Wednesday 10 July 2013

Pumping crores down the ground

There has been a hue and cry over the increasing gap between demand and supply of water to Bangalore and  there have been hundreds of experts who have gone into the issue, making a variety of suggestions and mooting several steps to tackle the issue. On its part, the State Government and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) too have constituted committees, held discussions, seminars and workshops and even explored the possibility of bringing rivers from far away, including the Krishna, to Bangalore to tide over the widening demand-supply position.
However, what many forget is that instead of going in for such elaborate and highly expensive measures, a more cost effective and more long term plan can be implemented by the BWSSB on its own. There has been loud thinking on the part of the Government and others to harness West-flowing rivers such as Kanganahole, Kakkatuhole and Ethinahole to augment water supply to Bangalore and there was even a thinking to bring water from Almatti dam in Bagalkot district to the city.
These solutions are a logistic nightmare and needs years to fructify, Instead, the existing water supply network can be streamlined and all its needs is a just a little political will and bureaucratic determination.
Every Bangalore knows that the Cauvery today is the  lifeline of the City. It meets nearly 75 per cent of Bangalore’s water supply and with the Hesarghatta and TG Halli reservoirs failing to fill up, the Cauvery and groundwater apart from Arkavathy are the only solution.
One of the easiest steps to pump in more water to quench Bangalore’s thirst is to plug the leakages. Unfortunately, the leakage, which can be classified as unaccounted water, is 43 per cent and this is among the highest in India
The Cauvery is supplying 1,410 million litres a day (MLD) to Bangalore and of this only 550 MLD is billed, leaving 509 MLD as “unaccounted-for water (UFW). Of the total unaccounted water, an estimated 35 per cent is due to leakage from and in water supply pipes.
Another worrying statistics is that unaccounted water has increased from 16 per cent (62 MLD) in 1990 to 48 per cent (509 MLD) in 2007 and this year too it has increased. 
What further compounds BWSSB’s misery is that it  costs Rs. 300 crore annually in electricity charges for it to pump Cauvery water from TK Halli.( Buster pumps lift water at Harohalli and Thataguni water stations before pumping the Cauvery to the  Ground level reservoirs at Bangalore). This means close to Rs. 100 crores is lost every year with the water literally going down the drain. Moreover, the power required to transport the water from TK Halli consumes 75 per cent of the board’s revenues.
Over the years or rather decades that the BWSSB has been in existence, if we calculate the total wastage of water, it crosses a mind boggling Rs.1,000 crores and this amount has literally gone down the drain.     
The unaccounted water in Bangalore is the fourth highest among cities in India. Can Bangalore and the water board afford this? 
Of the 1410 MLD that is currently being pumped into Bangalore, the BWSSB has set apart 150 MLD for industries, 750 for domestic water consumption, leaving 55 MLD unaccounted. This means that each person in Bangalore today gets only 75 litres per capita per day (LPCD) as against the Centre’s norm of 150 LPCD. With Bangalore’s registering a minimum population growth of four percent every year, the gap between supply and demand will go up and the BWSSB will struggle to even maintain the current level of 75 LPCD. This against the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) stipulated requirement of 150 LPCD.
So where exactly is the loss of water. According to BWSSB itself and also according to several surveys and reports, the water loss between TK Halli at the Cauvery point and the bulk storage reservoirs at 55 ground level (reserviors) main receiving stations in Bangalore is around 2.8 per cent. This is apart from the 47 overhead tanks. Besides, the loss in the bulk supply pipelines from all the four Cauvery staged which add up to 250 km in length is also negligible. When the water is treated at the in the sand bed filters at BWSSB pump houses and the leaks at valves account for 3 per cent. This means that almost 40 per cent of the leakage is at the distribution system of  pipelines which cover 5101 kilometres.
The first major water pipeline network in the Pettah or petes (Old Bangalore areas) was commissioned in 1922 and they are almost a hundred years old. A vast network of this pipeline needs to be urgently replaced and the new generation pies can not only saved leakage but also lead to better distribution pattern.  The new pipes can supply water at constant pressure and maintain the level of supply, which the old pipes cannot.
Another disquiet is the high cost of water production and supply in Bangalore. It is the highest in the country at Rs. 23.13 per kilolitre and this is several times higher than what Mumbai pays Rs. 2.17 per kilolitre and Chennai Rs. 5.73 per kilolitre.
The first step for the board would be to reducing leakage in 6.7 lakh water connections. The leakage at these points is estimated  at anything between fifteen per cent to thirty per cent.
There are several other steps though which have to be taken along with repair and replacement of old pipelines. The lakes and water bodies have to be revived and latest statistics reveal that 602 lakes and tanks have turned into sewage pits, the storm water drain network of 856 kilometres needs to be cleared of debris, silt and filth. The borwells need to be recharged and there is a need to cap drilling of more borewells. Rainwater harvesting (less than a lakh houses-not apartments and flats out of 18.10 lakhs properties-have gone in for rainwater harvesting) should be strictly implemented and water should be metered at all places and regular water audits held to pinpoint any major source of leaks. 

Can we see the authorities go in for immediate measures than float nebulous ideas and those which require huge sums of money. Why waste the tax payers money on fancy schemes of bringing in more water when the distribution network cannot take the existing load itself.   

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