Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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On sanitation in India

August 31, 2014

The sanitation question

With the Prime Minister emphasizing the need for India to gear up on sanitation and announcing a clean India campaign from October 2nd 2014  sanitation is now firmly on the front burner of every city and village. The challenge is of course enormous and though global each solution will be hyper-local. For a city with reasonably good infrastructure and with a reasonably good economic prosperity it should be easier than say for a poorer city with a high slum population. Yet answers will have to be found and quickly for the toll bad sanitation takes on the health of people and the economy is very high.

The imagination for toilets and waste-water will for example have to be comprehensive and will need to take account from source to sink. While private toilets will come up on individual sites, care will need to be taken that underground sewage lines are laid and connection to them is easy and affordable. Else this will lead to toilet waste being led into storm drains and polluting entire water systems including lakes , which can then become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies, dangerous vectors for diseases. Well functioning public and community toilets will be a challenge, for it is not in the construction but the continuous maintenance and cleanliness which will be the challenge here. As Bangalore saw with the beautifully designed Infosys Foundation supported toilets, it takes a specialized institution and focus to keep the toilets running in good condition.

  Sewage will have to be picked up in underground lines and treated fully preferably enabling recovery of water and nutrients. It can no longer be allowed to flow in storm-water drains, rivers and lakes.

At the individual and community level some uncomfortable questions will need answers. During the construction of the building did we insist on the contractor to make toilet provision for the workers? Does our apartment and layout have enough clean public toilets for the service staff and visitors to use? Do our offices, schools and colleges have clean, functional toilets with running water? This  is as much a responsibility as any for the management.

Storm water drains and garbage seem to go hand in hand. We as a citizenry seem to believe drains are meant to dump garbage. This cannot be allowed to continue. Segregated garbage will need to be handed over by a responsible citizenry and then collected, composted or recycled by a responsible local government. A specialized institution like the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation achieved wonders for years. It is time such institutions are strengthened and asked to go on with the job.  It is a crying shame that we have allowed landfills to proliferate and devastate the lives of villagers surrounding our cities. Storm-water drains will then have to be regularly maintained from weeds so as to stop vector breeding. Dengue, Chikungunya and Malaria are all prevalent and this is a fall out of an unclean and unhygienic city.

A lot will depend on individual and community action and building the right competent institutions for solid waste, for community toilets and sewage management and for storm-water drains. Cleaning up the neighbourhood and the ward with the help of the local Corporator will be key for this is primarily the responsibility of the local government. Now that there is backing from the very topmost political leadership this is the time to become water and waste wise.

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Memory and forgetfulness – of the well and water.

August 7, 2014

The Indian Institute of World Culture is located in the locality known as Basavanagudi, one of the oldest layouts formed in the city in the 1890’s. The road on which the building is situated is called the B.P.Wadia Road and is named after the founder of the IIWC, which was established in 1945. There is an excellent library for adults and for children in the rather large campus with the typical old style Bangalore building. Many old timers come to listen to lectures organized in the evenings on various topics. I was there to speak on the culture and tradition of the open well in India.
Since I was early I wandered about the premise speaking to the person looking after the garden and the premises in general. Casually I asked him if there was a well in the area. To my surprise not only did he take me and show me a functioning well but also assured me that the water was crystal clear and sweet. The well , safely enclosed in a pumping room , dates at least to the 1940’s and has been supplying water unfailingly ever since. Devaiah also told me about a large stone lined and stepped open well next to the building which was also there for long. It has now been filled up and a multi-storied apartment has come in its place. The apartment has drilled a bore-well to supplement its water needs.
The Institute has done a nice thing for the well. It has taken all the rooftop rainwater from the two large building blocks on its premise and put it into two recharge wells 10 feet deep. This ensures that the entire rainwater goes into the aquifer thus enhancing groundwater levels.
In front of the Institute is the famous M.N.Krishna Rao Park. Here also is a water reservoir of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board or the BWSSB. This reservoir is filled daily from waters of the river Cauvery, a 100 kilo-metres away and 300 metres below the city. Ironically it also probably sits on a shallow aquifer with a high groundwater table that it ignores.
The area now known as Gandhi Bazaar where you get perhaps the best dosa in town at Vidyarthi Bhavan was upon a tank called Karanji Tank. This is just close by to the Institute. On the other end not far away is the Lalbagh Lake. Hyder Ali began the famous Lalbagh gardens with three wells for irrigation so says the traveler and chronicler Buchanan. It looks like Basavanagudi is lucky to have a good water table with a lot of open wells capable of providing water to its resident’s right through the year.
It only remains that we remember the well as a source of good and cheap water, that we protect and preserve the catchment so as not to pollute the resource and that we enhance it through rainwater harvesting measures. Areas such as these should be designated as groundwater sanctuaries and the groundwater legislation used to sustainably maintain that most precious of all resources for this city-water. As a famous writer once said this is a fight between memory and forgetfulness. The memory of the well must be retained and must be integrated with modern water needs but in ecological fashion. That would be water wisdom.

