Archive for January, 2008


Water,literacy and the girl child

January 31, 2008

In Arjunabettahalli of Nelamangala and about 40 km from Bangalore little Vinutha, all of 10 and studying in the 5th standard answers questions on water and rainwater harvesting. She emphasizes that water is a limited natural resource (Parimita sampanamoola in Kannada and in her own beautiful words) and therefore should be used carefully. She also has been studying about rainwater harvesting in school and now sees one being built in her house. Every day she and her mother spend half an hour to 2 hours in bringing water to the house.

When questioned she is perplexed as to why the boys in the family do not do this work. Harvesting rain helps the girl child from hauling water during the rainy days at least. Ultimately gender equality will alone answer the burden put on little girls. (less)

Can a state level survey be done asking 9 to 12 year old girl children their relationship with water and sanitation?

Can we then take the results of the survey to policy makers and institutions as the girl childs voice on water and sanitation?

We can do this at 2 places – The house and the school. Questions can elicit information an arm her with knowledge on many things such as

1. Who is responsible for bringing water to the house hold ?

A survey in 1990 by IMRB suggested that nearly 68% of the water collection in households was done by women.

4% of this was by the girl child younger than 15 years.

2.What is the source of the drinking water?

Dug wells were a pre dominant source yet there was no programme for protecting the dug well and ensuring its sustainability through recharge

3. How far is it from your house?

4.How much time does it take to bring the water?

To collect approx 192 litres per family per day it took 1.2 to 3.5 hours daily

5.How many trips do you make in a day?

6. Where do you store the water brought to your house?

7. Where does the waste water from your house go?

8.Do you have a toilet in your house?

9.Who takes care of the cleanliness of the toilet?

10. Do the boys/men in the house help with water in the house?

11. Do you have sheep/goat/cows in your family?

12.How do they get water to drink? Who takes them to the water? Who brings water for them? How much water?


1.Does your school have a water source?

2.Do you take water to school from home?

3.Does your school have a toilet?

4.Do you use the toilet in the school?

5.Who keeps the toilet clean in school?


1.How often do you have a bath?

2.Do you use soap to wash your hands ?

3.How often do you wash your clothes?

4.How often do you change your clothes?

5.Do you have a water borne disease or have you had one in the last week?

Diarhoea /skin disease

6.Have you had malaria/chikungunya/dengue in the last one year?

Lakshmi here for example has understood the benefit of rainwater harvesting to combat fluorosis. Can this knowledge be translated to all the women in the more than 5400 habitations with excess fluoride.?


Water crisis in Bangalore- Gastro enteritis rears its head

January 28, 2008

There is a spurt of gastro-enteritis in the city today. Residents think that it is the contaminated mains supply from the BWSSB that is the source of the gastroenteritis. The Bangalore water supply and Sewerage Board thinks it is water bought by residents from the private water tankers that is the cause but then seems to change its mind. An Engineer has been suspended for carelessness and the residents are demonstrating in front of the Head Office of the service provider the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board. It is feared that the cause may be the mixing up of sewage and water and its absorption into the water lines.

The real problem

It is the complete inability of the institution (BWSSB) to keep the water lines fully pressurized and available 24 hours a day. It is also the lack of accountability of the institution for the quality of water delivered with a residual chlorine levels as specified,which creates the problem. A re-look is needed at the entire structure of water supply in the city and the endemic problems addressed else we will face the same issue time and again. The leakage in the old water pipes is enormous and of the order of 40%. Pipes have not been replaced or upgraded in many places. The sewage system is defunct.Neither is it collected properly nor is it fully treated. People are not paying the true price for water and sewage collection and treatment and subsidies are mis-targeted. Imagine , it costs the BWSSB to Rs 18/- to produce a kilo-litre of water and it supplies the first slab at Rs 6/- a kilo-litre to even the richest houses in Bangalore. If the rich don’t pay the true price for water ,the poor will pay with their health as in this particular outbreak suggests. More money will be spent on water filters and assorted treatment devices for water than in setting the system right.

Unregulated private water supply:In the video picture above is a private water tanker supplying water on the 28th of January 2008 in another part of Bangalore. A tanker load of 4000 litres costs Rs 150/- (approx US 4 $).The leaking tank comes and delivers water untested for quality as an expectant family looks on.The family has to buy water because there is a function in the house and the BWSSB supplied water has run out. A sump tank built to receive the BWSSB water, which comes once in 2 days for 2 hours, is all set to receive the tanker water this time.
A bore well about 525 feet deep is the source of the tanker water. It has a 7.5 H.P pump and it takes 15 minutes to fill the tanker.The tankers operate in a zone of 2 km.. The firm has 3 tankers and altogether on an average day they supply 30 loads in a day making for 120,000 litres daily.The first borewell that the firm dug went dry and so the second new one -deeper of course- supplies the water. The tanker water provider has no system of checking for water quality. There is no regulation of tanker water by any authority.

