New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) releases Excreta Matters, its 71-city study of how Indian urban centres manage their water and sewage.
Report maps the water-sewage course of three Karnataka cities – Bengaluru, Tumkur and Hubli-Dharwad.
Over 30 per cent water bodies lost, shrinking water table and tube wells drying up.
CSE calls for a reuse-recycle roadmap for solving the city’s water woes.
Bengaluru, June 28, 2012: The city’s rapid urban growth has come at cost of Bengaluru’s water lifelines –lakes and ponds. These are now either repositories for sewage or have been turned into prime real estate. As a result, even with the huge investments and projects for bringing water to the city – including the much debated, 'market friendly' Greater Bangalore Water and Sanitation Project (GBWASP) -- the crisis has become real and regular.
The city’s management of its water and sewage was the focus of a panel discussion organised here today by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). CSE also released its Seventh State of India’s Environment report titled Excreta Matters on this occasion. The report is based on a survey of 71 Indian cities and how they have managed their water and sewage. Three cities of Karnataka feature in this list of 71 -- Bengaluru, Tumkur and Hubli-Dharwad.
A Ravindra, advisor to the Government of Karnataka on urban affairs and former chief secretary of Karnataka released the report in a function jointly organised by CSE and Arghyam, a Bengaluru-based philanthropic NGO which works on issues related to water. “CSE’s emphasis on sewage comes at the right time; it is time for a sanitation revolution as outlined in the report,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, CSE Director-general Sunita Narain said: “Despite what Bengaluru has done to its water bodies, the good thing about this city is that it is making an effort to change. It is thinking big and trying out several new things. The real challenge for Bengaluru in the coming years would be to turn that thought into action – learn to recycle and reuse. That is where the future lies.”
How the city fares
According to land use classification, 4 per cent of Bengaluru’s metropolitan area is under water bodies, which provided the city its drinking water in the past and also recharged its groundwater. However, with their demise, the city has been forced to turn to the Cauvery river and to groundwater to meet its ever growing needs. Phase I of the Cauvery Water Supply Scheme (CWSS) provides about 810 MLD on an average; the water is pumped and transported over a distance of 100 km. The power required to pump this water is enormous and is crippling the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB).
“The power cost of supplying Cauvery River water is Rs 300 crore per year. Therefore, over a 30 year lifecycle, the operations and management expenditure exceeds capital costs. We can get this in the form of grants and loans, but what about covering the operations costs of sourcing water from a distance,” said Gaurav Gupta, chariman of BWSSB. People cannot bear this cost and therefore water must be treated as a finite resource.
BWSSB has been working to reduce losses. Leakages are high due to pipeline damage and ageing assets, but there is little money to replace these assets. The BWSSB has taken up a project to reduce water losses in water-rich southern part costing Rs 150-160 crore funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. They are setting up 65 district metering areas to assess where water comes and goes, and the net water consumed to assess the unaccounted for water.
Inspite of its high costs, Bengaluru is still looking to the Cauvery for more water. The Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal has earmarked 600 cusecs (or 1,470 MLD) of water from the river for the city. But this river water is contested, as farmers say their share is being taken away for cities and industries.
The citizens have little choice but to turn to groundwater. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) maintain over 7,000 borewells in the city, which supply around 70 MLD. A 2005 survey of drilling companies in the city revealed that the number of private borewells supplying water to households is much higher – around 2,61,573, yielding a total of 261 MLD. The number of registered borewells in the city are 170,000.
The Greater Bangalore Water and Sanitation Project (GBWASP) was initiated in 1998, with an aim to be ‘market friendly’; coming up with bankable schemes for which it can source funds from future customers through upfront payments.
A 2009 study on the implementation of GBWASP found a wide disparity between different groups of people and their access to water and other basic services. The study noted that while peri-urban populations had paid in advance for getting water connections, unlike the people living in core areas, there was little water to distribute. Says Nitya Jacob, programme director-water policy an advocacy, CSE: “The market seems to be made up of poorer people, who have no say in the dealings.”
While the project’s costs have escalated, with the beneficiary population forced to pay the bulk, payment has not guaranteed customer entitlements. In many places, people have not received water. Poorer places, with difficult access, have been left out. Even after the completion of the distribution pipelines, only 100,000 connections were provided against the total estimated 450,000 which need to be reached in these areas.
“What is clear is that this market-based model needs to be carefully re-examined. The conditions of debt repayment make it obligatory to pay market investors first. But it is the people who have paid for the water service, before time and with fear of penalty, who are still not getting the service,” said Narain.
Sewage and its disposal
Bengaluru’s rapid urbanisation has also meant growing mountains of waste. City municipal engineers estimate that roughly 1,000 MLD of wastewater flows through its three valleys – the Vrishabhavathi, the Koramangala-Challaghatta, and Hebbal.
The city’s sewage generation estimates vary widely, indicating that authorities have poor knowledge about the actual water consumed by the population -- the actual amount of sewage generated would be higher since a large number of private borewells exist and there is no scientific estimate of the quantity of water withdrawn from them.
A substantial part of the sewage generated goes untreated, though the city has experimented with and built every kind of sewage treatment system. But in spite of these impressive wastewater treatment facilities, it continues to struggle with the management of its sewage as it does not have the drains to bring the sewage to the plants. “It faces the same problems as that of most cities – outdated sewage infrastructure, which demands repair and refurbishment even as more needs to be built. It is not able to trap its waste and convey it to the treatment plants,” says Jacob.
“Huge challenge lies in taking the next step even though there are many little things, right language and right buzzwords being used. All the small initiatives undertaken in the city have to be brought together to become a model of city water-waste management. Here officials understand the nature of the problem. But if water is sourced from a long distance this problem will stay, and there will never be sufficient funds for sewage treatment and disposal. There is an opportunity to do things differently, since business as usual approach will be unsustainable. Water has to be augmented using local sources – RWH, lakes and Groundwater. Desalination is prohibitive; Chennai pays 58 /kl and 23/kl as production costs. There is enormous potential of getting it right. There are people who can think out of the box,” said Sunita Narain when summarising on the takeaways from the seminar.
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