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Airports and water

June 3, 2014

The Airport is located quite far from the city, about 30 kilometres away. It is too far away from city lines and has to depend on groundwater. It needs 9 million litres per day eventually though for now 5 million litres per day will do.  To boot it is located in what was called a ‘dark zone’ by the Central Ground Water Board, meaning groundwater was being exploited beyond recharge potential. An Airport needs water and plenty of it. So what did it do?

For one it requested and sourced fresh water from the city paying Rs 66 a kilo-litre, a high price which gave the water utility supplying it some monies. This fresh water is limited to about 1.5 million litres daily. It then did a smarter thing, it bought tertiary treated waste-water and a full 2 million litres of it daily and it paid Rs 25 a kilo-litre for this treated waste-water. This was separately stored and used for the vast beautiful landscape springing around, a huge bio-diversity of plants and even a small wetland.

For the internal waste-water generated it set up its own sewage treatment plant using extended aeration system. This treated water is then reused for flushing the toilets in the airport premises as well as for the air cooling systems. The sludge generated from the sewage treatment plant is composted and reused as manure for the landscaped area. 

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       An internal waste-water treatment plants treats all waste-water as well as waste from aeroplanes

Runways and the area surrounding it generate large quantities of storm water when it rains. It is therefore very important that this run-off be collected and quickly disposed off and flooding avoided. With more than 310 recharge wells located in the storm water drain or immediately adjacent to it a large volume of the rain is recharged into the aquifer. Well designed storm-water drains then take away the rest of the rainwater to an adjacent lake which is capable of receiving this large flow of rain.

Two things have happened due to these good efforts. Four large open wells which were old existing constructions have been rehabilitated, cleaned up and repaired. Pumps and a filter have been attached and the water quality tested. It is found that this is very high quality, sweet potable water. Thanks to the recharge efforts the wells stay full even during summer. Up-to 800,000 litres of water can be drawn from these open wells daily and in an emergency they can replace the mains water from the city. A landscape which was once a dark zone, given a holiday for high extraction from bore-wells and with enough recharging can be revived to such an extent that open wells can have water.

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                                      Recharge of rainwater has helped aquifers rejuvenate with fresh clean water

From the airport buildings rainwater is stored in large underground sump tanks of about 1.5 million litres capacity and reused after treating. Excess water from the sump tanks is then allowed to flow into storm drains and recharge the aquifer as well as flow into the adjacent lake.

The revival of the adjacent lake also means that villages and towns adjacent to the airport, such as the town of Devanahalli, can now think of sourcing groundwater from adjacent to the lake to fulfill the towns water requirements.

 

 

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                         Sludge drying beds 

Economic activity and service activity like airports are essential for economic growth and to spur the progress of a city. Instead of seeing it as placing demand on water services through innovative design they can absorb waste-water from cities and be able to use it to meet its requirements. Through waste-water treatment and reuse and through rainwater harvesting groundwater aquifers can be revived and lakes kept full. These can then be of great help to surrounding communities. The Kempegowda International Airport at Bangalore showcases just that. This is water wisdom.

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Community Engagement and water walks – Bringing people to water

May 24, 2014

People and water

 Around a recharge well – learning about groundwater

They are a small informal group and call themselves Friends of the Lakes. The group is a motley bunch of enthusiastic young people and wise old stalwarts who have seen it all and they have one purpose in coming together to save three lakes which are in the neighbourhood. They meet every Sunday and go around the lakes cleaning them up of rubbish and persuading morning walkers to become a part of the exercise. The area Corporators and there are two of them have joined in enthusiastically and now lead the initiative. Discussions are sharp and the moot question how can the lakes be protected from encroachment, be kept away from sewage water and be full. The energy is high and the mind positive.

At a waste-water treatment plant

 At a waste-water treatment plant

The group of youngsters are volunteering and learning about urban issues confronting the city. They have come, albeit late, to the sewage treatment plant and for the first time for most are figuring out where the water they use in their homes ends up and what is needed to clean it up. Questions fly in the air and small group discussions take place. Cameras click and the flying foam is of particular interest to capture. They then see a wetland with its rich bio-diversity and its role in polishing treated waste-water and finally relax on the granite steps at the bottom of a large well which is full of water,a water heritage structure.

