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Keynote 2012

                                                                   New Challenges in Water Management                                                               Back

Er. Madhav A. Chitale
Ex. Secretary, MOWR, GoI,
Ex. Chairman, CWC, GoI

The Glorious Past

India has had a rich history of water resources development and management. Because of the limited rainfall period in India, catering the rain and storing it in small and large reservoirs on the streams and rivers had been admired by the Indian Society as one of the most pious acts. The belief was that anybody who carries out such works has a place reserved for him in the heaven. The result was that India had been studded with millions of tanks and lakes to supply water for domestic needs and for agriculture in a dependable manner. These efforts were also supplemented by numerous wells and canals from the flowing rivulets.

But because of the year to year variability of the monsoon and because the agricultural land has been much more than what can be serviced from the streams and the lakes, bringing large areas under extensive irrigation on an equitable basis had been a social challenge. To overcome this canal water distribution systems like the famous 'PHAD' system of irrigation had been practiced. They withstood the test of time and survived over centuries on account of intrinsic social cohesion formalised through rules and customs. Irrigated agriculture in the Panzra and Curna basins of the Dhulia and Nasik districts of Maharashtra still provide an excellent example of a socially well regulated system of water allocation amongst a large number of farmers on an equitable basis.

Protecting water from abuse and pollution had also been a collective social responsibility to be carried out meticulously. Water in pure and pristine form was respected as 'TEERTH', that elevates human life. Very severe punishments, even a death sentence, had been laid down for the crime of polluting public supplies.

The Colonial Period
Inspite of such strong, healthy and benevolent traditions of the past, India society is currently not at ease with its waters. One of the main reason is the upsetting of its traditional satisfactory relationship with water. Conscious administrative efforts were made by the British during their colonial rule to veer away the people from such strong social set ups based on collective self reliance and social homogeneity. The society was made subservient to the exploitative administrative dictats.

The legal regime of the British period in India treated India's traditional water works as of secondary value. They were formally categoried as minor works. Modernity was wrongfully equated with construction of new large size engineering works for storage and conveyance of water. Social distributive justice and social management skills came to be ignored. The colonial irrigation acts aimed at only empowering the 'state' for collection of increased water revenue rather than improving the productive capabilities of the farmers' lands. Such acts are now required to be replaced by new irrigation laws in tune with the principles of all round development and social justice as reflected in India's constitution. Revival of social discipline and cohesiveness in the water user community has been one of the difficult tasks for India after Independence.

THE NEW FACTORS The Changing Relationship :
Population pressure on the nature's fixed quantity of water has more than trebled since India's independence. The relationship of the society with the environment and with the natural resources has thereby changed substantially. We have to learn to do more with use or limited quantity of water available for the form, in the house or for the industry.
Before India could regain the lost ground and stand on a strong social and administrative footing back again, urban concentration and industrial centralization coupled with the new chemical age has posed a set of new problems of deterioration of water quality of the streams, lakes and aquifers. Modern society also produced relatively much more waste, dry garbage as well as polluted harmful effluents. Disposal of dry garbage through land fills does not solve the problem. When rain trickles down through the land fills, ground water is polluted. Toxic and persistent chemicals have been adding more problems. Initially water science developed as hydrostatics and hydrodynamics. But now water chemistry has became the most influential topic for a modernized society.

