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Fulfilling today without compromising tomorrow

Fulfilling today without compromising tomorrow

India's water situation has deteriorated alarmingly, so conventional measures to augment water levels are not enough. As the world moved this year closer to making water infrastructure a sustainable activity, India lags behind. But as Janaki Krishnamoorthi discovers, all is not lost as companies and state governments grapple with the problem in their own ways.

The 2011 World Water Week held in August at Stockholm concluded with the participants issuing a 'Stockholm Statement' that called upon leaders at all government levels to commit to achieving “universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030” and to adopt intervening targets to increase efficiency in the management of water, energy and food. Of the five targets set for 2020, four were on water management, calling for increased efficiency in using water for agriculture, energy production, increased utility of reused water and decreasing water pollution.

The following facts and figures are revealing:

  • 31 countries in the world currently face water scarcity
  • Over one billion people have no access to clean drinking water and almost three billion have no access to sanitation
  • In developing countries 90 per cent of all wastewater goes untreated into local rivers and streams
  • In many countries, 30 to 40 per cent of water goes unaccounted due to leakages and illegal tapping

In India, per capita water availability has declined from 5,176 cu m in 1951 to 1,703.6 cu m in 2005. Given the projected increase in population by the year 2025, the per capita availability is likely to drop to below 1,000 cu m, which could be labelled as water scarcity condition. As of today, 200 million Indians do not have access to clean water. Drastic and effective measures are urge­ntly required not only to augment our water resources but also to save water, cut down losses, recycle and reuse water. All of which evolve around following factors: repairing and upgrading existing age old water infrastructure, building new sustainable water infrastructure.

Defining Goals

The key word no doubt is sustainability. But what is sustainability? The 1987 Brundtland Commission's broad definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compro­mising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” has been widely accepted world over.

What is sustainable water infrastructure? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its “Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy” emphasises the need to deliver projects that are cost-effective over their life cycle, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals. The last, community sustainability goals of course is vital and can be varied.

“In order to find a solution, we need to define the boundary of the problem and our goals. In other words, we should first define sustainability within certain parameters,” says Ramani Iyer of Forbes Marshall, who is also a Member of Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII) National Water Council, and member of 12th Plan Committee for urban development in water supply and sanitation. “To me, sustainability in water infrast­ructure would mean providing safe drinking water as per Millennium Development Goal norms to maximum number of citizens in the country.”

Severe water shortages have already led to conflicts between users (agriculture, industry, domestic), intra-state and inter-state. So defining the goals, priorities are of paramount importance as action has to be taken across many critical areas-from protecting drinking water sou­rces, preventing water pollution, over-exploitation of gro­undwater to reducing wasteful water use, improving the efficiency of irrigation water use, encouraging power industries to utilise recycled water, recycling etc. So, it is not only development of infrastructure but also its operation and management that needs a watch-out.

All this calls for an integrated approach. Says S Ramachandran, Director, Business Development & Corporate Strategy, IVRCL, a leading engineering and construction company that has been actively involved in building water infrastructure, “Water challenges should be addressed through an integrated approach that also take into account development priorities and needs, social conditions and aspirations, trade rules, environmental policies, innovation opportunities, technology transfer policies and water efficiency.”

Successful Initiatives

The government has invested close to Rs 60,000 crore in urban water infrastructure in the last few years. Many cities like Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi etc, have all made substantial investment in water infrastructure. “While statistics paint a grim picture the situation on the ground is not so bad as several projects have been taken up at various levels,” says Iyer. “Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has made a big change under which several projects have been taken up by many local municipalities.”

Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra, for instance, has taken up several steps towards building a sustained water infrastructure. Apart from water supply systems and water treatment plants, the Corporation has also taken steps to strengthen its existing distribution network, metering of water connections, detailed GIS mapping of water zones, re-structuring the Water Wards etc.

“Availability of drinking water alone can bring about tremendous social change,” says Iyer citing the example of Ramanathapuram district. The once drought-prone villages in this district have undergone a sea change since Tamil Nadu Government implemented the Ramanathapuram Drinking Water Scheme in 2009 and brought Cauvery river water through 300 km long pipeline to the villages. Similar examples of sustainable infrastructure are IVRCL's milestone projects: India's largest seawater desalination plant in Minjur near Chennai, supplying 100 million litre per day (MLD) water to about five lakh families and a Drainage and Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) on Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Alandur Municipality in Chennai, providing an underground sewerage system and additional
water for parks, public places and industrial use.

Maharashtra government is not lagging, maintains Malini Shankar, Principal Secretary, Water Supply & Sanitation Department, Government of Maharashtra, “Maharashtra is the first state to set up a water and sanitation department as we are looking at water supply not in isolation but with sewage management. Maharashtra Government in 2010 has put in place a reform-based investment system where one has to introduce certain reforms before appealing for investment. The reforms at three levels are quite exhaustive starting from detecting and regularising illegal water connections, metering con­nections to efficient billing/collection, financial manage­ment etc.” A committee, set up to look at various issues related to urban water supply and management including demand-supply levels, conflicting areas, setting up dedicated water sources for urban area etc, will submit its recommendations in a couple of months. Peri-urban areas and rural areas are also in for some reforms.

