“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong” — Samuel Goldwyn


Water — Recycling, Conservation, Harvesting

Continuing my theme of value from “waste resources”, this is an expanded version of my post on LinkedIn. As usual have commented on several other connected issues, because the environment is a universe in itself, or rather the universe, and everything is inter-connected.

Government planners usually have a blinkered vision, and very rarely see inter-connections or the consequences which tinkering with one area will have on others.

Saw this article on 4 February, “Rajasthan Launches People’s Movement’ to Battle Water Woes”, in one of the newsletters I receive.

Reading through it, noticed that these objectives had been defined — Construction of minor irrigation tanks, canals, pipelines for drinking water, check dams, afforestation on wastelands, plantation and pasture development are some of the water conservation interventions planned under the campaign.

However one very important factor seemed to have been left out — recycling of waste water. This, when Rajasthan already has several sewage treatment plants. Recalled, that an initiative had been taken by the AAP government in Delhi recently to treat sewage and make the water fit for drinking. Quoting from an article on the initiative.

A decentralized waste water treatment plant in Keshopur will treat the water and supply [it] to nearby areas. The pilot project by Arvind Kejriwal government is named ‘Sujala Dhara’ and was launched in collaboration with NGO SANA.

The technology is already being used in the US and will be replicated in India to purify water. It involves treating water through five levels to make it of drinking quality. The plant can run 24 hours a day producing 4,000 litres of drinking water every hour. The technology has been designed by Absolute Water, an integrated water management company. (Source)

The plant which was set up at a cost of Rs 55 lakhs and runs on solar power can produce 66,000 litres of drinking water every day, which works out to a per litre cost of Re 0.22, which can be rounded off to Re 0.25.

Coming back to Rajasthan. Searched my files for a briefing note I had written several years back for a senior journalist, whom I’d told way back in 1990 that availability of water would become a big problem in future, especially for India. Politicians had no idea of environmental issues then, and still don’t have any idea today.

Since this is about water, it wouldn’t be out of place to say that the flooding which took place in Madras (Chennai) could have been avoided to a great extent, had political greed not allowed builders to build on flood plains. Bangalore (Bengaluru) is having problems with shrinking lakes, Delhi has had water bodies built over, with politicians and bureaucrats not realizing the incalculable consequences of their actions for monetary greed. I say politicians and bureaucrats because they are the ones who accord permissions to builders. A similar situation exists all over the country. This image says it all.

Only when the last tree has diedBuilders bear the biggest responsibility for encroachment and environmental destruction. It is laudable that the National Green Tribunal has taken up case of illegally made apartment buildings without environmental clearances in Greater Noida on the flood plains of the Yamuna.

Coming back to my briefing note of several years ago, I am reproducing it verbatim, with a few editorial comments. [Since this piece will become very long otherwise, shall write a separate one reproducing what I had written in 2012 — very few things have changed since then. Link]

Waste water is a resource, processing of which is usually regarded as an expense by municipalities and local governments, and accounts for their reluctance in setting up sewage treatment / waste water treatment facilities.

Even rainwater is treated no better. Madras gets 50 inches of rain, 47 is washed into the sea. Madras has a water problem!

This forms the basic concept for developing, greening and adding value to any area.

In this particular process the raw material or basic building block — waste water is free. The initial cost is to transport it (by pipeline) to the processing site.

Wastewater-1For example, Jodhpur is in an arid zone, and has set up a 20 mld sewage treatment plant with assistance from the ADB as part of a 90 crore package. After treatment the water will be released into a river. It has one lean year in three years and a famine every eight years. [Why not release the water in a lake, and the overflow into the river]

With a population of approx 800,000 and an extremely conservative estimate of 10 litres of waste-water per person, we have 8,000,000 litres of water available per day. Taking wastage of 50% we still have around 4 million litres per day or 120 million litres in a month. Conclusion:  Greening is possible even in an arid zone.

Why has this not been done so far? Because no one has looked at the problem in entirety, or thought of a solution or benefits in an integrated fashion.

 An integrated solution means the management of a diverse group of experts from a wide range of fields, and the person at the top has to have some understanding of each field to know when to call in each expert, or combination of experts. The best part is that all the knowledge and technology is available in the country.

What is the value of 100 sq km of barren land, and the value of the same land when it has water, vegetation, and trees? [We are not talking about monetary value, but the value of the land to the community as a whole]

If waste processing liquid and solid, organic and inorganic, is done in an integrated manner in any city, it can be self-sufficient in the matters of food, water, and electricity. I have presented one possible plan in my earlier piece here, (‘Kitchen “Waste”, Surplus Power, and No Pollution’)

A city like Delhi should have at least 6 large lakes, [better than mindlessly developing malls, and feeling happy about the money recovered from high auction prices], but the people who were entrusted with its “development” have destroyed most of the water bodies, just because they thought that urban development meant concretising everything in sight. As shown in the graphic above lakes with treated non-polluted water can be used for breeding fish, which can lead to weekend angling (for a fee), with small restaurants and hotels around them run by NGO’s, women’s self-help groups, and students of catering institutes, water sports of the non-powered kind, (rowing boats and sailing), and with a pathway for walking, around them. They would also be a source of drinking water, since they will be getting an inflow of treated water daily.

Gurgaon could do with a couple of lakes using treated sullage. They don’t have any independent source of water, are supplied through various canals with a transmission loss of 50%, and have a groundwater table which is depleting with each passing year.

The first casualties in any kind of development, whether roads or buildings, are trees. Trees which are cooling, provide shade, and absorb carbon dioxide are looked on as obstructions. Bureaucrats came up with a very nice phrase called “compensatory afforestation”, which is even codified in a Bill. Basically it means that the despoilers can cut down any number of trees as long as they promise to plant ten times more at another site, which is normally kilometres away. Something akin to cutting out a person’s lungs, placing them kilometres away, and asking the person to breathe.

If trees are cut down, then they need to be replaced with equal sized trees in the same area. This will make planners think twice about cutting down trees. One cannot replace a 50-year old tree with a sapling, and say it has been replaced. Each city must have tree transplantation machines capable of handling 30- to 40-foot trees, so that trees are relocated and not cut. Transplantation rigs and experts are available, so “authorities” cannot wash their hands off this situation. Tree relocation should be made part of any contract, where permission to cut trees is sought.

tree-planting machine5
Here is an example of tree-cutting for “development”. You can read the full article here. [It is a different matter that we don’t require more statues, the same money can be better spent on providing Medicare — like the AAP government — and schools]

Here’s another first person account of tree felling for highways.

The whole system of environmental clearances and conditions need re-examination to favour people and the environment, and not favour those who destroy it for some illusory “development” or to favour any lobby.

The only way that such things can be prevented is by having very strong citizen groups who can tell their elected representatives, that they’ve been elected to govern and not given a licence to destroy the environment.

A last thought on water for now. Bottled Water versus Tap Water. Even though this graphic is from the US, it is applicable universally. The basic message is cut down on bottled water. The cost of 20 litres of bottled water in Delhi is ca. Rs 70. The cost of 20,000 litres supplied by the Delhi Jal Board in Delhi is Rs Rs 153.43.

Bottled Water and Tap Water


Creating Value from “Waste” and dealing with Pollution


Water and Electricity (thoughts expressed in 2012)

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