'Management of Water Resources'
That is where the challenges lie ahead...

A B Pandya,
Chairman, Central Water Commission, Ministry of Water Resources and Chairman, CAB, WaterEX World Expo 2015
With increasing urbanisation and industrialisation, the consumption of water is increasing dramatically, which has necessitated intelligent reuse and recycle of water and integrated and sustainable development of water resources. In an exclusive interview with Mittravinda Ranjan, A B Pandya, Chairman, Central Water Commission, Ministry of Water Resources and Chairman, CAB, WaterEX World Expo 2015, says that India has adequate water resource when viewed from the annual availability angle. However, the vagaries of distribution over space and time are the real challenges that have to be met with by planners and managers of water resources in the country with appropriate development policies. Pandya further comments on UN report which predicts grim picture for India and talks at length about several issues.

IEA report has forecasted that amount of fresh water consumed for world energy production is on track to double within the next 25 years. The report further elaborates that increase coal power along with the adoption of coal-based technologies and increasing biofuel capacity will drive the largest share of water consumption for energy through 2035. How do you view this in Indian context, and how does CWC plan moving along the mission of promoting integrated and sustainable development and management of India’s water resources by using state–of–the–art technology and competency, and coordinating with all stakeholders?
The quantum of fresh water consumed for world energy production especially for thermal, nuclear and solar-thermal cycle is directly proportional to the capacity installed. Even biofuel preparation also consumes water for its processes. Thus, there is a strong dependence of all means of energy production on availability of water. In case of thermal power, 3-4 cu m water is required per hour per MW capacity of generation. Even gas-based power plants require about 2 cu m water per hour per MW. We will need to add about 15000 MW coal-based thermal generation capacity per year. This will require additional 335 MCM of water per year out of which 87 per cent water will be lost in evaporation and consumption. Thus, there will be an ever-growing need of water for power generation. In case of nuclear and solar-thermal cycles also the requirement will not go down significantly in terms of water consumption. It is no wonder that about 87.8 per cent of industrial demand is out of thermal power generation alone. However, hydro power provides for a non-consumptive energy generating platform and as the improvement of hydro versus thermal capacity ratio in all the developed countries - wherever local conditions allow, form a key corner stone of the water management policy and should be preferred. In Indian context, we have a preferential emphasis on coal-based generation due to relatively easy implementation. The areas rich in coal are not rich in terms of water availability, and vice a versa. This puts us in a difficult situation as either the water or the coal will have to be transported over long distances for such thermal generation. CEA have already worked out a plan for installing 50000 MW of hydro power in continuance with the rest of power development in an integrated way. This has a potential of correcting the adverse hydro-thermal ratio, and also to improve the conservation of water for other usages.

Special emphasis is being laid on the improving the efficiency of power generation and also on the use of lower quality water for consumption in the power generation. The progress improving the technology and competency are being taken up by CEA and CWC in collaboration with various industry bodies and also through development of guidelines and standards to this effect to channelise the development.

Economic pundits predicts that India will be the Rising Economic Powerhouse by 2030, and international reports have also forecasted India leaping ahead of China by 2050. How realistic is this from your point of view given the fact that water resources are one of the cornerstones of economic and industrial development of any economy?
It is a fact that water as a resource plays a very significant role in the economic and social development of the country. India has adequate water resource when viewed from the annual availability angle. However, the vagaries of distribution over space and time are the real challenges that have to be met with by planners and managers of water resources in the country with appropriate development policies which encourage conservation of water, its efficient use and equitable distribution of water across the country. The constraints of water availability can be kept under control and can provide restoration of a dream of economic powerhouse for the world. In order to become an economic power house, the country will surely need interventions at all levels starting from local water conservation and extending upto Inter Basin transfers.

We already have very little consumptive use of water out of Brahmputra and Barak basins in the North East and hardly 10 per cent of the annual available water is being utilised productively. We will need to increase the same for meeting the demands elsewhere in the country.

What are your views on recent UN report which predicts grim picture for India?
As far as the impact of climate changes are concerned, India being a predominantly monsoon fed country, the impact will increase variability of rain fall in different areas in terms of time and aerial spread of the rainfall events. We will have to contend with very large water availability in very short durations and scarcity in longer periods between such events. With the growth in economy and improvement in our life styles, the water demand will become more and more uniform over the cycles of surplus and scarce rainfall. The conservation of fresh rainwater by all means at our disposal is the only solution. By creating adequate strategic storage, well distributed in topographically and connected with the various demand centres can meet the requirement. Matching the supply and demand for water with annual and carry over storages is a must for an economically well secured Indian society.

We are also working very hard on managing the consumption through improvement of water usage, efficiency and optimising the reuse of water for generating more productivity per drop.