It is necessary that tanker owners and operators are educated on the methods for checking water quality and adopting simple chlorination to the water they deliver. Even people who buy this water can chlorinate it using bleaching powder and a simple chlroscope to check for residual chlorine. Spreading such water literacy is crucial to the public health of our cities.

Key questions emerge:

Why should not the BWSSB supply enough water for the citizens of Bangalore? Why should not the water come 24/7 in our pipes and with sufficient pressure to reach higher floors? Why don’t citizens demand better service from their service providers? Even when we have gastro-enteritis in the city why do we not look for structural improvements in water supply and sanitation for the whole of the city? Bangalorean’s please wake up and smell the coffee :):)?


Rice on the roof

January 28, 2008

Using grey water from the washing machine and from the bucket bath, a planted drum filter is

created using 5 , 90 litre drums. Typha in the drums grows well and improves water quality.

Basic sedimentation and aeration also helps.This treated water is used to grow rice on the roof.


Ecosan-source separating composting toilet

January 25, 2008

An ecosan toilet is a source separating composting toilet and a black water saver. It also generates good nutrients for plant growth. It also does not pollute

our precious water resources. This is the way to go with sanitation


Solar cooking- fight climate change

January 25, 2008

Using a solar box cooker is the easiest thing in the world.Try it and you will love it. For us it cooks lunch and dinner for a family of 4


Drinking water qualities

January 25, 2008

Drinking water quality- What should it be?




The greatest bulk of the human body is water. If we are what we eat we are also what we drink and perhaps to a greater extant. Pure water as pure H2O does not exist in nature and therefore what we consume has some mineral or salt or the other. Question is what is right and what is wrong in the presence of things in the waters we drink. Simultaneously with increasing impacts of human activity water is being polluted everywhere in the environment. So what should be the quality of the water we drink?

The Bureau of Indian Standards prescribes the quality of drinking water in its BIS 10500-1991 standards. It lists three major quality parameters- Physical, Chemical and Biological.



 ( BIS  10500 : 1991 )



Substance or Characteristic

Requirement  (Desirable Limit)

Permissible Limit in the absence of Alternate source

Essential characteristics


Colour, ( Hazen units, Max )












Turbidity  ( NTU, Max)




pH  Value

6.5 to 8.5

No Relaxation


Total Hardness (as CaCo3) mg/lit.,Max




Iron           (as Fe) mg/lit,Max




Chlorides  (as Cl) mg/lit,Max.




Residual,free chlorine,mg/lit,Min


Desirable Characteristics


Dissolved solids  mg/lit,Max




Calcium  (as Ca) mg/lit,Max




Copper    (as Cu) mg/lit,Max




Manganese (as Mn)mg/lit,Max




Sulfate  (as SO4) mg/lit,Max




Nitrate  (as NO3) mg/lit,Max




Fluoride (as F) mg/lit,Max




Phenolic Compounds (as C 6 H5OH)

mg/lit, Max.




Mercury (as Hg)mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Cadmium (as Cd)mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Selenium (as Se)mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Arsenic (as As) mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Cyanide (as CN) mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Lead  (as Pb) mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Zinc   (as Zn) mg/lit,Max




Anionic detergents (as MBAS) mg/lit,Max




Chromium (as Cr6+) mg/lit,Max


No relaxation


Polynuclear aromatic hydro carbons 

(as PAH) g/lit,Max


Mineral Oil  mg/lit,Max




Pesticides  mg/l, Max




Radioactive Materials 




i. Alpha emitters Bq/l,Max



ii. Beta emitters  pci/l,Max



Alkalinity mg/lit.Max




Aluminium  (as Al) mg/l,Max




Boron  mg/lit,Max




         Bacteriological standards

         Coliform count             0 in 100 ml of sample

         E.Coli count                  0 in 100 ml of sample


Where to get the water tested? Many private laboratories exist in cities to carry out water testing. In addition the State Pollution Control Boards, the Department of Mines and Geology in Bangalore, Karnataka and many engineering and agricultural colleges help in water testing.  Water utilities like the Chennai Metro Water Board list on their website that they provide water testing service too. Charges vary depending on the laboratories but expect to pay anywhere from Rs 200 /- to Rs 900 /- for a complete water test.

Most laboratories will need a sample of at least 2 litres collected in a clean sterilized bottle. There are specific requirements of collection if the water is to be tested for indicator bacteria such as e-coli and the laboratory usually prescribes the method.


What to look out for: If your water source is a bore well while you must check for all the parameters listed above, of specific concern will be the Total Dissolved Solids, Nitrates and Fluoride. In many cities leaking sewage pipes have caused ground water to be polluted and the typical pollutant is Nitrate.

Fluoride contamination is reported more through natural sources and is endemic in many villages of India. Fluoride testing kits are available for Rs 1000/- to Rs 1500/- which can give a broad range result. Further testing for more accurate results can then be done in laboratories.