 

Across towns and cities all over India groups are coming together to help revive their citys lakes and protect them. Mysore, Dindigul, Erode, Hyderabad, Chennai , Coimbatore and in many other towns one can see this movement of citizens getting together with authorities and saying let us get things moving.

It is time that authorities noticed it and stepped in perhaps with the help of NGO’s, perhaps with the help of academia and organize water walks in their towns and cities regularly to make water literate an increasingly interested population. Citizens need to see the challenges ahead in the water front and on the wastewater front and an army of volunteers and professionally engaged people are needed to address the challenge. Bangalore city for example will have 25 wastewater treatment plants one of which converts sewage into potable water. Why should these places not be open to public for guided tours albeit at certain times?

If you learn for example what NOT to put down the sewage line and the kitchen sink you will have done the authorities a big help. No used oil, no personal hygiene products into the toilets and as the famous words go nothing into the underground lines but Numbers 1 and 2 and soap and water , will be a big help to the environment at large and to waste-water treatment .

It may look simple s but people engagement is the key to water wisdom and the moment is now.

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On the likely possible development agenda of the new government

May 17, 2014

 

Development with Gujarati characteristics .

It is a comprehensive win for a model of development now likely to replicate itself in many other states all across India. What could be some of the characteristics of this development strategy ? Clearly it will be an infrastructure led model.

Electricity and the power sector: This is one sector where the Gujarat model is striking and clearly ready for a roll out. Segregating the rural agriculture sector from habitations, ensuring 24 hours supply to homes and then ensuring 8 hours of reliable and robust power to the agriculture sector will not only help farmers but also boost the growth in this area substantially. Urban power supply without any power cut is something almost every household and industry looks forward to. Alternative energy such as solar and wind energy should also get a substantial boost.

Water:  While river inter-linking may have been the rhetoric it is likely that the focus would be back on major irrigation and groundwater. While water for irrigation should get a ramping up in terms of outlay and investments, greater focus will be on increasing efficiency of delivery through canal lining, improved governance et al. Also like the massive Saurashtra model of water harvesting, using soil and water conservation measures at large scale in a partnership with communities will help the groundwater sustainability and availability. India’s dependence on groundwater cannot be overemphasized and this sector will see much attention in the coming years.

In urban areas the Surat model of water and sanitation with an overall goal of 24/7 water supply and full underground sewerage system with waste-water treatment and recycling will roll out all across Indian cities. Rural sanitation should get a solid boost with it having the personal attention of the Prime Minister.

Transport: The Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) of Ahmedabad is a model for the rest of the country. For sure mass transportation including metro rail and BRTS will to overcome the gridlock in urban India will be the direction. Atal Behari Vajpayee ‘s National Highway Grid and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana , both hugely successful initiatives, should see increased focus for finance. It is through this investment that every village in India can be touched and linked to the overall development of the nation.

Housing: This will be a tough sector to deal with and it is not clear how the path ahead lies because there is no Gujarat model to follow here. However it is clear that the private sector will play a much more important role than previously and land reforms in urban areas will take priority.

The policy imperative will demand that a National Energy Policy, a National Water Policy within which an Urban Water and Sanitation Policy and a Groundwater Policy is included and a National Transportation Policy, including roads and railways, amongst many others be articulated to indicate the direction in which the government will move in the coming years.

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On the sludge management and reuse potential in Bangalore

May 12, 2014

One of the many critical factors affecting productivity in Indian soils is the absence of nutrients such as Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphates. Even Carbon is in short supply as well as micro-nutrients such as Zinc and Boron.  AA substantial part of our artificial fertilizers is imported and we run up quite a huge bill. Fertilizer prices too are shooting up leading to an imbalance in their application. It has been reported for example that Urea which is relatively cheaper is over applied on soils causing more harm than good.

Cut to urban cities. Sewage treatment plants are coming up in large numbers. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board –the utility responsible for sanitation and sewage, will eventually be setting up 25 sewage treatment plants treating nearly 1100 Million Litres Per day of sewage. These plants will mostly be secondary and tertiary treatment plants. Each million litre of sewage generates nearly a Tonne of sludge. Imagine 1100 Tonnes of sludge will be generated in the city of Bangalore alone. This is 120 truckloads of sludge.

There are smaller sewage treatment plants dotting the landscape in apartments and layouts too. These too generate smaller quantities of sludge. Overall this represents a management challenge of large proportions.

Research:  Currently at the GKVK-University of Agricultural Sciences – research work is going on to understand the nutrient value of this sludge. A Ph D student is pursuing her Doctorate and is experimenting on field trials using the sludge as manure. The initial test results show very good amounts of Potassium and Phosphates in the sludge.

