Archive for February, 2012


Bangalore – the water in summer

February 18, 2012

Come summer the usual drama around water starts. Corporators get busy with empty pots and a hue and cry is raised around shortage, some genuine some a political stunt. Why are we subject to this every year? Why cannot we ensure that all our citizens have a access to this most needed of all resource especially when it is needed the most? Summer is a time when demand shoots up. The biological and physical requirement for water, for drinking or for a bath goes up. Landscape requirements shoot up as the soil loses its moisture. Tanks and lakes dry up and lose the capacity to recharge the groundwater. Wells dry up too and bore-wells start yielding less water. Power shortage also adds to the problem since it requires a lot of energy to lift water up over longer hours. Unfortunately for us the vision for water is a 50 year one and the vision of democracy at local levels is for 5 years at the most. This mismatch does not yield optimal solutions. Hence instead of demanding more recharge structures and the cleaning and protection of lakes we demand more bore-wells to extract more water and deplete groundwaters further. For things to change we must ensure universal access to water. All households must have a BWSSB connection without any legal, financial or technical barriers. Some water for all and not all water for some should be the motto. Distribution of water should be as much in all zones as it is in the posh areas. The work to integrate all forms of water must begin at the end of summer. Lake protection and de-silting, rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and integration with the city water supply system, demand management through restriction of supply for non serious use, waste water recycling and reuse should be on top priority. Areas generally chronically short of water should have a separate plan ready to be rolled out during summer. Citizens too should contribute through reducing demand and sharing the resource. Every building must recharge all the rainwater that falls on it. Ironically groundwater tables are rising in the city centre from leaking water pipes. This groundwater resource should be used to augment shortage. Parks are spraying water on grass through bore-wells. Tree based parks should be the norm and such wasteful use of water stopped. Finally we must return to the culture of the well, a culture which sends ecological signals about resource availability and demands behavior change in tune with the seasons. There is enough water for everybodys needs but not for anybodys greed or stupidity provided we share equitably .


On water meters

February 12, 2012

On Water Meters – the way to equity and sustainability


As water becomes an increasingly scarce resource slowly but surely its price will increase and no longer is it seen as a gift from nature hence free. The famous adage God gave us water, it should be free has now a corollary he forgot the pipes it should be priced.  One of the other sayings states that if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it.

The city of Bangalore has been metering its water connections since the mid 1930’s. It now boasts of all legal connections having a meter and these meters being read every month. This has enabled it to evolve a tariff system called the increasing block tariff. The first block of 8000 litres for a domestic connection has a tariff of Rs 6 for every 1000 litres and the next block from 8000 litres to 25000 litres has a tariff of Rs 9 for every 1000 litres. Since every connection is metered it is possible to subsidize the consumers who take less water every month. A pro-poor orientation for water supply pricing made possible because of metering.  The city of Flanders in Belgium gives 15000 litres of water per month per person free. Bangalore is considering making 8000 litres of water per connection per month free. These social measures are all possible due to a good metering system. Meters also ensure the rights of a person vis-à-vis water access. If the state promises a certain quantity of water to its citizens it can be proved via the meter whether the state actually delivered on its promise or not.

In all the city and town water supplies bulk meters are also being provided which along with retail meters will indicate the losses of water in the system and enable remedial measures to curtail losses.

Even in rural areas community based water supply systems now try and adopt metering and pricing of water to enable the community organization to have enough monies to keep the system running everyday.

The use of a meter also enables the recovery of sanitation or sewerage costs. With the polluter pays principle the volume of sewage generated is generally a factor of the volume of water consumed. The cost of sewage collection, transportation and treatment can be recovered by the city utility or local government from the water bill too.

In flats and apartments, individual metering for every flat need to become the norm rather than the exception. This too will ensure that those who consume more water pay more. Good behavior of less consumption can be incentivized and over consumption can have a charge. Wherever apartments have a bore-well the metering of the bore well too will enable calculation of the price of water and this cost can be distributed to individual flats based on their actual consumption if meters exist for every flat.

As much as dual plumbing lines, rainwater harvesting and waste-water treatment are being made mandatory, metering of individual flats should also be made mandatory. Builders should insist on such a feature from their plumbing designers and buyers in turn should demand this facility from the builders.

In India much more R and D is needed to develop robust, simple, accurate and economic meters. As the market deepens it is likely that better water meters will become available. For the moment whenever buying or installing a meter, insisting on a BIS certified meter helps. Regular calibration of meters is also a maintenance issue and should be carried out as per the manufacturer’s specification.

Water meters also need a specific type of configuration of the pipes to be installed correctly for example a certain length of pipe. Access for reading the meters should also be easy else meter reading  will be avoided

Ultimately a 24/7 pressurized system, a good metered water system and a tariff which ensures access as well as economic recovery of water and sewerage costs incurred by the local government will make the system robust and sustainable. This should be the direction where we should head.


Water and sanitation – the role of the informal sector

February 12, 2012

Water and sanitation services are big business especially in urban areas of India. With the government institutions failing to deliver both quantity and quality of water several services have sprung up to assist the citizen.

The first of them is the private water tanker. EPI coated ones roam around the city delivering water to sump tanks at a mobile call. More than a 1000 tankers are registered in Bangalore who may be delivering up-to 3 million litres of water or more every day. Unfortunately since they are not regulated there is no assurance of quality of the water delivered. Since this group also has not formed any association it also does not attempt to self regulate itself and draw up guidelines for correct operations.

A new service which has emerged is that of cleaning sump tanks and over head tanks. Since the supply from the water utility is intermittent almost every building in Bangalore has large sump tanks from where water is pumped to overhead tanks for reticulation. Over time these sump tanks accumulate dust and dirt and therefore this service of cleaning have sprung up. They pressure clean the dirt and slime using a jet pump and disinfect using chlorine or iodine. Again there is no formal structure to ensure what quality of service has to be delivered and trust alone is the compact between the client and the service provider.

Bore-well drillers are the next set of service providers again operating in the informal sector. They will come and identify a point for drilling and will then proceed to drill and operationalise the bore-well. As usual there is no assurance of whether water will be struck, how much water will be available and what will be the quality of water available. Caveat emptor is the mantra and since there is no alternative the system operates without any regulation. Recently a groundwater bill has been passed and rules and regulations have been drafted. It remains to be seen how effective it will be in protecting the interest of the consumers. An added service is the cleaning of bore-wells and hydro-fracturing. When old bore-wells reduce in yield or become dry people resort to cleaning them up or trying hydro-fracturing. This service too is not regulated and there is no system of complaint or grievance redress.

The water filter has become ubiquitous in almost all households. From the simple candle filter to the sophisticated Reverse Osmosis based ones are available in the market. Here the system is more formalized and if there is a complaint with the filter the manufacturer usually takes responsibility to replace or repair it. The selection of the filter itself is in a grey zone with many people unaware as to which filter is the most appropriate for them. More information on the right filter choice should be available but the question is whose job is it to do that?

Fir septic tanks and pit toilets a new service has sprung up in recent years called the ‘Honeysucker’. These vacuum trucks will de-sludge the pits and the septic tanks for a fee. Again since they operate in the informal sector there is no price regulation or standards of service required. A formal structure for their operations and a good regulator will need to be activated.

There are many informal service providers and they are doing a reasonably good job with service provision and helping address a need. It is in the interest of the state and the citizens to enhance the skill set of these operators regularize them and integrate them into mainstream operations of water supply and sanitation. The biggest utility namely the water supply and sewerage board should take this responsibility.