"It's time We Realised the Significance of Optimal Conservation & Efficient Use of Water Resources"

S Masood Husain,
Director General,
National Water Development Agency (NWDA),
Ministry of Water Resources
Water is fundamental to life. The rivers that carry the waters are lifelines for overall growth of any nation. The water hence is to be conserved and harnessed sustainably. The question of maintaining sustainability of water is not only concerned with its quantity of availability with respect to time and space but also the measures that are to be taken for ensuring its quality, equitable distribution and efficient utilisation. In an exclusive email interview with Chemical Engineering World, S Masood Husain, Director General, National Water Development Agency (NWDA), Ministry of Water Resources, says that with the growing population and rising needs, the water availability in India will be under stress when considering its supply-demand scenarios, if appropriate measures including linking of rivers are not adopted timely in a phased and consultative manner.

How do you evaluate the current water scenario in India? How serious is the threat of water scarcity?
India's average annual rainfall is about 1170 mm. Regional variations are ranging from 100 mm in Western Rajasthan to over 11,000 mm in Meghalaya in North-Eastern India. As a result, the country experiences flood and drought almost every year in one or the other region. Nearly a third of the country is drought prone while one eighth of the area is flood prone. Thus, the overall economic growth of the country depends on how effectively the flood and drought prone areas are developed and managed.

Annual runoff potential of the country is estimated at 1869 Billion Cubic Metre (BCM). Utilisable water resources are assessed at 1123 BCM (surface water as 690 BCM and groundwater as 433 BCM).

Since over 80 per cent of the annual rainfall and flood flows of rivers occur over a period of four to five months, it is necessary to conserve the resources during the period of its abundant availability by way of developing judicious mix of major, medium and minor storage cum diversion schemes at appropriate locations and link them with canals or tunnels, wherever feasible, for transferring excess flood waters to drought prone regions.

Further, the rainfall and river flow patterns of the country - due to global warming and climate change - can also affect the present availability of water resources. The per capita availability of surface water in India during the years 1991 and 2001 were respectively assessed at 2309 m3 and 1902 m3. It has also been projected that the per capita per year availability of surface water is likely to be reduced to 1401 m3 and 1191 m3 by the years 2025 and 2050 respectively. The skewed availability of water over the years may cause social, cultural and economical unrest.

Will you please brief us on some of the recent initiatives undertaken by NWDA towards water resource development?
The NWDA was set up in July 1982 as an Autonomous Organisation under the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India with the objective of establishing the feasibility of inter basin transfer of water under the Peninsular River Development Component of the National Perspective Plan (NPP ) for water resources development. Later, in 1990 the studies related to Himalayan Component of the NPP were also entrusted to NWDA. In the Year 2006 , NWDA was further mandated with the work of preparations of Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of river link proposals under the NPP and preparations of Pre-feasibility/feasibility reports of Intra-state links as proposed by various states. The functions of NWDA were further modified in May 2011 so as to undertake the work of preparations of the DPRs of intra -state links also by NWDA.

So far, NWDA has completed water balance studies of 137 basins/sub-basins and 71 diversion points; toposheet and storage capacity studies of 74 reservoir sites; and preparations of 32 pre-feasibility reports, 16 feasibility reports and 2 DPRs of link canal projects coming under the Peninsular Rivers Development Component of the NPP.

In addition to this, NWDA has also completed 33 pre-feasibility studies of intra-state links as suggested by the state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu and 2 DPRs of the intra-state links pertaining to the State Government of Bihar.

NWDA has been working intensively on developing water transfer links . Isn't it? Will you please elaborate on this concept?
Yes, as per the concept of inter basin transfer of water, commonly known as interlinking of rivers, it is proposed to divert water from surplus river basins/sub-basins to water deficit ones by constructing dams/barrages at appropriate locations and interconnecting them with link canal systems for providing the various benefits like irrigation, water supply to domestic as well as industrial uses, hydropower generation and flood control etc, on the basis of specific needs attached to each river basin/sub-basin.

Since the completion of feasibility study reports of river link projects, NWDA has been involved with concerted efforts for building up consensus amongst the concerned states. As a result, by now NWDA could complete DPRs of 2 inter basin water transfer links coming under the Peninsular Component, namely Ken-Betwa and Damanganga-Pinjal link projects. While the DPR of Par -Tapi-Narmada link project is in progress and scheduled to be completed by March 2015.

NWDA has also completed the DPRs of 2 intra-state link projects namely, Burhi Gandak-Noon-Baya-Ganga and Kosi-Mechi as proposed by the State Government of Bihar. NWDA is continuing with its efforts to arrive at consensus on the other remaining links.

There are criticisms on environmental and ecological aspects of the river link projects in India. Will you please explain on this?
As mentioned earlier, our country India experiences flood and drought situations almost every year simultaneously. It adversely affects the life and property including cultivated lands of the hazard stricken regions leading to huge human miseries and economical losses. The interlinking of rivers for transferring water from flood prone areas to deficit regions is an effective water resources management tool to deal with the simultaneous occurrence of flood and drought situations. Here, it may be noted that the river link project is not a new concept not only in India but also in many developed and developing countries in the world. In almost all the countries , the Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) projects are developed to address the wide disparity in availability of water resources within a region with respect to others and growing demands of water resources, which are coming from various sectors.