Maharashtra Government is reportedly spending about Rs 1,000 crore on rural water supply every year. Some indigenous solutions tailor made to suit the local needs and conditions have also been implemented. For example, the government is executing a water scheme at Amravati on gravity model requiring no pumps or electricity. In some very remote villages with a population of around 200, pumps have been put up at bore wells driven by solar energy at a cost of Rs 6-7 lakh per village. When the water table is high it can be operated as a motor pump and when the water table is low it can be operated as a hand pump.

Shankar says local bodies like Gram Panchayats lack funds for urban water supply and sanitation projects which is estimated to be in the order of Rs 9,000 crore and are looking at private participation. She adds, “We have decentralised the entire operation in 2000-01. However, in rural areas, funding is not an issue; the local bodies have to empower themselves to plan, implement and maintain the infrastructure.”

Private participation

In India, the management of water infrastructure has been the responsibility of public authorities with private participation restricted to executing projects. Only recently, PPP model has made its way into the water sector but it has yet to catch on despite the National Water Policy of 2002 (NWP) recommending PPP. The policy also cites that this will entail dealing with some complex issues like controlling the private operator's access to water, protecting the interests of other competing users from the same source of water, guarding the interests of the poor at the supply end, limiting the profit made by the private operator to reasonable levels, defining what are reasonable levels of profit etc.

“There are several barriers to private sector participation,” indicates Forbes Marshall's Iyer. “The government has to create incentives, deliverable legal framework, assured source of water supply etc. If the sources of water supply is controlled by government, the private sector will not be keen to invest.”

Seconds IVRCL's Ramachandran, “Governments should support partnerships by offering local expertise as well as financial resources and infrastructure, establishing a regulatory environment that supports the formation of partnerships, and supporting individual stakeholders in finding suitable partners.”

Going beyond

In fact, to strengthen such private-public initiatives the United Nations in July 2007 introduced the CEO Water Mandate designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. The CEO Water Mandate recognises that the business sector, through the production of goods and services, impacts water resources-both directly and through supply chains.

Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), the Mumbai-based engineering and construction company and a major player in water infrastructure, was the first Indian company to sign the Mandate. Niyati Sareen, General Manager-CSR, HCC, explains what signing the Mandate signifies, “As an endorser of The CEO Water Mandate, we are committed to a number of areas like direct operations, supply chain, watershed management; collective action, public policy; community engagement and transparency. We have to set targets related to water conservation and waste water management; encourage suppliers to improve their water practices; partner with NGOs, community groups and UN agencies to support water and sanitation delivery systems and provide inputs and recommendations to public authorities with respect to the formulation of regulations and relative policies.”

Endorsing companies have to submit annual reports to the UN on how they are implementing the six core elements of the Mandate. Since signing the Mandate, HCC says it has gone beyond its regular project implementation to set up systems for conservation and reuse of water at many of its projects. Water reuse plant at crude oil storage Cavern Project, Visakhapatnam; artificial rain water harvesting pond, integrated storm water management and ground water recharge at Badarpur Elevated Highway Project, Delhi-Haryana; Roofwater Harvesting at Middle Vaitarna Pipeline Project, Thane, Maharashtra; and Irrigation channel (Kul) restoration at Chutak Hydropower Project, Kargil, J&K are some of the initiatives.

It was however no cakewalk for HCC, though. When they started the work four years ago with their first project at Visakhapatnam, it was very difficult despite the company's agreement to bear the cost of the recycle plant – which was around Rs 30 lakh. “It took us four months to convince the client how important it was to use the recycled water for construction and that quality of construction will not suffer,” says Sareen.

The water recycling plant has helped overcome the problem of both disposal of wastewater, as well as sourcing of fresh water. Almost 95 percent of the water that was used was recycled and reused for drilling, for water curtain borehole pressurisation, for concrete curing and dust suppression.

Following this successful project, the client Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited has now made water recycling plant a mandatory requirement in all its future tenders.

But every time when they undertake such an initiative, problems continue to crop up, says Dr Manoj Chaturvedi, Deputy General Manager-CSR, UN Water Mandate, HCC. “Whenever we take up such exercises, we have to counter resistance from internal stakeholders like our own project managers and others working at site. Then we have to tackle external stake holders. We some time fail to get the project because our project cost goes up because of these initiatives. It will be easier if the government makes these initiatives mandatory.”

Technology Adoption

Evidently, new technologies and innovations will be crucial to the successful provision of eco-efficient sustainable water infrastructure in all sectors – from agriculture, industries to drinking water supply.

“Penetration of technology and better management practices can improve the situation rapidly, but we are doing precious little here,” points out Iyer. “There are several techniques in irrigation that can save water for instance but the farmers are very reluctant to bring about any change. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water and yet the sector is not using any new methods that help save water.”