If your water source is from the pipeline then it is the responsibility of the city authorities to ensure that the water you receive confirms to BIS 10500. To avoid bacterial contamination authorities ensure residual chlorine in the water. This can be tested using a chlorine testing kit which is available for Rs 200/- to Rs 500/-. A residual chlorine of 0.20 mg/litre is commonly ensured by water supply providers.

In rural areas where the contamination is most likely to be biological a simple H2S strip test is a very good indicator of the presence of e-coli, the indicator for harmful bacteria. This is a small bottle with a strip of paper coated with an appropriate material. The water to be tested is put into the bottle and the cap closed. In 24 to 36 hours if the water turns black then it indicates bacterial contamination requiring the water to be boiled or sterilized before consumption.


Protocol: It is good to develop a protocol for testing waters from other than mainline sources. Bore well waters should be tested at least once in 3 months  for potability and more frequently if any contamination is detected.

It is also important to note that not all water quality improving devices work on all contaminants.             Many which are UV based can take care of bacteria only. Thos that are R.O. based can remove nitrates and fluorides. It is important to see whether the treated water will conform to BIS 10500 requirements before one buys a product. It is also better to check the treated water to see whether a contaminant has been removed


Further improvements: China has moved from identifying 35 items to 101 items considering the increase in chemical contaminants in the environment. India needs to move into this mode also and look at more harmful chemical contaminants coming into water.

Water testing laboratories also need to be available in more places and at more affordable price.

Ultimately a risk management strategy needs to be put into place to ensure non-pollution at source rather than a strategy of removal of pollutants.

Awareness and action are critical to change the impacts on drinking water and for the health of us and our children.

Water wisdom lies in understanding the pollutants in our water, ensuring prevention and removal and only then consuming it.



Observing water in nature

January 24, 2008


Observation – The key to good water sensitive design


As large sites are taken up for development designing sustainable water systems becomes both an art and a science. While at the individual household level water management is relatively simple, involving such elements as installing water conserving devices , designing for water harvesting, arranging for water efficient gardens, ensuring recharge of ground water, reusing grey water and possibly recycling sewage water things are a bit more complex at layout levels or at development levels averaging over an acre.
Scale: The scale of the solution can be at individual household level, at the community level and at the city scale. The term community encompasses streets or wards, neighbourhoods or even gated communities of flats and apartments. Generally the principle of subsidiarity prevails, try to find the solution at the lowest possible level of ownership. Escalate the solution only if it is inevitable.
Community level actions for water have been numerous and are worth emulating. In a small town close to Bangalore a community of volunteers got together to clean an old ,large open well. This well had become a dumping ground for garbage and water seeping through this garbage was further contaminating the ground water. Citizens came together slowly and gradually, working on Sundays and cleaned up the well. The process has moved on to other such open wells and these citizens are now engaging with the authorities to ensure the revival of as many such water bodies as possible. It was the observation power of one concerned citizen that lead to a town wide movement to engage with open wells.
In Chennai citizen groups have come together to revive many temple tanks aided by organizations such as the Rotary and several Civil society groups. In Jaipur a multi-national corporation has come forward to help restore an old ‘Bawdi’ – a step well dating centuries. All these examples are of individuals or groups thinking beyond self for taking action.

Within the boundary: At a very large scale development in Mysore, a project is under development and expansion for a software company. It is a residential campus covering more than 200 acres of land. A typical design for a water system would have looked at the piped water option coming to the campus and designed the water supply around it. To cater to the pollution control norms a sewage recycling system would have been set up and the treated water used for landscaping purpose. At times when the piped water failed to arrive, private water tankers would have brought in the emergency water requirement.
A walk around the campus with an eye for water however revealed the presence of a spring on site. For those with a internet connection will give a flavour of how a spring looks.

Conversations with the locals revealed that this was perennial. An old well with water indicated a good shallow aquifer. A pump test confirmed a reliable and reasonable yield. It was clear that a discharge zone existed on site and that the recharge area needed to be clearly identified and steps taken to enhance recharge.

Observation, walking around, talking and looking out for the right things helped take appropriate water harvesting and water management decisions. Three wells were dug and over 200 kilo litres of water are available through them daily. Recharge structures are being designed to enhance shallow aquifer content and keep them full. The spring is a good and reliable indicator of the water in the shallow aquifer as well as base flows.

At a city scale: Understanding the water cycle from source to sink for a city is crucial. How many know what is happening in the catchment of source rivers which provide water to a town? What will be the impact of climate change? It would be therefore important to look at the water features around a town and enhance their storage and recharge capacity. It would also do good to be observational and feed in to the system the management of all surface water bodies and ground water structures such as wells.

The management of water on a large site is not merely engineering in solution but also involves hydro-geology and an understanding of the land and its characteristics. With multiple sourcing of water a reality in present times, a holistic learning around water and its management needs to evolve. This involves a cultural, ecological, hydro-geological and technical approach. Only when we bring in all these sensibilities will sustainable water management become a reality. This is water wisdom.