Archive for May, 2014

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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.