Wastewater Recovery and
Re-use for Water Security
human activities that use water produce wastewater. Waste water is
mostly seen as a burden to be disposed of or to be ignored. The results
of this neglect are heavily polluted rivers unfit even for bathing,
severe damage to aquatic ecosystems and waterborne illness from
contaminated freshwater supplies. With the ever-growing demand of water
and deepening scarcity, India stands at the verge of the worst water
crisis in history and if no action is taken the demand for water would
far outstrip its supply by 2030. In fact, even by 2020, it is expected
that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater (NITI Aayog). It is
time now that we seriously look at wastewater as a reliable alternative
source of water shifting the paradigm of wastewater management from
‘treatment and disposal’ to ‘reuse, recycle and resource recovery’.
Domestic sewage is the biggest source of
wastewater and there is a large gap between the wastewater generated and
actually treated. Out of about 61754 million litres per day of sewage
generated, treatment capacity exists for only 32% (about 22963 MLD). As
per the CPCB report- Status of Sewage Treatment in India, municipal
wastewater generated in 35 metropolitan cities shows that all these
cities collectively generate 15,644 MLD of sewage. But, these cities
have sewage treatment capacity of only 8040 MLD. Further the capacity
utilisation for the STPs of metropolitan cities and Class I and Class II
cities is only about 65% of the treatment capacity due to problems with
operation and maintenance and the absence of sewage networks.
Industries are performing slightly better
due to more stringent enforcement of waste water management rules. They
are treating more than 60% of 13468 MLD of wastewater generated.
However, the MSMEs still remain a major concern with 40% of the
contribution to untreated wastewater. Due to lack of capacity to bear
the additional cost of treatment, MSMEs discharge waste water without
treatment. The discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater on
land or surface water bodies is a major source of pollution,
contaminating 80% of the country’s surface water (CPCB, 2012).
Technologies for Wastewater Treatment
The centralised approach to wastewater
treatment is capital intensive coupled with slow rate of infrastructure
development and can lead to inequality of services in lower-income
areas. It is more suitable to adopt a combined approach of centralised
as well as decentralised wastewater treatment (also called DEWATS) to
bridge the gap. DEWATS fills the gap between on-site sanitation systems
(cesspools, absorption pits) and conventional centralised systems. The
biggest advantage of DEWATS is its flexibility as it adapts to
individual houses as well as apartments, institutions, hotels and
resorts, even public toilets. Further, a decentralised treatment
facility can be built in an incremental manner, piece by piece and does
not require multi crore investments that can be difficult to arrange,
given the limited public funds (CDD India).
Policy and Institutional Framework for
Wastewater Treatment and Re-Use in India
Due to increasing water scarcity, several
recent policy documents from the government have started emphasising
wastewater recycling and reuse and we are seeing an upsurge in the
schemes that cover sewage treatment along with water and sanitation. The
Planning Commission as part of the water and waste management strategy
in the 12th five-year plan recognises the need to recycle wastewater and
deems it a critical component of any sustainable solution for water and
wastewater management in India. The National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP)
endorses the reuse of wastewater as an important factor for the
environment and recommends a minimum of 20% reuse of wastewater in every
city. However, no specific guidelines for implementation are provided.
The National Water Policy of 2012 encourages recycling and reuse of
water after treatment to specified standards. However, here again, it
lacks specifics on legal and implementation frameworks.
With the focus to establish infrastructure
that could ensure adequate robust sewage networks and water supply for
urban transformation, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban
Transformation (AMRUT) scheme, launched by the Prime Minister in 2015,
sets a total outlay of Rs 50,000 crores for five years 2015-16 to
2019-20. More than 100 cities have submitted proposals to set up STPs
under their State Annual Action Plan. Some of the projects are already
taking the ground and we will be able to see the impact of the scheme in
the next 2-3 years (MoHUA).
The above stated emphasis on policies
related to wastewater and the Swachh Bharat Mission has encouraged urban
local bodies to converge with technology providers and NGOs to test
emerging technologies through pilot projects. Two such pilot projects
are being carried out in Varanasi and Muzzafarnagar by TARA (a social
enterprise wing of the Development Alternatives Group) in collaboration
with the Municipal Corporation, Varanasi and the Municipality of
Muzzafarnagar, to test the Japanese wastewater treatment technology,
Tafgard, in the Indian context. In order to make a lasting impact, as
the next step, the results of such pilot projects must be shared between
urban local bodies and with the MoHUA (Ministry of Housing and Urban
Affairs) to promote the technology for larger reapplication.
In the long history of India’s struggle with
water pollution, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the main
authority that sets pollutant discharge standards, was brought into
existence through The Water Act, 1974 (prevention and control of
pollution, amended in 1988). While the standards are quite
comprehensive, monitoring and enforcement by the State Pollution Control
Boards (SPCBs) is a recognised weak point due to operational and
financial issues. It has also been seen that pollution control boards
have been historically unwilling to hold local government bodies
accountable for poor performance.
In-order to give the necessary momentum to
wastewater recycling and re-use, there is an urgent need for effective
legal and policy framework for improved wastewater management. Through a
combination of stricter enforcements, incentives to people and
industries for resource recovery, proper monitoring and check on
corruption, rightful combination of centralised and decentralised
treatment technologies and most importantly the political will of both
central and state governments; we can exploit an untapped resource of
wastewater to add another stream to our water security.
Wastewater the untapped resource, 2017 UNESCO
Status of Water Quality in India - CPCB, 2012.
Ministry of Environment and Forests. 2011. Revised guidelines for the
centrally sponsored scheme of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs).
National Water Policy - 2012.
Closing the water loop: Reuse of treated wastewater in urban India, pwc
Composite Water Management Index’ (CWMI), NITI AYOG
Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) website
CDD Society (www.cddindia.org)
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