As one half of the interested parties involved with the world’s largest water-sharing treaty, the Indus Water Treaty, India’s water management policies have long been under the microscope. Its international water-sharing agreements are often met with disapproval within the country, as India struggles to supply enough water to its own residents.
In line with the evolution of the industrial sector, population numbers in India’s urban areas will continue to swell. With depleting groundwater levels, unpredictable rainfall patterns and extremes in the country’s droughts and floods becoming the norm, the question remains, where will this water come from?
The key problem among all of this is not just the way population growth will affect water demand but the inefficiency with which water is distributed. These days, water is increasingly being sourced from further afield, and the amount of water that reaches its destination is a fraction of that which started the journey. According to the CSE report, Indian cities have enough water to supply to residents though convoluted supply processes mean that not everyone has access to it. Leakage and loss of water along the distribution chain mean that up to 50 percent of water distributed to cities does not reach consumers.
The long distances that water must travel to reach end consumers obviously racks up a higher energy bill and costs are absorbed by the customer. Let’s take Bangalore as an example which sources the bulk of its water from the River Cauvery, located approximately 100km away. The cost of supplying this water to Bangalore is 12,70 Rupees per kiloliter. Considering that 138 liters are supplied per capita every day to the city’s 9,588,910 people, Bangalore’s daily water bill comes in at around the 16 million Rupee mark while estimates suggest that about a third of water is lost along the journey due to leakage.
Water catchments, lakes, rivers and dams are generally not protected and some treated with little respect. Many cities have placed urban development on top of key water supply areas, with Hyderabad even building an airport on the catchment of Himayat Sagar.
Under India’s numerous water-sharing agreements, there are already hot debates over who has rights to what water and how much. Groundwater management is also problematic, with little to no monitoring or regulation of its use. From what is known, it is evident that groundwater levels are falling dangerously. Levels of nitrate found in groundwater samples suggest that it is being mixed up with sewerage and CSE predicts that almost 80 percent of sewerage is being untreated and disposed of in waterways.
Grapples for water are encouraging people to think outside the box. Rather than rely on the powers that be for water, some people in rural areas are taking matters into their own hands, employing techniques such as stream water harvesting or rainwater harvesting (see video below) to ensure an ongoing water supply.
The Ministry for Water Resources released a draft revisal of the the National Water Policy 2002 in January, and a further updated draft just last week. The revised draft did place emphasis on supplying water for agriculture, however there are some believe that the 2002 guidelines should be done away with altogether and a new policy drafted up. One of those people is Ramaswamy R Iyer, former Secretary Water Resources to the Indian government and talking head on all things water in India.
Earlier this year, he published a paper which called for an alternative approach to water management. The paper calls for a complete rethinking of water management, arguing that as water is an ecological asset, management thereof must be conducted in an ecological manner. He also calls for a restraint in demand of industry-required and for long-term sustainable techniques, not just short-term “quick fixes”.