New Water Technology :
Common understanding amongst the people is that dams are static structures. But that is no more true for large dams in particular. In many of them, storage of water behind them is mainly against the 'spillway' gates. In fact their spillway function is important only occasionally in many cases. Their main role now is to hold back water in a safe manner according to a preplanned time schedule. They 'regulate' the storage. In some dams, like at Ujani on Bhima river or at Paithon on Godawari river almost all the useful storage is against the gates. It is as much as 1.5 and 2 billion m3. Hence these gates have to be very sturdy ones and very reliable ones in operation. Meticulous operating drills and maintenance schedules ought to be strictly followed. Maintenance of dams was much simpler in the past. Now maintenance, repairs and operation are very skilled and hazardous tasks. In the area of water treatment, new technologies are being put on the world market every year through water exhibitions, workshops and conferences. e.g. pasturisation technology for treatment and cleaning up of sewage, vaccum based low temperature distillation processes, green bridges for water purification and reuse of city effluents for agriculture. Their assimilation in the Indian management practices may need some adaptations and trials.
Water Environment Federation is a very large world body of scientists and engineers who deal with issues related to water and environment. It has a membership of more than 40,000. They will soon be initiating an 'Innovation and Technology Promotion Programme' at their Conference (OCT. 2012). There will be exchange of ideas for turning campus technology into commercial products, for driving innovation, access to venture capital and entrepreneurship funding for new products and services. In India we need a filtering process and a trial-cum-demonstration outfit to benefit from such initiatives, if we are not to be carried away by some ideas that may not match with our conditions. Pump manufacturers are also putting on the market new designs-particularly for sewage handling and for energy saving.

Energy Water Nexus :
Now pumping systems are an important component of water handling arrangements. They require lot of energy input. In ground water management, aquifer storage is free of cost, but abstraction of water could be expensive. The nexus between energy and water has not yet been fully appreciated by water planners as well as by energy planners resulting into many gaps in the proposed arrangements.
In the coal sector, mining, processing and use of coal-require large quantities of water. Near the coal mines and thermal power stations competition for water is fierce between agriculture, urban use and industrial use; as is being already witnessed in the Chandrapur ?Ghuggus coal mine belt of Maharashtra. High-tech solutions are available for reducing the use of water and for cleaning and recycling the used water in the energy sector. Systematic efforts will be necessary for improving the water use-efficiency of such belts.
The Central Electricity Authority of India has estimated that the use of water in thermal coal plants is 120 litres / per day / per kw. That is as much as one person's daily urban use. Generating one Megawatt of thermal electricity is at the expense of water that can irrigate 30 Hectors. Hence both the sectors, energy and irrigation have to be very much water conscious.
There is considerable scope for technological innovations on the water side as well as on the energy side to make their relationship more productive and sustainable.

The Climate Change :
In 2011, the World Economic Forum discussed the topic of water-food-energy-climate nexus. The International Water Resources Economics Consortium (established in early 1990s) discussed the related issues further at the Stockholm Water Symposium in August 2012. We can learn a lot from these international deliberations.
The unregulated world dependent on burning of carbon for production of energy and for transport is said to be mainly responsible for this new problem of climate change. Efforts for reducing the carbon foot print of the engineered activities are on. But it seems unlikely that the climate change can be truly averted or reversed. Hence we will have to be ready for more variability in the annual and reasonable precipitation, for more intense precipitation, for higher floods and for extended long dry spells in the rainy period.
With such changes in hydrological parameters water management practices will have to undergo substantive alteration. Storage capacities on the rivers will have to increase. Farm ponds will have to be an integral part of on-farm water management. Drainage of urban storm water will require wider drainage channels and higher bridges such as for the Mithi river in Mumbai.
Moreover, the increased atmospheric temperatures are causing increased evaporation from surfaces of the earth and water. These losses will have to be minimized by protective green covers and wind screens. Reservoir operation schedules will need a change. Maharashtra's published water account of 2011-12 shows that water lost by evaporation from reservoir surfaces alone amounted to 5.3 billion m3 compared to 6.56 billion m3 released for agriculture in summer. China's total water resource, according to their National Bureau of Statistics has dropped by 13% since the start of this century because of climate change.
There has been considerable confusion created in our country regarding the role of large water storages on the rivers. At the World Water Forum held at Marsailles (France) in March 2012, the group of international water associations related with scientific and professional aspects of water management declared collectively that "investment in water-storage-infrastructure is investment in the green economy. The services they provide will be crucial in the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. A balanced approach combining large, medium and small reservoirs is required". Indian people at large need to the properly enlightened in this respect.

