e. one which does not allow any rainwater to flow out without at least using it once (apart from river water sharing agreements or environmentally sensitive flows). To make this possible, adequate internal rainwater storage capacity would need to be created. Much of the infrastructure required already exists – in the form of lakes and water bodies.Indiahas 55,00,000 ha of recognised lakes and reservoirs – the actual number would be far higher.Delhialone has 900 water bodies having a static rainwater storage capacity of approx 15-20 billion litres. However, many of the water bodies are dry, silted and/or filled with sewage. Though the central and state governments are trying to encourage protection of lakes, they remain dry because of the altered slopes of catchment areas. We need to not just protect but also artificially re-direct rainwater runoff flows from catchment areas into the lakes.

More rainwater can be stored directly in tanks or can be used to recharge the subsurface aquifers using recent techniques for artificial recharge to groundwater. Nearly 13 states have, fully or partially, already made rainwater harvesting compulsory for buildings. The central government through various schemes is giving incentives for rainwater harvesting in rural areas. More than 80 percent of the MNREGA funds have been spent on local water infrastructure like ponds. A concerted effort for rainwater harvesting can be made with the government making check dams, nala bunds and major tanks and encouraging citizens, with judicious incentive schemes, to do rainwater harvesting at household and community level.

The second major step that needs to be taken is to declare every water planning unit a ‘zero flood water outflow unit’. With the monsoon bringing almost 80 percent of rainfall over most of India in just three months, close to 50 percent of river water flows unutilised through an area as flood water. If floodplains in an area could be protected, embankments created and floodwater allowed to spread over them, much of this floodwater can be used for recharging subsurface aquifers. This water can then be extracted throughout the year through Rainy wells for the city. According to some estimates, in Delhi alone, this can help store up to 1,500 billion litres of floodwater! To enable this, the floodplains must be notified, no construction must be allowed and no contaminants should be allowed to enter the protected area. Both government and citizens must jointly keep the floodplains encroachment free.

waterOf course, for this a pre-requisite would be that our rivers become carriers of clean water. However, with drains pouring domestic, industrial and agricultural waste into rivers every second, this seems like a daunting task. Though the public – especially those in unauthorised settlements and unregulated industries – is usually held responsible for this, the fact is that the government is more to blame. If only 72 percent Indians have access to proper sanitation facilities, it is a failure of our planning. Enforcement of industrial waste treatment rules is lax and there is no penalty on agriculturists for excessive chemical use. Where there are sewage treatment facilities, the plants are either working much below capacity or become ineffective under the deluge of sewage that they get. This is because of unrealistic planning based on incorrect data.

Perhaps, this is the toughest part of the water balance agenda because of its high dependence on government initiative, multi-sectoral coordination and planning.

The third critical step towards water self-sufficiency would be to adopt water conservation measures. Economic incentives for conservation, pricing / penalties related disincentives for wastage, community education on water wise behaviours and a social system that recognises and rewards water saviours is needed. Also strict controls over water supply – including groundwater extraction and illegal tapping into pipelines – need to be put in place. A base level of awareness already exists – government, NGOs and educational institutions need to join hands to make this possible. Sadly, after all these years of trying to spread water wisdom, I have come to the conclusion that it spreads fastest in a water scarcity situation. When people have to spend time and energy of sourcing it, they quickly learn the fine art of balancing demand with available supply. Hopefully, with a well-designed communication and outreach programme, we will all learn to conserve water before frightening scarcity is thrust on us.

Water is a finite resource. The credit card mentality is creating a temporary bubble of adequate water availability in pockets while actually spreading water poverty in expanding ripples. With the unpredictability in water availability due to climate change, our consumption pattern can only lead to tremendous suffering and conflict.

Dwarka Underpass – An Avoidable Water Logging Fiasco

Rain Water HarvestingDwarka Underpass has been in the news for the sheer visual shock of seeing 6m (20ft) high column of water on a road after a more than average rainfall in a single day.

Actually, the water was standing not just in the underpass but also on the road leading into the underpass from both sides. Approximately, 1.5 km stretch of road including the underpass had water logging. The water logging was so bad that, even today, 4 days after the downpour, and hectic efforts to pump out the water, the road is still blocked for traffic.

As per our calculations, the total volume of water that was standing in this entire area was between 10-12.5 crore (100 -125 Million) liters. If we take Delhi’s average rainfall, then over the year, this area alone would hold approx 40-50 crore (400-500 Million) liters of water!

To put this figure in perspective,

10 crore liters = 7,50,000 people’s requirement for one day or more than 2000 people’s total water requirement for one whole year!

RWHWHY THIS HAPPENS:

1) Faulty drainage planning – An underpass is an artificial depression dug out from the ground. Drainage in an underpass is always a problem because it’s almost always impossible to align the slope of the underpass drainage with that of the main drain outside the underpass (whose level will be higher than the underpass). The problem becomes worse when the underpass is located at a site which is topographically also a naturally depressed zone. In such an area the tendency of water from all the surrounding catchment area is to flow towards that depression with no escape route in sight.

It is important therefore to ensure that the drainage for surrounding catchments is planned in such a way that all water gets diverted away from the underpass BEFORE it enters the depressed zone.

