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Wastewater Recycling Way out of Water Scarcity

Niti Aayog’s “Composite Water Management Index (CWMI)” Report indicates that (i) 600 million Indians experience high to extreme water stress (ii) 75% households do not have access to drinking water on premises, while 84% of rural households do not have piped access (iii) 70% of water is contaminated, which ranks India as 120 out of 122 countries in terms of water quality. The crisis is huge and its imperative that water conservation and treatment/ re-use is rapidly scaled up.

Since last month, Chennai has been in the news for reasons other than its famed music season, film industry and politics. Because recently, its four main water reservoirs ran completely dry, causing its worst water crisis in 30 years.

To cope with the scarcity, hotels and restaurants started to shut down temporarily, and the air conditioning was turned off in the city’s metro. Companies started asking employees to work from home, or bring their own water. Piped water supply to homes was not even 10% of what it used to be, and the wait for a water tanker was as much as three to four weeks long.

Chennai became critically dependent on its three mega water desalination plants with a combined capacity of just 180 MLD. Water stagnating for months in huge abandoned stone quarries was pumped out to fill tanks and tankers, sufficient for just 5% of the city’s households.

Water is a nationwide problem

This was a long-predicted crisis that was waiting to happen, and Chennai is not alone in facing it. According to the government itself, India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat. Here are some official statistics:

• 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress in the country.
• About three-fourths of the households in the country do not have drinking water at their premises.
• 84% rural households do not have piped water access.
• Nearly 70% of water being contaminated.
• Two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
• India is placed 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.
• By 2030, 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water.
• 54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting around 100 million people.
• By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply.
• Water stress is projected to cause an eventual ~6% loss to the country’s GDP.

According to the National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development of the Ministry of Water Resources, the water requirement by 2050 in high-use scenario is likely to be 1,180 billion cubic metres (bcm), whereas the present-day availability is 695bcm. The total availability of water possible in India is still lower than the projected demand, at 1,137bcm.

Lack of state-specific data

While India’s water woes have been well calculated, these are not uniform across the country. Problems differ from state to state, with some facing more adversity than others, and some coping better as well. Water use data for domestic and industrial use is available only at the aggregate level, providing very little information to policy-makers. Where data is available, it is often unreliable since it is based on outdated methodologies. Many states share rivers and other water resources (India is witnessing seven major inter-state conflicts over water), but do not share water data with each other, adding to the inefficiency of water management.

The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI)

Constitutionally, water is a state subject, and it is up to each state to optimally utilise and safeguard its water resources. Keeping this in mind, government think-tank NITI Ayog has developed the concept of the CWMI, which will measure and monitor a state’s management of its water resources, and incentivize water recycling. It is a first-of-itskind, comprehensive scorecard for identifying, targeting, and solving problems in the water sector across the country.

By creating a culture of data-based decision-making for water in India, which can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ in the country’s water governance and management, NITI Ayog hopes for close centre-state collaboration in the creation and annual updating of the Index, leading to increased interstate cooperation in the water sector.

The CWMI has three aims:

1. Establish a clear baseline and benchmark for state-level performance on key water indicators.
2. Uncover and explain how states have progressed on water issues over time, including identifying high-performers and underperformers, thereby inculcating a culture of constructive competition among states
3. Identify areas for deeper engagement and investment on the part of the states.

Eventually, NITI Aayog plans to develop the index into a composite, national-level data management platform for all water resources in India.

NITI Ayog collected data about several indicators, each of which was assigned a certain weightage to calculate the state’s score: groundwater restoration, irrigation management, on-farm water use, rural and urban drinking water supply and sanitation, water policy frameworks, and other areas.

Ranking of states according to the CWMI

According to their CWMI scores, the high-ranking states are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, while the poor performers are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand. 60% states have been classified as poor performers.

Low performers are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of North and East India, and among the North-Eastern and Himalayan states, and are home to around 50% of the country’s population and its agricultural baskets. Low performers like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and others are home to over 600 million people, and account for 20-30% of India’s agricultural output.

Most states struggled to even collect data about indicators such as the total amount of waste water generated in urban areas per day, capacity for treating urban wastewater, and amount actually treated. Madhya Pradesh claimed that 100% of its urban population is being provided with drinking water supply! Most states do not follow the norm which mandates at least 135 litres per capita per day of water supply for urban areas.

Sanitation-related results

More than 90% of the urban population has had access to ‘basic water’ since 2005, but only onethird of India’s waste water is currently treated. 70% of states treat less than half of their waste water. The median state has capacity to treat 41% of its urban waste water, but the large waste water generators — Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and UP — can potentially treat 65-100% of their urban waste water. Despite this, many populous states, such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, have only enough installed capacity to treat less than half of their waste water. Further, several North-Eastern and Himalayan states have low or no capacity for treatment.

Actual water treatment percentages vary from 25-95% for the larger states. Haryana is the leader and treats 95% of its waste water. Israel offers the perfect example as the global leader in reusing water — it reuses 94% of all water, with the majority being used to meet 50% of the country’s agricultural water demand.

Even states with the largest urban areas — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala —are only able to provide drinking water to 53-72% of their massive urban populations. Bihar came in last, at a staggering low of just 20%.

These numbers prove the urgent need for States to invest in wastewater treatment in the immediate future, to ensure that the present as well as the distant future is watersafe, and water-secure.

Compiled by Mrigank Warrier

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