Ecological Awareness :
Because of the adverse impacts of polluted water or altered river regimes on the natural ecosystems, ecological engineering has emerged as the newest modified branch of water engineering or environmental engineering. It is not only hydraulics or water chemistry that truly reflect the health of a water body. The presence of microbes, diatones, algae, planktons and higher forms of aquatic life in appropriate number is the true indicator of desired water quality. The subject of 'Biology' is now very relevant in the field of water engineering also. Even otherwise, the subject of biology which was relegated to the backyard and neglected a few decades back in the field of engineering has now become important and contributory to the progress of engineering in all its branches. Imitating the life forms their structural get up, their pattern of physical movements, their capacity to sense the signals and to communicate as well as the memory back ups of the migratory fishes and birds is providing new vistas of engineering. For cleaning up of polluted water bacterial activities and influence of planktons can be used in an effective manner. Water treatment plants need not be confined to physico-chemical processes but can take advantage of the biological activision of many organisms and plants. Realising the role of this subject in engineered solutions, 'biology' has been made an essential subject in the curricular of modern institutes of technology ?such as at Harvard and also in the College of Engineering, Pune.

Contribution to Human Health :
A couple of decades past, medical practioners were hardly seen in water technology debates. But they have new experienced that human health is very intimately related with the quality of water in use and the nature of presence of water on the earth's surface. Many diseases like cholera and typhoid can best be controlled by improving the quality of water supplied to the people. Malaria and Swineflu can be prevented by controlling mosquitoes that breed on foul or stagnant water. Better environmental management of water leads to better health. Hence 'Health' is now regarded as an objective and an index of good water management.
In India, we need a revolution in that context, sanitation and public hygene are not yet high on the public agenda. Popularising the habit of use of toilets and latrines and scientific handling of effluents from such facilities will have to be on the top of our national agenda in water management. Even in a progressive state like Maharashtra, only 33% of the villages have been freed from the practice of open defecation over a period of last ten years. Much remains to be done. The progress in this direction has been very slow.
At the same time at the world level, the extensive work carried out successfully by the 'Sulabh Shouchalay Movement' has been appreciated through the award of 'Stockholm Water Prize' ?the most prestigious honour in the water sector.

Demand Management : In the earlier phases of development after Independence, there was an increasing temptation for the water agencies to grab more and more water. There was little attention to skillful use of limited water available in nature. The nature's gift of water is very different in different river basins in terms of per capita of the basin's population or per hector of the basin's agricultural area. Kaveri, Pennar, Sabarmati, Luni and Yamuna have very limited water, while Brahmaputra, Godawari, Mahanadi and Wainganga are quite well placed. Irrigated agriculture to be promoted in these different basins have to be quite different according to the level of water availability.
Even in Maharashtra, Water available varies from less than 1500 m?per ha to as much as 15000 m?ha and more. One additional crop after rainy reason requires at least 3000 m?of water per hector. Hence in many areas of Maharashtra even a winter crop is not feasible for all the agricultural land there. There should be no question of cultivating perennials like sugarcane or Banana in such basins e.g. in scene or in Manjra, Sugarcane can best be promoted only in water rich basins e.g. Panchganga or Warna on the west of Krishna River or in Wainganga having the natural availability of more than 8000 m?per hector. Commissions after commissions have stressed the need for such a discipline. But it has not yet been possible to regulate irrigated cropping for being in harmony with the nature's capacity. That has resulted into under excessive stress on the water management systems of the water short basins.
In this context the advances made by Brazil recently in promoting irrigated posture rather than irrigated pasture rather than irrigated pasture rather than irrigated normal agricultural crops is worth emulation. In Australia and south Africa also grass lands are being irrigated extensively rather than the grain crops for promoting wool or dairy industry. Excessively centralized urban growth also places undue concentrated load on the natural resource system. Mega cities make large local withdrawals and also return large bulk quantities of waste water to the rivers. Such point loads pose special problems for the management of water quality of the river. Centralised large industrial complexes and atomic plants also pose similar threats to the natural systems. Hence as a matter of national planning we must take steps to avoid over centralization of such activities.

