Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, March 22, 2021: In urban sector of most of the countries particularly a water stressed country like India, per capita consumption of water is much more compared to that of a person living in rural areas. In urban India, most of the water is drawn from nearby rivers and in some cases from aquifers available in ground without much effort in creating more water resources either on the surface or recharging the aquifer.

Almost in all cities, unaccounted water is over 40% and in most of these cases the importance of quality of water is lost sight of causing a lot of water borne and water related diseases. This is due to the fact that almost all the untreated sewage is released to nearby rivers and lakes. Further, due to disappearance of most of the wetlands and cutting down of trees during urban settlement, acute shortage of water takes place particularly during winter and summer months.

Some of the activities necessary to undertake conservation of water in urban areas of India are summarized below.

i) In most of the cities due to lack of proper maintenance and faulty transport system, huge amounts of water is wasted. For example, it is estimated that, in a city like Delhi, 35 – 40% of water is wasted due to leaking pipes). Therefore, proper maintenance of water transportation system particularly through pipelines and repair of the leaks in time should be carried out.
ii) Various measures to minimize the use of water in domestic sectors particularly for bathing, brushing teeth, shaving, washing clothes, and floors etc. should be carried out.
iii) Installation of high pressure low volume nozzles on spray washers can reduce water consumption.
iv) Minimizing the use of water for watering of lawns and gardens and washing vehicles should be followed strictly.
v) Treatment of sewerage to remove the solid wastes and use of treated water obtained for purposes other than domestic should be carried out in all the cities.
vi) The hotels, large offices, college and school hostels, community centers etc should have a dual pipes water supply system where one provides portable water mainly for drinking, bathing or other such purposes and the second one carries recycled water to be used for flushing of human excreta, for gardening, washing vehicles etc.
vii) For maintaining gardens in public places or washing roads, the urban authority should avoid run off and use sprinklers. This will reduce considerably the consumption of water.
viii) Special designed latrines and compact toilets should be built where the human excreta can be converted into organic manures and biogas through anaerobic digestion instead of connecting the toilets to a piped sewage line.
ix) It is essential to set up guidelines for appropriate price structure to manage the urban water supply so that water can be used most economically.

In most of the urban areas in India, the current practices of water pricing are deficient in several respects. Some of these are:

The users of water pay much less (20 – 25% only) in relation to the cost for collecting and supplying water.
 As pricing of water is very low, particularly for well to do families, their water consumption is much high compared to those having a poor living.
 The objective of providing water to low income group people in urban areas with a subsidized rate has not been achieved. As a matter of fact, the system is such that subsidyment for poor is practically enjoyed by others.
 Due to financial constraints, mainly because of low water rents, the State Government does not get enough opportunities to improve water supply services to the urban household.

The water charges in most parts of urban India is far below the basic operation and maintenance cost. The existing pricing system and structures are inadequate and unsustainable. There should be a price reform for an efficient system for supply of water to urban India. Therefore, a water price reform in urban Indian is highly essential. It is necessary to bring drastic change in water collection and distribution systems with reduction of leakages (to save 30 – 40% of wastage), change over from unmetered to metered water supply and greater efficiency in revenue collection for improving the operation of water services to make the urban water resources management financially viable. The restructuring is suggested for better management of urban water supply by introducing separate charges for water connection, distribution system and consumption. The connection charges should cover the direct cost of connection to the municipal main supplies, the distribution system should be stream lined and the consumption charge of water should be on a volumetric basis.

In urban India, the consumption of water is increasing fast with their rapid expansion. For the sector, unless the pricing of water is done in a rational manner, the situation may be out of control. In urban areas, the well to do people waste water for various secondary purposes compared to the poor ones. Therefore, in most of the developed countries, the water is charged on block and with the increasing block of water consumption the charge becomes higher and higher. This system restricts water consumption. In Beijing, China, the new pricing system with increasing amount of water, has resulted in appreciable water conservation. In Bogor, Indonesia, by introducing a similar pricing system, there has been a decrease in consumption of water by nearly 30%. In Hermanus, South Africa, by introducing an 11- step rate structure and with technologies improvement, it has been possible to bring a lot of reduction in water consumption. During the first year of introduction of the system, it has been possible to achieve nearly 30% of water saving.

Because of increasing scarcity of water all over India, efforts should be made to reclaim the waste water produced in urban sector. From environmental and sanitation points of view, the waste water has to be properly treated and utilized in different sectors depending on its purity. Otherwise, the waste water would pollute the fresh water on the land as well as in the ground. The treated waste water can be utilized for various purposes like irrigating certain crops or developing social forests. It is reported that, in Middle East, some parts of Africa and also in USA such treated water is being extensively used for industrial, commercial and other purposes.

In Windhoek, Namibia, such treated water has been used for potable purposes since 1968 and during drought years, up to 30% of city’s drinking water supply has been the treated waste water. Similarly, Israel has undertaken extensive programmes for treating waste water and using it for various purposes. Nearly 70% of Israel’s waste water is treated and used for agricultural purposes. Further efforts are being made in this direction to utilized more and more of such waste water.

In California (USA) by the year 2000, around 646 million cubic meters of reclaimed water has been used for agricultural purposes, ground water recharge, landscape irrigation and environmental protection and it is expected to go up by 2000 million cube meter by the year 2020. In view of all these, it is necessary to encourage the utilization of waste water with proper treatment particularly in water stressed regions of India. Such treatment programme can be partially subsidized by the government.

In order to mitigate water crisis in urban India, It is necessary to undertake certain major projects with zero waste approach:

1. Rain Water Harvesting projects at suitable sites in urban areas should be planned and implemented scientifically for increasing both surface and ground water resources.
2. Existing wetlands should be developed and new ones should be created in and around the urban area to enhance both surface and ground water resources.
3. Programmes to keep rivers and other water bodies away from wastes and effluents from point and non point sources should be undertaken.
4. Pricing of water per volume and tariff should be fixed in proportion to the benefits derived by consuming agencies.
5. High priority should be given to provide drinking water to all, preferably extracted from deep aquifers.
6. A network of water quality monitoring throughout the year system should be developed both in nearby urban areas.

Government agencies at different levels should have the infrastructures, other resources and responsibility to implement the above programmes and also to bring awareness amongst the public for proper management of water resource in urban areas.

* Former Director General, CSIR, India

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