Available water resources are not adequate for Indian states. But a comprehensive wastewater policy has not been implemented anywhere in India, and Maharashtra is a case in point.
Only a few months back, until the end of May 2016, it seemed like most of Maharashtra was in a state of scarcity - faced with an acute shortage of drinking water. Urban centres like Mumbai, Pune and Solapur were literally flooded by people who migrated to merely quench their thirst, after water sources dried up in the state´s rural hinterlands.
As the water situation worsened, the Maharashtra government took recourse to sending water trains to the worst effected districts of Latur, Nagar and other parched districts in the Marathwada region of the state. Five lakh litres of water per train allowed the state the option and ability to transport over 6 crore litres of water from non-deficient regions to deficient regions. The railways subsequently issued a bill exceeding Rs 6 crore for the water trains services rendered to the state.
Then controversies erupted over the exploitation of available but limited stocks of water held back by dams by politically vested interests, which could sway the allocation of depleting limited stocks of water in the dams and divert the same to water-guzzling sugarcane fields. The crisis remains, even despite the heavier-than-normal rains that have lashed the Indian subcontinent since June 2016.
People forgot the days of water scarcity very quickly. Only the Bombay High Court, that was seized of the issue of water exploitation by powerful political vested interests, directed the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) to fix the situation and regulate the water sector.
It was suddenly realized that the MWRRA - the regulator with quasi-judicial powers, was without a head or body, as the three-year tenure of its three members had expired. The HC directed the Maharashtra government to fill up the vacant positions within a week. Then the rains came, and the alleviated circumstances saw the issue being put on the backburner. The state has since amended the law seeking to increase the representation of members on the water regulatory body.
MWRRA was set up in 2005 through a law that mandated an integrated water policy be formulated within a year (by 2006). A decade after this mandated deadline has expired, there is no integrated water policy.
The MWRRA for its part, has been issuing orders to ensure the equitable distribution of the quickly going scarce commodity, but to no avail. Says former Member of the MWRRA (Revenue) Chitkala Zutshi, ´We have issued orders in instances where the very source of a state river was being snuffed out (Nag river near Nagpur). We issued orders for local self-bodies to invest in water and wastewater management (treatment and recycling plants). Even the richer Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) like Pune Municipal Corporation and the civic body in Pimpri Chinchwad pleaded inability to set up the STPs claiming they were short of funds.´
Interestingly, the Pimpri Chinchwad Corporation is the second richest civic body in the state. Preferring anonymity, a senior Maharashtra secretariat official told Infrastructure Today, ´Over the last decade, we were actually able to prepare a limited water integration plan for the Godavari basin, which was received by the state government only eight months back. All the west-flowing rivers - Krishna, Narmada, Tapi - are covered under this basin.´ Maharashtra gets an average of 164 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water annually through rains. It is allocated 126 bcm by interstate tribunals, besides 30 bcm of utilisable water from surface and groundwater sources.
Parinita Dandekar, Convenor of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), says that at the lower Terna reservoir, 40 km from Latur in Maharashtra, ôthe local sugar factory lifts 5,000 lakh litres of water from this dam´s dead storage.´
She explains, ´When I asked dam officials at the site about this, they said industries had reservations, and this sugar factory had a reservation of 0.5 million cubic meters of water. Compare this with the exuberance shown by political parties and administration at securing a train carrying 5 lakh litres of water.´ She adds that the recent drought in the state was as much about the lack of equitable water allocation policy as it was about failing monsoon and plummeting groundwater levels.
A few solutions
The situation is not very different in other states across the country, but the scenario seems to be gradually improving. A report by PwC titled ´Closing the water loop: Reuse of treated wastewater in urban India´, provides some recycling solutions. The report states, ´Most cities apply a differential tariff for domestic and industrial water consumers, with the industrial tariff significantly higher than the domestic tariff. By switching to reclaimed water, utilities will have to forego some of this additional revenue. Surplus freshwater availability in some smaller cities and towns has made utilities complacent and over-dependent on freshwater sources. The Union government has emphasised reuse of reclaimed water in many urban development schemes such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, (AMRUT), Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities Mission and the Namami Gange programme.´
According to PwC, sewerage coverage and treatment capacity are consistently improving across urban India. ´The cost of wastewater reuse technologies is falling.
As a result, reuse projects have been undertaken in some cities such as Nagpur, Surat and Visakhapatnam. One of the challenges faced in this sector is the structure for implementation of wastewater projects through private sector participation,´ notes the report.
A review of these and other existing reuse projects reveals some common design features: most successful PPP-based reuse projects involve a single large consumer (read end user).
The cost of treatment is bundled with cost of conveyance. Successful reuse projects, such as the Nagpur Tertiary Treatment Reverse Osmosis (TTRO) plant, and the Bamroli TTRO, needed significant capital subsidies to become viable.
Thrust on reuse
The PwC report cites the example of Delhi that has adopted aspirational reuse targets to treat and reuse 25 per cent of total sewage produced by 2017, and increase the same to 50 per cent by 2022, and to 80 per cent by 2027. Against this background, municipalities across India have started to pursue reuse projects.