Water use efficiency :
Under the 'National Action Plan on Climate Change' launched by the Prime Minister of India in June 2008, the 'National Water Mission' aims at increasing the countries water use efficiency by 20%. India's water use in irrigated agriculture is as high as 8000 to 12000 m?Ha. Advanced countries have it less than 5000 m?Ha. Australia has it around 4000 m?ha. There the systems efficiency is also between 50% to 70%; while in Maharashtra which is said to be a technologically advanced state, it is still much less than 40%. A drought year consequently hurts us very badly. By using piped systems for distribution of irrigation water and by using modern water application techniques like drip and sprinkler, efficiency of irrigated agriculture can be substantially improved.
Productivity of the unirrigated agricultural land gets measured in terms of the produce per hector. Some how the same practice got continued for irrigated agriculture also, because the land revenue was based on irrigated area rather than on the quantity of water used. Water is very much short of the agricultural demand in most of India. Hence the correct measure of productivity has to be by the quantity of produce per unit of water put to use.
Those who could corner more water for their forms and raise bumper crops came to be honoured as role models for agricultural productivity. That was quite detrimental to the total productivity of the water shed. Such criteria will have to be changed now.
In the Alberta province of Canada, requirement of irrigation water per hector was reduced from 9000 m?ha to 3800 m?ha from 1950 to date. In the some time, the yield of bariey increased from 2.5 Tons/Ha to 6.5 T/Ha. Thus there was a six fold increase in the productivity of their scarce water. Indian scenario also needs to be rated on similar lines. Irrigation should be charged on the volumetric basis for the amount of water used rather than on the basis of irrigated area. Bharat Ratna Visveswaraya was the precursor of economic planning in India. Development and management of water resources was a subject very close to his heart. The best tribute to his inspiring memory could be through our resolve to improve the water efficiency in all types of water uses.

Financial Discipline :
Our effective measure for improving water use efficiency is to price water on a realistic basis, step up regular collection of bills and to provide for capital expansions required for the future. A sound financial base of a water service provider is a key to satisfactory and long term efficient service. In India, the financial base of many public agencies in the water sector has been largely eroded by pressures for populist measures like free or subsidized deliveries and the demoralized administrative set up. Revenues of the water agencies have not been able to keep pace with the increasing cost of water services.
Introducing financially accountable private patterns of service arrangements can be one way out of the present stagnation. Even in china, 25% of Chinese population is currently being served water by private sector companies and that number will be growing fast looking to the new agreements for future supplies. Society has to learn to pay adequate price for the water service they receive Some of the water infra structure is new quite old ?such as the water conveyance and distribution network of Mumbai City. That needs extensive repairs and replacement. In congested localities such work is difficult and costly. New trenchless tunnel boring techniques have been developed for this purpose. But these can be put to use only when there is a reasonable assurance that the costs will be paid back by the beneficiaries in time. Institutional arrangements need to be in place to ensure in financial terms a smooth and continuous process of repairing and / or replacing the decaying infrastructure, to avoid a sudden collapse of the system. Most of our water agencies do not have accumulated repairs and replacement (depreciation) fund.