As far as India is concerned, there are successful experiences of about 10 existing river link projects, such as Periyar-Vaigai Link System, Parambikulam-Aliyar Project, Ghagra-Sarda Link Project, Indira Gandhi Canal Project, Sardar-Sarovar Scheme and Tehri Dam Project. The implementation of ILR schemes can thus be further scaled up for overall development of the nation.

The criticisms on environmental and ecological aspects of the ILR projects are mostly misinformed and not based on any scientific basis. This appears to be rather motivated based on apprehensions and conjectures. The environmental, socio-economic and ecological impacts of each link project are assessed in detail and corresponding management, monitoring and redressal measures are envisaged at the time of preparation of the DPR of the link project. The DPR of the first interlinking project, namely Ken -Betwa link involving the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is ready for implementation after the statutory clearances are obtained. The project would provide annual irrigation to the tune of about 6.35 lakh hectares, drinking water supply to about 13.5 lakh population and 78 MW of hydropower generation. The implementation of the Ken-Betwa link project will greatly benefit the drought prone and economically poorest areas of Bundelkhand region in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

How effective has National Perspective Plan (NPP) been so far ?
As per the NPP formulated in 1980, it comprises of two water resources development components, namely the Peninsular and Himalayan Rivers Development Components. The expected benefits with the implementation of all link projects under the NPP would be about 25 million hectares (Mha) of irrigation from surface water and 10 Mha from the increased use of groundwater, 34,000 MW of hydropower generation and other incidental benefits such as flood control, navigation, water supply for domestic and industrial sectors, fisheries, salinity and pollution control and release of environmental flows as and when needed.

The broad approach primarily adopted in the NPP is that the existing uses of river basins/sub-basins have been kept undisturbed. Secondly, the water resources development under the existing legal and constitutional framework is assumed to be taken place fully by the turn of the century; development envisaged is within the frame work of all the existing agreements; and reasonable needs for the foreseeable future have been kept in view and provided for while planning the inter-basin as well as intra-state transfer of water. Finally, most efficient use of land and water in the existing irrigation and hydropower station has been kept as a principal objective to be achieved.

It may be pointed out that the cooperation and understanding of the concerned riparian states are critical for making the NPP concept into reality. The current water resources development scenario in India has been constrained with limited availability of fresh water both with respect to quality as well as quantity and existence of competitions/conflicts for allocation/sharing of water for various sectors/states. Hence, central and state governments have to develop cooperative and sharing visions on the NPP concept for its effective implementation. NWDA hopes that the concerned state governments/departments/ stakeholders will realise the importance of optimal conservation and efficient use of water resources in the face of increasing demands, water scarcity and climate change scenarios.

Don't you think sea water desalination projects can be crucial for India to meet domestic and industrial Water Supply? How can we make the most of it?
Roughly, about 80 per cent of the people around the world live within 60 miles of a coast. To combat water stress, many countries have looked at desalination of sea water as one of the practical options for meeting the needs of domestic and industrial water supply of the people, especially those who settled down along the coastal belts.

Here, cost and environmental concerns are the most critical aspects to be considered for its effectiveness and excessive adaptations. About 40 percent of the operating costs come from electrical energy required to power the desalination processes. Hence, energy costs remain the number one barrier towards wide adoption of desalination. Besides the energy costs, costs for infrastructural developments of pipelines and distribution networks to convey the desalinated water to end-users and disposal of brine, a by -product of desalination, are also coming as influencing factors.

Here, it is again to reiterate that desalination plants often use energy supplied from fossil fuel sources. The price of the fossil fuels has increased over the years owing to the increased global demands. As a matter of fact, renewable energy (RE) desalination technology has been gaining in momentum over recent years. However, when going for adoption of RE technology, consistency of uninterrupted power supply, energy storage technology and concerned cost issues are to be considered as challenges for adopting best option.

Since international initiatives are pushing for RE desalination projects through the International Renewable Energy Agency and Global Renewable Islands Network, the conventional desalination plants may be replaced with RE desalination plants in future. As energy crisis and water scarcity issues will become more profound in the years to come, integration of energy sector and water sector is inevitable for obtaining the desired results.

What are your expectations from Water Expo 2015?
The International Water Expo 2015 scheduled during January 28-31, 2015 is aimed to bring the whole gamut of stakeholders starting from policy makers to industry including services providers. It is indicated that the event will also exhibit products and technologies. Since, it is programmed to connect with Water and Wastewater Services; Municipalities; Environment and Waste Management; Water Management and Recycling; Water Utilities and Supplies; and Water Infrastructure Developers, it is expected that the platform will provide a good opportunity for sharing the knowledge and findings of various sectors in developing and managing the water resources of different regions efficiently and sustainably.