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Looking back and looking forward

June 14, 2012

The water and sanitation issue Bangalore – a year end wrap

(6 months down the line nothing has happened )

As the year comes to an end a look at the water and sanitation situation in Bangalore and the challenges ahead is due. The census figures for 2011 came out and showed a whopping increase of almost 3 million people the decade 2001 to 2011. The requirement to provide water and sanitation to 9 million people poses by far the largest challenge to the water utility which has a limited fresh water source from the Cauvery River.

The big project to bring 500 million litres of water additionally to the city rolled on with the Minister monitoring it himself. It is likely that in 2012 the city will see this 500 million litres per day providing some succor to a water short populace.

On the rainwater harvesting front the city acted tough on the deadline of 31 Dec 2011 at least till the last 3 days. It set up the country’s first rainwater and water theme park in Jayanagar and opened it up to the public for advice as well as to see how the city struggles to bring water. The first step in water literacy and water awareness began.

As regards groundwater the city has been charging a small amount of Rs 50 a month arguing that the water used from these bore-wells ends up in the sewage system and therefore has to be collected and treated. This is the first city in India to do that as a result of which it has an inventory of the number of bore-wells operating to supplement the piped water. A Groundwater Bill has been passed by the state legislature and the rules and regulations are being drafted. 2012 will provide an opportunity to incorporate the sustainable management of groundwater as a long term solution for the water requirement. A good groundwater management and regulation system beckons but much work will need to be done and the right knowledge base created and utilized.

Surface water bodies the innumerable ‘tanks’ of Bangalore survived a mixed year. A lot of noise was made to take up and upgrade a 100 of them. Some work was done but 2012 will be the make or break year for the tanks. Much effort will be needed to demarcate and prevent the encroachment of the tanks. Pollution from point and non-point source will need to be tackled and things will need to be done sustainably rather than on an ad-hoc basis as the Ulsoor tank cleanup efforts have shown. Things can deteriorate quickly unless a management plan is in place and investments are made regularly.

The city also started to look at its role in a river basin in 2011. Investments are being made in reviving the river Arkavathy once the main source for the city now dry. 2012 will show how actually the city plans to revive the river and whether  it can regain it as a source.

Wastewater collection and treatment was a rather poor show though underground sewage lines are being laid in the periphery of the city and some decentralized wastewater treatment plants sprang up. This will be a real tough challenge for the city because the resource recovery from polluters is very poor. Will the city be able to collect the right price and will the polluter pays principle be made to work will be the challenge for 2012. Layouts and apartments are now being mandated to recycle wastewater, use dual pipes and to become zero discharge units. This will need to be effectively managed in 2012.

Water and sewage pricing in 2011 was an outright disaster. With electricity bills on the rise and no increase in the water tariff since 2005 the utility is being financially strangulated. The proposal for a hike has now come from many sources and the bullet will need to be bitten in 2012 and both water and sewage prices rationalized to ensure universal access but also disciplined behavior in consumption.

The city utility is moving from being a water supplier and sewage collector to more of a manager of resource. Through rainwater harvesting, wastewater recycling , groundwater management, water literacy and water pricing it is trying to involve the citizens and consumers of water as part of the solution. Much more will be needed to be done in 2012. The city utility and others would be well advised to come out with a yearly report card and also the next years plan for water management . Perhaps a promise for 2012 ?  

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