Holistic Approach :
To cut costs and to improve the availability of water, conjunctive use of ground water with surface water was advocated for urban as well as irrigation supplies. Such measures can be further supplemented by local measures. Recycling and reuse of water also help in improving the local availability of water. Because the costs of external supply of water have been rising very fast, such alternative measures for making water locally available are now found to be quite cost effective. In making reclaimed water acceptable to the society, Singapore and Israel have shown the way. Public education programmes have to be a part of such new arrangements. Domestic and Industrial effluents need not be considered as 'waste'. That is also a resource ?albelt of different quality. But it can be profitably used after adequate reprocessing. Singapore's water supply authority calls the reprocessed water as 'new water'.
Bharat Ratna Visveswaraya was a pioneer in this field also. Sewage of Pune City was partially cleaned and pumped back into the Khadakwasla right bank canal for increasing the supply of irrigation water to the downstream areas. Such Integrated water management will be the guiding principal for the future arrangements.
But integration of ground water component has to be done very carefully. That is an 'unseen' component of the integrated system. There are risks of over abstraction. Many watersheds are already facing the situation of falling ground water levels. In the past, ground water was taken out from wells in limited quantity by physical human efforts or by bullock power. Modern capabilities in pumping have given rise to a different situation. Now ground water abstraction needs to be properly regulated through appropriate legal and administrative measures. Maharashtra state's legislature has already passed unanimously a ground water regulation bill. It will have to be given effect without any further delay.
Exercise lowering of ground water has stopped the fair weather flow which used to keep the rivers flowing after the rainy season. Rivers are now getting into an effluent state rather than retaining their natural influent condition. Any release of water into the river from the storage behind the dams vanishes into the ground. Very little part of such a release can reach the downstream destination under such conditions.
Hence management of river, aquifer and reservoir behind the dam has to be dealt with together. Skills for such comprehensive integrated management and for basin oriented institutional structures will have to be developed early. Basin approach to management of rivers was introduced by Bharat Ratna Dr. Ambedkar while establishing the Damodar Valley Corporation under his guidance. But soon that approach was lost. Water development projects got pursued independently by the different administrative and technical agencies according to their own fancies and convenience. But 'Basin approach' to water management needs to be received again to avoid the unhealthy fragmentation of water management scenario.

Interdisciplinary Organisational Set ups
For a comprehensive pattern of management, it is necessary to have a common platform for all related organizations to work together in a coherent manner. To establish a dialogue in this direction 'River Water Partnerships' of the stakeholders in the subbasins of the size ?2,000 to 20,000 were tried in upper Bhima, Upper Godawari, Purna (Tapi) and Patalganga in Maharashtra and in Kshirpra (Madhya Pradesh), Tamraparni (Tamilnadu) and Suvarnarekha (Orissa). They were to develop a vision of the basin and work out a plan of action. Governmental agencies, private sector companies, academic institutions, professional associations and community organizations were expected to work together. In upper Bhima and Purna, vision documents could be properly developed, in Patalganga even a frame work of action could be worked out.
But that collective pattern of work could not survive on the partnership mode, partly on account of financial constraints and partly on account of institutional egos. There has been a general reluctance to work together in an accommodative manner for wider interact.
Even for the smaller size geographical units like watersheds ?between a geographical spread of 200 to 1000, it has not been possible to establish water shed management organizations as participatory set ups. For the 42,000 micro water sheds, technical details for integrated development have been worked out by the agricultural department of Maharashtra. But in absence of a coherent force that can bring together all concerned, participatory management units have not yet been possible. People will have to be educated and encouraged to work on a partnership mode. Enabling legal and administrative provisions will have also to be in place to strengthen this approach.
Our challenges are not only on the technical side, but they are also in the sociological and institutional arrangements. Their restructuring has not been able to keep pace with the new technological capabilities that we have been acquiring. We need a new breed of integrative interdisciplinary personalities to achieve these transformations. Engineers will have to take lead to bridge this gap.
To begin with, they will have to assimilate all the essential details of hydrology, hydraulics, water chemistry aquatic Biology, modern management practices and financial arrangements. But in addition they will have to learn to work with people, and to lead them into collective action. Under the constitutional reforms introduced in India through articals 73 and 74, institutions of local self governance are note fully in charge of local water management. But they are very poorly manned. Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikarn was expected to lead the modernization of the water supply and sanitation amenities. But their position has been progressively weakened by bureaucratic overbearance and reluctance of the local democratic bodies to promote modern skills. Without a well trained cadre of water managers it will be difficult to improve the present situation. It is hoped that in depth deliberations on these issues of the Engineering Forum like this will show us the way to more further in the right direction.