Relearning the role of water in our cities

Rain is the modern-day tragedy in our cities: we desperately wait for the monsoons and when it rains, we weep because roads are flooded, life is disrupted. Mumbai, just a few months ago, was so thirsty for the monsoons that it was close to rationing its water supply. But then the rains came. The city did not rejoice. Instead, it went under water, all mixed with sewage and garbage, drowned in bad health. This scene is not very different in Delhi or any other city you can think of.

But the real tragedy is that in a few months, after the rains, our cities will be thirsting again. But then, rain is not part of our plan.

We believe we are all-powerful. Water greed will make us draw water from surrounding areas. Today, our cities get their water supply from further and further away – Delhi gets Ganga water from the Tehri dam, Bangalore is building the Cauvery IV project, pumping water 100km to the city, Chennai water will traverse 200km from the Krishna, Hyderabad from Manjira and so on. The point is that the urban industrial sector’s demand for water is growing by leaps and bounds. But this sector does little to augment its water resources, it does even less to conserve and minimize its use. Worse, because of the abysmal lack of sewage and waste treatment facilities, it degrades scarce water even further. But even after all this, its water greed is not met. Groundwater levels are declining precipitously in urban areas as people bore deeper in search of the water that municipalities cannot supply.

So, when it does not rain it cries and when it does rain, it cries. The cycle of water deprivation continues and we have done nothing to change our tomorrow.

This when we can do so much more. The water imperative is that cities must begin to value their rainfall endowment. This means implementing rainwater harvesting in each house and colony. But it also means relearning about the hundreds of tanks and ponds that nourished the city. Almost every city had a treasure of tanks, which provided it the important flood cushion and allowed it to recharge its groundwater reserves. But urban planners cannot see beyond land. So, land for water, has never been valued or protected. Today, these water bodies are a shame — encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over. The city forgot it needed water. It forgot its own lifeline.

Lakes are the vital sponges of the city. Every city gave its land for rain. Bangalore, at the beginning of the 1960s, had 262 lakes, now only 10 hold water. The Ahmedabad collector — on directions from the high court — listed 137 lakes in the city but also said that over 65 had been built over already. In Delhi, 508 water bodies were identified — again on court orders — but are not protected.

But to rethink the role of rain in our city, will require new learning in society. Just consider: builders and architects have simply never been taught how to hold water. They have been trained to see water as waste and to build systems to dispose of it as quickly as possible. German cities are learning from our experience. To save investment in building stormwater drains, the city charges a tax based on how much rainwater has been harvested by the household.

But this even this will not be enough. Each of our cities will have to learn the real value of rainwater: we will have to minimize water use and work on conservation and reuse. We will have to take our sewage and treat it so that we can recycle it — either for recharge or to make it fit for drinking.

Otherwise we will be the ultimate lost generation, which has forgotten the art of living with water. Our tragedy and our water crisis.

SUNITA NARAIN –  (The author is director of Centre for Science and Environment) – TOI

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Sewerage system expansion may be delayed

Project hit a roadblock when Metrowater detected potential risk to drinking water pipeline

CHENNAI: The work to expand the capacity of the sewerage interceptor system on Police Commissioner Office Road in Egmore is unlikely to be completed as scheduled.

The digging work has left one side of the Police Commissioner Office Road, Egmore, in bad shape. — Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

The project, which was to be commissioned two months ago, has hit a roadblock with the Chennai Metrowater detecting a potential risk to the drinking water pipeline running close to the alignment of the sewer line.

Following this the contractor of the work on the sewerage interceptor system proposes to shift the work to the other side of the road to avoid any disturbance to the water pipeline. Since this would involve further traffic diversions, permission from the police has been sought.

Though the digging work has been suspended on the stretch leading from Dr. Nair Bridge junction to the Pantheon Road junction, motorists are not yet allowed to use the stretch. Instead, the vehicles are being diverted through other roads such as Gandhi Irwin Road and Whannels Road.

Niraj Patel, a resident of Police Commissioner Office Road, said the work started in September last year. Even if the stretch was opened, vehicles would find it difficult to negotiate the bumpy, damaged stretch. The work, including re-laying of the stretch, must be completed soon to put an end to the detour and traffic congestion on nearby roads, he said.

Officials of the Metrowater said the project was time-consuming as it involved construction of deep sewer system.

Of the 12 manholes proposed to be constructed on the 360-metre stretch on Police Commissioner Office Road, seven have been built at a depth of five to six metres covering a distance of 112 m.

It is part of additional works of Chennai City River Conservation Project executed at a cost of Rs.1.66 crore. The project covering a total distance of 900 metre till Pudupet is being implemented to strengthen the network leading to Langs Garden sewage pumping station.

The delay was due to the shifting of the work to the other side of the road.

The remaining work, up to the Pantheon Road junction, would be taken up only after approval from traffic police as the traffic bound for Dr.Nair Bridge had to be diverted, the officials said.

K. Lakshmi – From THE HINDU

Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board shelves Drinking water from sewage project

BANGALORE: Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has shelved its ambitious project to supply recycled sewage water for drinking purposes fearing public wrath, said a BWWSB official who did not want to be named.

The officials said: “People were against drinking purified sewage water.

Now, we will be supplying the tertiary treated sewage water for gardening and washing purposes to some areas through separate pipelines.” The first phase of the project was supposed to be completed by 2011 and was expected to provide BWSSB an additional 135 MLD (Million litres daily) of water to be supplied to the city.

In January 2008, the BWSSB had planned to start a project to recycle sewage and supply it for potable purpose. The project was expected to cost Rs 472 crore, and was to be jointly funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the state government, which was taking a loan from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation.

According to the plan the sewage was supposed to be pumped to Tavarekere in Magadi Road after tertiary treatment at Vrishabavathi Valley. The water would then pass through an purification plant in Tavarekere and flow to Thippagondanahalli Tank. It would then become tha part of the city’s water supply.

According to BWSSB’s calculations, Bangalore would need around 2,200 MLD of water by 2025. At present, BWSSB supplies around 970 MLD of water through all its available resources.

BWSSB will get an additional supply of 500 MLD after the completion of Cauvery IV Phase II Stage in 2012. The BWSSB was looking to generate more than 700 MLD of water through the sewage purification project. Now, it has the onerous task of finding water elsewhere, as the water allocated to the city by the Cauvery tribunal would be completely used with the completion the Cauvery IV Phase II Stage.

From THE Express Buzz

Environmental Information System Centre – Urbanisation

In Tamil Nadu out of the 151 Municipalities and 5 Corporations, only 15 Municipalities and 4 Corporations have partial under ground sewerage system.

Sewage schemes are under implementation in the municipal towns of Erode, Pallipalayam, Bhavani and Komarapalayam and Tiruchirappalli corporation located along river Cauvery under the National River Action Plan.

Further, new sewerage schemes under the National River Conservation Programme (NRCP) have been taken up in Tiruchirappalli, Madurai, Tirunelveli Corporations and Karur and Inam Karur, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Mayiladuthurai Municipalities.

During the year 2004-05 a policy decision was taken to provide under ground sewerage scheme in the remaining 22 district head quarters towns.

Apart from this, underground sewage schemes will also be taken up for the municipal towns in the Chennai metropolitan area. With a view to help people of all categories, especially economically weaker sections and low income groups, a new system called low cost sanitation scheme has been introduced in urban areas.

So far 1,57,336 latrines all over the State have been taken up for conversion of dry latrine to flush latrines. Surface drainage is another aspect generally neglected in urban areas.