2) Poorly designed / constructed rainwater harvesting systems. As per court orders all flyovers are supposed to do rainwater harvesting. It does not seem like the Dwarka Underpass has done it. Even if it has,

a) The system is obviously insufficient because its recharge capacities have not been designed after taking into consideration the runoff generated by the entire CATCHMENT of the underpass area.

b) Poor intake of the system because of faulty design / construction.

c) The system is poorly maintained. Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) system needs regular cleaning to maximize its intake capacity. If this is not done, the system gets choked and becomes defunct. Its cleaning is especially necessary where the RWH system takes (water from road / open surfaces etc where the silt load is high.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

1) Proper Drainage planning. The Problem can be corrected even now. However, planners will need to look beyond the underpass and plan for catching run-off from the catchment area for the underpass itself.

2) Rain water Harvesting – All along the 1.5 km stretch, maybe perhaps more (analysis of exact site conditions needs to be made) an extensive rainwater harvesting system needs to be made. This will ensure that the runoff gets recharged to groundwater and there is no surplus flow left to “water-log” the underpass.

Rain Water HarvestingPOLICY CHANGE NEEDED

The Dwarka Underpass is just a stark reminder of the urgent need to change policies to reflect urban water conditions:

1) WATER PLANNING SHOULD BE AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE DESIGNING WITH INTEGRATED EFFORT FROM ALL AGENCIES: Drainage and Water Harvesting planning to be done by agencies in co-ordination. When the underpass would have been constructed, PWD would have been given jurisdiction only over the immediate stretch of land over which the underpass is to be constructed. Hence, their designing and implementation would have to be a closed loop with minimal co-operation / interface with authorities managing that catchment area roads and drainage. So even if PWD wanted to plan an extensive drainage system, it would not have been able to do so. By the same logic, they might have been aware of / might have been advised by experts to do RWH for the entire catchment but since their intervention area was limited, they might not have been able to implement those suggestions.

2) RAINWATER HARVESTING SYSTEMS SHOULD BE MADE PART OF THE STORM WATER DRAINAGE SYSTEM. Currently, since RWH is seen as an ad-hoc activity, it is largely unplanned and adequate provisions for maintenance – BOTH OF STRUCTURES AND CATCHMENTS – are not made. RWH systems should be integrated with Storm Water Drainage systems. This will at least ensure that an annual schedule and provision for maintenance will be made by government. It should also be ensured that the catchment conduits for runoff and the RWH systems are maintained simultaneously. This will help ensure efficient working of the systems.

Unless we plan for these now, such fiasco will increasingly occur over time. And why not turn a fiasco into an opportunity – harvest water from all such areas!

Save Water, Share Water

The U.N. World Water Development Report ranks India 133rd among 180 countries for water availability. India almost hits rock bottom when it comes to water quality. Falling water tables, India’s unpredictable monsoon rains and its huge and growing population have created a severe water crisis in the country.

Water Conflicts, at all levels, are on the rise – both in numbers and intensity. Countries, regions and States are adopting increasingly belligerent stances to lay claim over water resources – static or transient- in their areas.  User groups accuse each other of stealing their water – it’s agriculture vs. industry vs. energy vs. domestic use. All users, however, have no compunctions joining hands to snatch water from its natural abode – it’s All vs. the Environment! On top of that, pollution and global warming add their bit to speeding up our fast drop to water scarcity.

Where will it all end?

A looming crisis brings out either the worst or the best of people. If people decide to put in their best – can success be far behind? Being a die-hard optimist  – I believe the latter. And that’s the guiding sentiment with which we, at FORCE, work.

It’s time now, to revive the Gandhian philosophy of living simply, in tune with nature with each community planning for self sufficiency and sustainability. Greed must be replaced with need based consumption, each one must think for the other, saving for self must not be at the cost of sharing with those in need.

This requires a basic change in attitudes – something that is easier said than done! As a starter, we could start with a simple three point agenda. First – Reduce our demand for fresh water by adopting water conservation practices; second – increase its locally available supply by adopting rainwater harvesting and water recycling. The third agenda, perhaps  most important task is – to stop playing blame games.  Let’s not waste time and energy on blaming each other for inefficiency and callousness. Instead let’s just focus on doing whatever little we can to alleviate this crisis.

With this attitude, FORCE has been working towards creating Water Secure communities – in the National Capital Region of Delhi and now in Mumbai. As a first step, we’d like to see the NCR ‘Water Secure’ by 2015.

The route we have adopted for doing so is through a mass movement that supports local bodies in water conservation and influences the government to adopt more water friendly policies. For this, we’ve adopted a Partnership approach because sustainable change cannot happen without the involvement of all sectors of society. We are getting the citizens, government, business and technical experts to jointly work for a better life for all. We offer end-to-end support to citizen groups interested in adopting water conservation practices.

We believe that seamless knowledge integration – from principles of business management, to practices from many hundred years back,  to advances in science & technology – is the quickest, most effective route to creating a Water Secure society.

I look forward to having you as a partner on this road to Water Security for all.

Aao, Jal Sanchay Karein, Boond Boond Dharti Bharein…

error: Content is protected !!

Pin It on Pinterest