Home Water: Urgency, Challenges and a Few Concrete Steps Towards Resolution

Water: Urgency, Challenges and a Few Concrete Steps Towards Resolution

by Nikhil Tikekar
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Source: Frits Ahlefeldt

Water supply is monsoon dependent. Our water needs have grown immensely since the last severe drought ~ 40 years ago but there hasn’t been proportional growth in buffers (storage) and in efficiency of utilisation. Some of the existing buffers are shrinking i.e. not recharging within a reasonable time. Present buffer management won’t be able to handle even one major monsoon failure, consecutive failures would lead to immense suffering for many, social instability, and have long term economic impact.

However, sustainable consumption is possible, including planning for 2-3 monsoon failures. How? Let’s take a brief look at the water delivery chain, identify known inefficiencies and needed solutions, review a concrete effort in that direction at IITB and various avenues (for us!) to contribute.


Overview of Key Factors in the Water Delivery Chain

Monsoon rain and Himalayan snowfall are the primary inputs. Distribution is through rivers, streams (including underground flows), canals, and pipes. Lakes, ponds, underground aquifers, and glaciers are natural buffers that provide water beyond the rainy season. Then there are human made storage schemes – large and small dams, and on a smaller scale, local rain water harvesting for farms and communities. Flow into the sea, evaporation, and seepage (including pipe leakages) are the main sinks.

Current utilisation of water is quite inefficient. Besides, it is associated with a lot of wasted energy and contributes to environmental pollution as well. Some of the issues that need to be addressed are:

  • Drinking / daily water requirement is a very small fraction of the total but is not easily accessible
  • Dam capacity reduction due to accumulated silt
  • Ad-hoc dam water release, especially under political/public pressure
  • No serious effort to reduce storage/distribution losses (evaporation, leakage)
  • Unsustainable extraction due to lack of regulation of bore wells
  • Pollution/chemical poisoning of wells/aquifers/ponds
  • Inefficient last-mile irrigation
  • Water-inefficient cropping; wrong crops in wrong locations
  • Insufficient rain-water harvesting
  • Inefficient and excessive use of water in the massive public/private construction boom
  • Leaking taps and tankers
  • Vested interests preventing replacement of tanker supply with pipelines
  • Growing number of bathtubs, showers, flushes, lawns, resorts, golf courses etc., which are water guzzlers
  • Lack of water recycling facilities in industrial / transport / commercial setups

Towards Sustainable Solutions

earth-flat-steamroller-yellow_FRITS AHLEFELDT

Source: Frits Ahlefeldt

In short, we need to increase the sustainable capacity (with minimal human and environmental impact), reduce distribution losses, increase utilisation efficiency, reduce unsustainable demand, plan for multiple monsoon failures, and make water easily accessible to all.

Water is a shared resource. Government makes policies, implements buffering and distribution schemes. However, it can use assistance in policy direction; planning solutions; techniques for measuring, gathering, analysing, and reporting water data; better implementation tools and methods; better buffer/storage utilisation protocols that anticipate failures; and evaluation, auditing of its completed work. End users too can benefit from information and knowledge, tools and products for efficient/sustainable utilisation of water.

No government policy or implementation can succeed unless everyone supports sustainable consumption.

The complexity and severity of this issue is highly under-appreciated and solutions/techniques (e.g. scale and methods for rain harvesting) are not widely known. No government policy or implementation can succeed unless everyone supports sustainable consumption. There is an urgent need to create this awareness at all levels.

Who Will Implement these Solutions?

Government, its agencies and contractors, entrepreneurs, engineering colleges, NGOs, end users and you!

An Example – Concrete Steps Towards Solutions (and how you can help)

This one focuses on (not exclusively) rural areas. Why? Farms consume 80%+ of water; many villages lack easy access to drinking water; rural areas are the most affected by droughts. Unlike rich municipalities, village councils can’t afford to hire expertise – they rely on state agencies who don’t have it.

A. Framework:

The biggest impact would come from influencing government actions (it owns, manages, and distributes water) – making them more efficient and accountable. There is a huge shortage of awareness, modern knowledge, and techniques and skills related to managing water resources. One has to acquire it via empirical field studies and trial error (not from books/simulations)- it’s not a very appealing hard work. IITB has built up a good amount of base over the past few years and now has a Technology & Development Solutions Cell, TDSC (seeded by C’87), dedicated to that task.

B. A Sample Project:

How to measure water demand for a village/farm, how to see whether crop pattern across seasons is sustainable, what algorithm/protocol should be used to release dam water (present method is inefficient), how to monitor usage of groundwater via borewells and model recharge times so that it can be eventually regulated and made sustainable, how to build/display information in GIS for use by the administration, how to implement logistics of water delivery to drought affected villages (e.g. location of the water source from where tankers collect water and their routing etc.), analysis of failed drinking water schemes.

Unlike rich municipalities, village councils can’t afford to hire expertise – they rely on state agencies who don’t have it.

C. Impact of Projects:

The impact of these projects have been manifold: Knowledge and skills have been developed that can’t be built in any other way. Pilot projects (eg. Construction of mini-dams) have benefited local communities/villages. Effective project implementation has resulted in the much needed policy of the Government of Maharashtra that welcomes colleges/others to participate and influence its project planning and evaluation. The future use of TDSC know-how would scale beyond just a few pilot communities. The success of these programs could contribute to nationwide emulation.

The know-how developed at TDSC has utility beyond TDSC/other colleges improving government schemes. This can be also used by NGOs/corporate charities or by entrepreneurs. The difference between doing things and doing them properly matters a lot for water schemes.

D. Your Contribution – A Few Possibilities

Join TDSC: part-time technical contribution, coordination of projects, execute sub-projects, generate research ideas.

Fund specific time bound (typically 2 years) projects.

The need for such work is urgent and provide many intellectual challenges. However, monetary rewards / research publications may not be available immediately. Special prizes and incubation support for water-related projects and ideas will make this area appealing.

Generate ideas, incentives and triggers to create a viable market place to reduce dependence on the state; lobby the government for favourable policies.

E. Helpful links:

1. Technology and Development Solution Cell, TDSC, IITB
2. TDSC report for 2014-15 (a sample of activities)
3. Water related work done at IITB – an overview

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