The three-party fixed price (TPFP) model is designed to use STW from existing STPs (owned by utilities) and would treat it to produce industry grade water for a single entity, which could be one industry or an industrial zone. These three players - utility, developer, and industrial entity - enter simultaneously into long-term contracts, assuring supply of STW and reclaimed water at predetermined rates and quality levels.
The water utility/ULB provides land either within an existing STP or outside for installation of tertiary treatment modules. The utility is the enforcer of the contract terms and will also ensure quality compliance and oversee operations. The utility makes a net annuity payment to the private developer to ensure a guaranteed minimum revenue for the developer.
Similarly, a private sector developer invests in building treatment and conveyance infrastructure to the customer gate, and operates the same for a fixed period, after which it transfers the assets to the utility. The developer could also be given responsibility for the operation of the government intervention and private sector engagement in wastewater reuse critical to solving the urban water crisis.
The report points out that with growing population, the per capita availability of water has dropped from 1,816 cubic metres in 2001 to 1,545 cubic metres in 2011. Only 70 per cent of urban households have access to piped water supply. The average per capita supply to these households is well below the recommended 135 litres per day in many cities.
´Water stress has become a perennial concern in most Indian cities. India is expected to add approximately 404 million new urban dwellers between 2015 and 2050. This rapid urban growth will be linked with higher industrial output and greater energy demand, thus adding to the urban water stress. Institutionalising the reuse of treated wastewater can help utilities in addressing this challenge in an effective manner,´ states the PwC report.
Ranen Banerjee, Partner and Leader Public Sector and Governance, PwC, says, ´The wastewater sector will be driven by government initiatives based on which the implementation models will be designed. Hence, sound policy and regulatory interventions by the Central and state governments are a prerequisite for the launching of innovative reuse projects. Government interventions will need to focus on incentivising the use of reclaimed water and developing institutional support mechanisms.´
To promote reuse, the Central and state governments should jointly issue a national wastewater reuse policy with clear policy targets, setting out the legislative, regulatory and financial measures needed to achieve those targets, Banerjee adds.
Additionally, Banerjee wants the Union Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Water Resources to define quality norms for different grades of industrial water which will help standardise design of reuse systems nationwide. National level norms for water safety planning and risk management are also needed to build credibility for reclaimed water as a reliable alternative.
Reuse of treated wastewater is now an important element in the ambitious plan to clean up the River Ganga, a flagship initiative of the ruling government (Clean Ganga Mission), and is also included in other urban policies and their related funding streams.
By signing the Paris Agreement on climate change in April 2016, India has signalled its concern for the sustainable use of natural resources. Water reuse fits well with these broader environmental goals, helping, as it does, to conserve scarce resources and to promote efficient use.
The PwC report states, ´Given the worsening water crises in many Indian cities, the moment has come for the government to engage efforts and resources in developing wastewater reuse to meet industrial water demand. It may be a tough road ahead for utilities and government to fast-track the necessary interventions, but the long-term benefits of reusing wastewater are substantial.´
Drop by Drop
Here are a few utility-led reuse initiatives in the recent past:
Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) built a 40 MLD reuse plant in 2014 to supply reclaimed water to Pandesara Industrial Estate.
Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sanitation Board (CMWSSB) awarded a PPP-based reuse project contract in 2016 to develop 45 MLD reuse capacity on the design, build, and operate (DBO) model to supply non-potable water to industries.
Bengaluru´s water utility has built a 10 MLD tertiary treatment plant at Yellahanka that supplies reclaimed water to Bengaluru International Airport.
Maharashtra Generation Company (MAHAGENCO) and Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) have jointly invested in a reuse project where treated water from an STP is further treated and used as cooling water.
Singapore´s success in using treated water
Reuse of treated wastewater is popular in many water-starved cities across the globe. Singapore´s success in using treated wastewater (referred to as NEWater) for industrial supply is a good case in point, and is relevant to the discussion on water supply and reuse of treated wastewater in India.
Singapore imports water from Malaysia, and has very limited sources of water within its boundaries. Since 1958, the country has consistently sought to improve its water security by improving rainwater harvesting and through source diversification. Reuse of treated wastewater is one of the four ´national taps´, alongside desalination, rainfall and imports. NEWater contributed towards one-third of the water supplied in Singapore.
Treatment process and plants
NEWater plants use an advanced tertiary treatment process that has three stages ùmicrofiltration/ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet treatment. The quality of NEWater meets the standards of freshwater from the catchment lakes. NEWater is directly supplied to industries to meet the non-potable water demand, which accounts for 55 per cent of the total water demand. Only a small proportion of NEWater is used to augment freshwater in reservoirs for indirect potable reuse.
By 2060, it is estimated that approximately 70 per cent of water demand in Singapore will be non-domestic, and NEWater capacity would be expanded to provide for 55 per cent of total water demand.
Wastewater use: The Indian Experience
Reuse of wastewater is not new to India. Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd (CPCL) built a wastewater reuse plant in 1991.
However, the idea of wastewater reuse did not garner mainstream appeal for several reasons:
There is no clear policy environment to encourage and support reuse projects.
With low sewerage network coverage and insufficient Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) capacity, there hasn´t been much Secondary Treated Water (STW) available for reuse.
STW is being used for agriculture in many places. Redirecting STW for industrial reuse may face opposition from the public.