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Separately sludge is also being picked up from Ecosan toilets. These are source separating composting toilets which segregate urine and solids. The solids are covered with ash after every use and desiccated before application as a fertilizer on soils. Farmers of Kamasamudram and H.D.Kote have such toilets in their homes and are very happy with the fertilizer they get. In fact this compost is priced at Rs 10 a kg.

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Sludge sells for upto Rs 10 a kg.

Similarly the landscape of rural India is dotted with pit toilets, more than 130 million of them at the last count. These too accumulate solid sludge and need to be emptied using mechanical systems. They are also found to be rich in Phosphates and Potassium.

All these various forms of sludge will be taken, tested applied on fields and crop productivity tested under expert supervision.

When research and application come together in a spirit of cooperation, it is possible to find solutions for India’s vast water, food and sanitation problems. At the base, this is a nutrient cycle at play. How we scientifically understand and manage it will show us the path to solutions. If every gram of sludge generated in our Sewage Treatment Plants become useful as manure it will partially solve India’s fertilizer needs and eliminate pollution. It will also increase productivity and richness of our soils as well as enhance the livelihood opportunities of farmers.

Recognizing and converting waste to a resource will help thousand of apartments and layouts, small and medium towns and even metropolis to manage their sewage efficiently for reuse and recycling. This would be water wisdom.

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Towards a water sensitive city

April 23, 2014

 

The imagination of water in a city should not be limited to its delivery and withdrawal in pipes alone. A good water management plan would mean and include the many roles of water such as the spiritual, the cultural, the ecological and the recreational in addition to the functional..

In the hierarchy of the development of water infrastructure in a city there is first the arrival of piped water supply. Drainage and sewerage follow after some time.  The city then starts to understand and manage its surface water like lakes, rivers and canals. Attention then usually shifts to groundwater management. If all this is done  and fountains dot the landscape , where rivers and lakes become clean and spots of recreation and where all waste-water streams are managed the city starts educating its citizens especially its young ones on water and spreading water literacy. This city can be said to have become water sensitive. Singapore comes to mind as one such city. Stockholm and Oslo also manage their waters accordingly and celebrate it. Seoul is getting there or nearly there. We in India are on the painful ladder and it will take time but the vision has to stay firm. Of course in a water sensitive city all citizens will have equal access to the resource and there will be no deprivation and appropriation of the commons.

In Coimbatore through a citizen government partnership the Big Tank the Ukkadam was de-silted and made ready to receive rainwater which it has collected in plenty. In Dindigul de-silting has begun of the old tank. In Karnataka State ,  Tiptur has refurbished and improved a large tank so have the towns of Sira and Tumkur.

In Bangalore the Bangalore Development Authority has invested over Rs 110 crores in improving over 14 tanks. Of these tanks Jakkur in the Northern part of the city seems to offer a potential comprehensive role of creating a water ecosystem which fits the role of what a water body can do in a city – as they say to function as its kidney.

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The vast water spread of Jakkur Tank

The tank itself was a beautiful irrigation tank with a command area which grew paddy. As the city has caught up the role of the tank has now changed. There is a wetland on the upstream end which receives water from a waste-water treatment plant. The wetland further purifies the waste-water . The tank itself with a water spread of 53 Hectares is full and harbours lots of fish. Birds nest and a virtual array of them can be seen during the year.

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Treated Waste-water comes in to a wetland

The tank has recharged groundwater in the surrounding areas and the some of the remaining water heritage of the city – the traditional wells- are full to the brim. Boys learn to swim in one of them. Another well is used for large scale irrigation of coconut and banana plants. The tank has a place for immersion of Ganesha idols in one place. Storm-water inlets to bring in rain when it occurs have well designed silt traps to allow only water to come in and not debris and solid waste.

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Full wells – thanks to a recharged aquifer

The tank ecosystem fulfills many a function, from the ecological, to the cultural and spiritual, from the educational to that of recharge and many more.

This is truly a microcosm of what is called Integrated Urban water management in practice. Here we see the transformation of waste-water through a physical process of treatment followed by a biological process to drinking water.

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Fish feeds the city with proteins and provides livelihood to fishermen

Water in a city is much beyond what flows in pipes. If designed and managed well it can enhance and provide for the needs of nature and man in myriad forms. The Jakkur Lake should be managed well so that it becomes a living lab for our citizens to see and learn how urban waters can be managed. This experiment can then be repeated in most other tanks of the city and also in other cities. Bangalore has been a pioneer in many ways to urban water management. Can it take a lead in this one too? In that would lie water wisdom.

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