Likewise, power sector which is growing rapidly is yet another large user of water. So are other growing industries and existing water infrastructure is groaning to supply to these sectors. However, about 3 to 5 per cent of the industries are already practising the basic Rs: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse, states Iyer, “The percentage is bound to increase as CII is constantly persuading industries to adopt the three Rs.”

However, the environment in India is not very conducive to technological innovations. Experts say the current ability of various players from public and private sector to addressing environmental challenges in water resources development through technology research and development, innovation and investment is constrained by the inadequacy and lack of enabling frameworks.

Several industry professionals unanimously vote for several policy measures like setting up a regulatory body at state level, allowing water utilities to set the price of their services to fully cover the cost of paying for that service and maintaining, eliminating subsidies such as cross subsidies in the water tariffs between classes of users, integrating environmental costs into the viability analysis of programmes and projects, shifting tax from labour and profit to resource use and pollution, developing and implementing economic instruments, providing incentives for promoting water efficiency initiatives and partnerships, integrated management of drinking water, wastewater and storm water services etc.

The Working Group on Urban and Industrial Water Supply and Sanitation for the 12th Five Year Plan has also suggested a series of steps to government for setting up sustainable water infrastructure.

Case Study

Project: Water conservation measures at Delhi-Faridabad Elevated Expressway
Implementing agency: Hindustan Construction Company (HCC)
Project completed: October 2010
Project Cost: Rs1,600,000 approx

Background: Initiated as an endorser of CEO Water Mandate HCC's UN Water Mandate team, along with project team, conducted a study and prepared a Feasibility Assessment Report that estimated water neutrality / water positivity potential for the entire project site on the basis of projected water conservation data and forecast of water consumption for the entire project life cycle. A list of achievable targets to become water neutral / water positive were drawn.

Implemented Proposals

Recharge of Artificially Excavated Pond: A 400 sq m low lying part of land was used to create an artificial pond with the capacity of 1,614 kl. The accumulated storm water collected at the site was used to fill the pond. With an average 600 mm of rainfall, the projected water conservation was 30,000 kl/year. Owing to the scanty rain fall the estim­ated quantity of ground water recharge for 2009-2010 was 8,400 kl and for 2010-2011 was 6,288 kl.

Roof Rainwater Harvesting: The area receives scanty rainfall of average 600-800 mm. The significant water extra­ction from the bore well was used for concrete making in
the batching plant and curing. Water collected on the roof surface area of the labour camp buildings adjacent to the bore well was used for recharging the well. Water from the roof area of the store building was used to recharge the pond. The intervention projected total 522 kl/year of water conservation. To some extent, the recharging of bore well with rainwater compensated for the water extracted from it. Similarly, the rainwater collected at the store helped to incr­ease the groundwater table.

Recycling of Curing Water: The major work at the Mirzapur site was to construct the concrete segments for the elevated highway. The site showed a designated area for casting the segment and followed by the curing yard. During the assessment, it was observed that the water for curing was extracted from bore wells with proper arrange­ment of collecting curing water through the peripheral water channels. It was decided to recycle the curing water by establishing a proper drainage system along with an imp­ervious ground surface made with paver blocks. It helped in streamlining the flow of water into an equalization tank, faci­litating the water reuse for curing. The mathematical cal­culation projected the water reuse of 6,132 kl in 12 months. The 6,828 kl of water was recycled in 14 months.

Batching plant wastewater management: The treat­ment of wastewater from the batching plant was carried out through the sedimentation tank. The treated water was reu­sed for dust suppression activity, considerably reducing water extraction from the bore well thereby conserving the groundwater. 1,080 kl of treated water was reused for dust suppression and ground percolation in 14 months.

Rainwater Harvesting: The 4.4 km long elevated high­way design incorporates storm water drains alongside the highway. This proposal suggested an innovative way to con­serve the rainwater in the same area through recharge bore wells at predetermined locations along the highway. A hydro-geologist was appointed to study the characteristics of ground strata using bore logs and a physical survey of the area to decide on the locations appropriate for maximum percolation of rainwater. The consultant provided the tec­hnical know-how about the bore well's diameter, depth and locations. During designing, a sophisticated filter system was considered for recharge of the bore wells to avoid clogging which might reduce the efficiency of the recharged system. Accordingly, the sophisticated “Furaat” filter mech­anism was used. The rainwater available through the rain­water storm drain was passed into the recharge bore well after getting filtered through this filter system. HCC imp­lemented two Rain Water Harvesting systems, as pilot systems, at this project.

This intervention will help to reduce the water stress of the area in the future and will be available to the society at large by increasing the ground water supply. The quantitative impact of the innovation will be measured, over a period of time, through the flow meters at the systems.

Maintaining the record of water usage on construction at site: The site initiated the water data filling in the water balance form expressing the water extraction /procurement and consumption at site for its construction activities. To achieve realistic water data on water extraction from bore wells, the site installed the flow meters. The log records of tankers used for water procurement or dust suppression were maintained.

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