Save water, share water

One the eve of another World Water Day, a multi-faceted activist shares some innovative ways of ensuring that water is available to all.

Many believe that there will be future wars over water. Some facts:

Water, the “elixir of life” is a natural resource and must be shared equitably between every living being. Those authorized to handle water are only its trustees and not owners. The United Nations mandates 135 litres of water per person daily, but providing this remains a dream especially for people from marginalized communities.

Around 3/4th of the earth is water of which 97 per cent is saline and unfit for human consumption. Two per cent of the remaining water is frozen. Half the rest is in rivers, streams, rivulets etc., while the balance is groundwater. So, there is enough water for everybody for millions of years. Nature has no other system to pump water into the earth.

Water does not vanish and cause deficit. It evaporates, crystallizes, becomes cloud or snow, moves around the earth’s atmosphere and depending upon hot or cold atmospheric pressure, it pours as rain and the entire cycle resumes. Some rain or snow enters the sea but whatever falls on the ground can be useful to all if harvested properly. Water circulates within the earth’s atmosphere. There is no source of water from outer space. And we cannot manufacture water in laboratories.

Humans or nations are not the sole proprietors of water. It is a fundamental right of all creatures. Authorities responsibile for handling water are only its trustees and cannot sell, alienate or commercialise water as they do not own it. Countries that tried to commoditize water unsuccessfully are reverting to the municipal supply system to ensure equitable distribution of this priceless natural resource. But some people are still trading in it. The wealthy can afford to buy packaged water for their needs as piped water could be contaminated. However, many rely on this treated water supplied through pipes for their routine requirements.

Why is water depleting?
Current water consumption patterns reveal that we must rejig our requirements and innovate to protect and conserve it. While numerous people are struggling for minimum water those who can access it easily, waste it or use it excessively. Further, some industries use potable water for industrial purposes and let out toxic waste water. This mixes with underground water making it unfit for use.

Some farmers also overuse water without adopting scientific methods that prescribe minimum need based water usage for different crops or drip irrigation. The run-off from irrigated lands contains several chemicals from fertilisers and pesticides sprayed.

The poor worldwide, traverse miles to fetch even minimum quantity of water. Many diseases are attributed to water-borne impurities. An outbreak of water borne diseases prompts health authorities to advise boiling water. People who consume municipal piped water believing it is pure are affected the most. Hence, even those who cannot afford have started buying bottled water for fear of contracting diseases through municipal water.

Humans consume hardly 5 litres of water for drinking and about 20 litres for cooking. For bathing, washing etc., water treated according to standards prescribed is required. Further, water supplied through municipal taps is very old, used and recycled. Finding creative grassroots solutions to bequeath some water to our future generations and supply clean water to the present population is vital.

Growing pollution pressurizes city lakes (pic: PA)

Suggestions for equitable water distribution
Clean water can be equitably distributed to citizens with the available infrastructure without increasing water supply charges as follows:

To ensure continuous availability of bacteria-free water, supply it to all citizens in food grade plastic sealed tubs of 25/50 litres only for drinking and cooking. Use the Public Distribution System (PDS) network to provide these tubs to the most vulnerable people, at 10 paise per litre.

Adopt dual pricing policy to those needing more than the minimum quantity through “pay as you use” method to make it affordable.

Treat the supply of clean potable water as a social entitlement by establishing the Karnataka State Drinking Water Supply Company Limited (KSDWSCL) akin to the Karnataka State Beverages Company Limited (KSBCL) that supplies quality beverages to all consumers at reasonable cost. Alternatively, convert the existing Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) into a non-profit organisation committed to fulfilling this crucial living necessity.

To meet the immediate requirement and quality, frame rules for mandatory supply of quality water by bottled water manufacturers and sellers to nominated government agencies like fair price shops.

The government may simultaneously setup bottling units at Taluk levels to supply potable water uninterrupted to all in remote areas.

Create mobile testing squads for quality and quantity assurance and to detect pilferage and adulterations.

For cattle wash, household cleaning, et al, water can be pumped through existing pipes with minimal treatment and supplied with reasonable “pay as you use” pricing method.

Ensures good health by minimizing water borne diseases.
Guarantees equitable distribution of potable water.
Clean water will be available easily 24X7.
Avoids water hoarding and consequent wastage.
Eliminates the need for laying extra water pipes across the city saving cost and inconvenience.
For non-potable purposes, existing pipes can be used with required treatment of water as per standards, saving costs.
Removes inequities associated with commercializing water.

It is possible to meet the needs of the growing population through this economically viable, sustainable, accountable and safe water supply system.

Specific alternatives for water conservation

People who have installed solar water heating systems (SWHS) on their roof tops can try the following:

· India gets bright sun shine for 300 days in a year. By noon, water in the SWHS is almost at boiling point. Most SWHS have standby heating elements embedded for heating water by switching to electricity mode when the solar heat is less or during cloudy days when the solar panel efficiency is low.

· Consumers can collect water from municipal taps, store it in sumps and pump to overhead tanks that supply continuous water to the SWHS installed on rooftops. But this water, treated in bulk by authorities in stages and contains bacteria, e-coli, pathogens, coliform etc., due to contaminantion during transit through old dirty/corroded pipes and possible mixing of sewage water.

· PVC panels heat this water to a certain temperature depending on the heat from solar flares but the water may not reach boiling point. Most SWHS have built-in immersion rods that need a few units of electricity to make the hot water reach boiling point and can to destroy bacteria in water. The cost of this electricity will be less than the possible expenditure due to consumption of contaminated water.

· Collect this boiling water and store it in clean vessels, cool it and use for drinking and cooking. This water is cleaner than most packaged water. Also, chemicals in the plastic containers get leeched over time and harm our digestive systems.

· Clean, hot/cold, drinking water 24X7 at home eliminating the need to store (and sometimes waste) or filter municipal water.
· Minimises water borne diseases and consequent medical expenses.
· Reduces cooking time and LPG/electricity usage. This could perhaps decrease the LPG subsidy.

These steps cou ld ensure that future wars need not be fought over water.

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