Why is wa­ter man­age­ment not pri­ori­tised for smart cities?

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Aye­sha Ban­er­jee No In­dian city yet sup­plies wa­ter round the clock to its ci­ti­zens aye­sha.ban­er­jee@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■

Wa­ter man­age­ment should be at the heart of all smart city plan­ning. While there is a lot of em­pha­sis on trans­porta­tion and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, wa­ter man­age­ment re­mains lim­ited to treat­ment of waste wa­ter, qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing, and smart me­ter­ing in the gov­ern­ment’s smart cities strat­egy.

No clear plans have emerged on how smart cities are to be linked with their wa­ter catch­ments to en­sure sus­tain­able pro­vi­sion of wa­ter. More clar­ity is also needed on waste­water treat­ment, both do­mes­tic and in­dus­trial.

Ganesh Pan­gare, re­gional di­rec­tor, Asi­aPa­cific, In­ter­na­tional Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion, a Lon­don-head­quar­tered non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, says lakes, ponds and wet­lands in ur­ban ar­eas are be­ing re­claimed for build­ing and de­vel­op­ment in­stead of be­ing recog­nised as the crit­i­cal nat­u­ral in­fra­struc­ture that cities de­pend upon. “Bet­ter man­age­ment of waste­water, so that it isn’t dis­charged un­treated into na­ture and ends up pol­lut­ing wa­ter sources, would mean that we could re­use the treated wa­ter for in­dus­try, agri­cul­ture and even do­mes­tic use,” he says

Cues should be taken from coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore which re­use nearly all of their waste­water from do­mes­tic sewage to in­dus­trial waste. The treat­ment of waste­water is of such high qual­ity that someof Sin­ga­pore’s drink­ing wa­ter comes from com­pletely treated waste­water.

Copen­hagen too has valu­able lessons in its in­te­gra­tion of waste­water treat­ment, in­clud­ing nat­u­ral meth­ods like the use of wet­lands and lead­ing-edge tech­nol­ogy, to find so­lu­tions to its prob­lems. The Dan­ish cap­i­tal does not re­lease a drop of un­treated waste­water into the sea.

Cities need to con­nect bet­ter to wa­ter basins that sup­ply their wa­ter, and work with stake­hold­ers through­out the basin to en­sure bet­ter wa­ter se­cu­rity. And it is not easy. “This re­quires a shift in mind­set and the way we ap­proach ur­ban plan­ning and man­age­ment. We need to think and act cross-sec­torally and break down the si­los be­tween wa­ter, en­ergy, agri­cul­ture and ur­ban plan­ning,” says Pan­gare.

To­day many wa­ter sources are pol­luted and oth­ers are un­der se­ri­ous strain. In­ef­fi­cien­cies and wa­ter losses in ur­ban wa­ter util­ity sys­tems mean no In­dian city yet sup­plies wa­ter round the clock to its ci­ti­zens.

An im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity of the gov­ern­ment should be to en­sure bet­ter man­age­ment of wa­ter re­sources, both in the basin that sup­plies wa­ter to ur­ban ar­eas, and in ur­ban ar­eas. Mon­i­tor­ing ground wa­ter ex­trac­tion is of ut­most im­por­tance. Drought con­di­tions in many parts of In­dian have fur­ther strained ground wa­ter sup­plies.

India does have the ca­pa­bil­ity to ad­dress these chal­lenges through its Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan and the Smart Cities Mis­sion. Whatisim­por­tant, and some­times lack­ing, Pan­gare feels, is co­or­di­na­tion be­tween var­i­ous de­part­ments and min­istries – for in­stance, ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and wa­ter re­sources.

Re­spon­si­bil­i­ties also have to be fixed. Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity to deal with waste­water man­age­ment. The waste­water in In­dian cities dumped into the rivers, lakes or ocean with­out any treat­ment con­tam­i­nates the avail­able wa­ter re­sources for both hu­man use and ecosys­tems.

Treat­ing waste­water to a high stan­dard would pro­vide an ad­di­tional and vi­tal source of a city’s wa­ter sup­ply, and this re­use of wa­ter is im­por­tant to re­duc­ing use of tra­di­tional sources and for re­plen­ish­ing those sources in In­dian cities.

Waste­water also con­tains other valu­able re­sources. “We can re­cy­cle nu­tri­ents, met­als, plas­tics and other use­ful ma­te­ri­als from waste­water. Per­haps most rel­e­vant, wa­ter util­i­ties can use waste­water to pro­duce en­ergy. This is some­thing that it hap­pen­ing around the world, and in India it could pro­vide an im­por­tant source of en­ergy for our grow­ing cities," he says.

In­vest­ments also need to be made in new tech­nolo­gies to up­grade ex­ist­ing re­sources. Fi­nanc­ing is a ma­jor is­sue. Wa­ter tar­iffs have not changed in India for years, leav­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties with­out the nec­es­sary funds to in­vest in up­grad­ing old and in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture. To in­crease cov­er­age of wa­ter sup­ply as towns and cities grow big­ger re­quires smart so­lu­tions to over­come these chal­lenges, Pan­gare adds.

CITIES NEED TO CON­NECT BET­TER TO WA­TER BASINS THAT SUP­PLY THEIR WA­TER TO EN­SURE BET­TER WA­TER SE­CU­RITY

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