India faces natural challenge of unequal water distribution in the country which is one of the prime reasons for water stress in the country. How do you plan addressing this for the future keeping the quantum of growing urbanisation and increasing industrialisation?
Unequal water distribution in the country is a challenge as well as an opportunity for the country like India. We receive 75-80 per cent of rainfall in about 100 days spread over the 6 months of the monsoon and that too with a spatially uneven spread. Enabled with the unequal water distribution, we are also endowed with equally varied agro climatic set up which generates differing demands for water throughout the year. The problem has to be addressed from the supply as well as the demand angle. We need to manage the water demand in a given area by promoting appropriate agricultural production policies which are suited to the local climatic set up. Accordingly, the challenges are faced during the lean season when the rain fall is minimum and problems of flooding are faced when there is good rainfall. This has to be addressed by promoting as much local conservation as practicable, to make communities less vulnerable during dry parts of the year.

Also, changes in the life style by consumption of less water incentive food groups can be encouraged so that the demand is managed. For increasing industrialisation and urbanisation, large scale recycle and reuse policies will have to be aggressively put in place so that the demand for such usage can be met by diverting maximum water from other major sources. In this context, improvement of water efficiency, coupled with efficient policies for improving quality of waste and poor quality water is the need of the hour. Along with the other resources, we share our major rivers across states and communities. Release of poor quality water which creates fresh water availability problems to the downstream communities has to be recognised as a national problem and holistic solutions have to be found. All the communities depending on a single river stream have to be considered as a chain link in terms of quality and welfare of all links has to be ensured to see that the chain does not break.

We have not been successful in protecting our fresh water resources. Recent news of Sabarmati becoming highly polluted clearly indicates the failure of statutory bodies to control industries from polluting the depleting fresh water resources. What initiatives is CWC taking towards stopping any further damage to our water resources?
CWC is not primarily mandated with management of water quality in various parts of the country. We do monitor the ambient water quality in the country and report the same from time to time.

Quality management part is generally handled through State and Central Pollution Control Boards. However, managing the quality of ambient water is a challenge in which all the agencies have to participate. It is necessary to estimate the fresh water used in a basin and the amount of water storage required to meet such demand on an average basis also accounting for the growth patterns over time. In this context, CWC through various schemes of Ministry of Water Resources attempts to improve the storage and to promote higher efficiencies in water use. Recycle and reuse can then supplement the demand curve especially in the lean seasons of availability.

The other inventions have to necessarily come from the community where in assuring release of used water back in the natural stream with a quality, which can be managed by the natural process before the same, is picked up again by a different community for its use. We need to put the necessary quality management regulatory structures and guidelines in place specific to individual river basins.

Many developed countries like Singapore meet the water demand through recycle water using high-end technologies which even treat the municipal waste. Is it possible to set up such projects in India? What could be the possible bottlenecks in your opinion in executing such projects?
Recycling water using any type of technology has to address the issue of treatment costs and costs of providing fresh water to the consumer groups. The setting up of any high-end technology project will hinge upon commercially viability and also, the demand of the consumer group. The possible bottlenecks are managing multiple sources of pollution over a wide area, each generating limited quantity of poor quality water. The other bottleneck is the complex nature of effluents from the communities which have mixed land usage thereby mixing the industrial pollutants along with the pollution generated by the purely domestic and urban water users. It would be a good idea to segregate the sewage effluents in these two categories so that the domestic effluents, which are relatively easy to treat from harmful metallic ion content angle, can be managed at a lesser cost.

May we have your comments on strategies industries must adopt to curb their water footprint?
The industries have to adopt efficient technologies which can reduce their water demands, and need to modify the processes in such a way that poor quality water generated in the primary process cycle can be used for other industrial processes after recycle. The industry may also examine the sustainability of their water consumption needs with the demand of the adjoining communities which may also be dependent upon the same resources. By way of community participation, the industry can attempt overall water availability solution to the community without encroaching upon justified usage patterns.

Before siting an industry, the local usage and availability of water should be examined by the industry themselves and appropriate means of generating extra resource from the conservation and recycle angle should be worked out to reduce the conflict in the society.

Which are the key technologies that India needs to bridge the growing demand-supply gap of water?
India needs to bring in technology for efficient conservation by reducing loss of water through evaporation and other storage efforts, conveyance of large quantum of water without affecting its quality and minimising the losses in the conveyance process. We also need to develop or bring technologies which will handle treatment of water and its reuse on a commercially viable proposition as against the present view of an obligation with no commercial viability angle.

Individual industries can form a chain to serially consume the same quantity of water by reuse and recycle to reduce their water footprints on the other communities. For this, a cooperative location and management mechanism has to be in place amongst them. India also needs to develop a respect principle where the community or a large user has a responsibility to give back the water to the nature in the same form in which the user received that water from the nature.