Good quality potable water is becoming the most important resource limitation in Kerala. This is most evident in urban areas. Here we have to consider the fact that they depend on the countryside for water. But, it is also getting urbanised at a breakneck pace, and it is a big question that how long the 'once rural area' can support providing water for the cities. The best example is Kochi. Water for the city is being supplied from Aluva, which was a rural area several decades back. But now Aluva is growing equally or faster than the city. So it is not certain that how long it can cater to its water needs. Moreover, the degradation of traditional water sources like rivers poses a significant threat to the sustainable supply of water. Almost all cities in Kerala have outstripped supply over demand. Our cities would need a demand-side management strategy rather than supply-side strategy. Water is a resource. One of the basic principles for management of any resource is that we need to quantify it.
We cannot manage a resource when it is in the form of a cloud or something. Therefore, we need to be more precise in both supply and demand. For this, local self-governments need to conduct city level water audits. In such audits, qualitative and quantitative analysis of water consumption can be done. It helps to reduce the misuse and overuse of water and also help to identify opportunities and need for reducing, reusing and recycling of water. There is a false notion that city water audit is done for the water which is supplied through pipes alone. But we have to consider pipe water supply as one among many. Groundwater from the open wells and borewells, water received as rain, supply through tanker lorries and packaged drinking water also have to be included on the supply side. We also have to collect data on the water demand: how much water is needed for domestic, commercial, industrial, institutional, tourism and agriculture sectors. Collection and analysis of such data will be crucial for local self-government to prepare realistic water-related developments and projects.
The information is a must for ensuring additional or alternate sources to meet water demand in future. City water audits are done to assess qualitative analysis along with quantitative estimation. Every city should develop a City Water Quality atlas based on a GIS platform which can be revisited once in every few years to verify the change of water quality. SCMS Water Institute has done the same for a few cities and found it to be successful. The huge gap often observed between demand and supply exemplified through City Water audits can be curtailed using proper technology. Simple and cost effective technological advancements happening in wastewater and drinking water treatment sectors are the best examples for this.
There should have a proper communication between policy makers and the technology experts. Innovations in policy lead to substantial developments in technology, whereas innovation in technology can result in significant changes in policy. Such dialogues must focus on how to augment the supply and reduce the demand. Local self-governments can categorise the divisions based on water stress which can be analysed depending on location specific water supply and demand. Water is a multidisciplinary subject and government arms like Kerala Water Authority, irrigation, groundwater, Central ground water boards, meteorology, Pollution Control Board, fisheries, etc. deal with the thin resource. However, there is seldom much coordination between these departments. Data for effectively addressing water related problems is spread over these. As water is a vital resource, a centralised data repository is needed in the form of a 'water information system' in each city. The best platform for the same shall be under the local self-government. This will be useful as a support system for achieving water security.
We need to adopt a decentralised system for sewage treatment at the source where wastewater is generated. This is essential in households and apartment complexes. More than 80 percent of the water they use is considered waste water which can be recycled and reused. Kerala is a land which is believed to have an abundance of fresh water. But in January this year, it has been declared as drought prone state by the government. Now, we have to look for every possible opportunity to enhance the water supply. We cannot look at water with the same perception that we have it in abundance. New sources have to be explored. There is a new guideline from the government that at least the coastal panchayats have to consider possibilities of desalination. Technological advancements have made desalination relatively cheaper.
Moreover, we have to appreciate the fact that freshwater sources like rivers and ponds may not be in a position to sustainably deliver in the years to come. Kerala's 580 km long coastline may be the future source of drinking water. A participatory approach involving all section of the society is needed for achieving water security. Water sources have to be conserved, and water assets are to be protected in the best possible manner. Augmentation of sources like rainwater harvesting and watershed management has to be adopted. Sustainability of the Western Ghats which is the prime water provider for Kerala needs to be nurtured. A code of conduct for water use in domestic, agriculture and industrial sectors has to be propagated and maintained through water literacy programmes. Urban water security can be a major disabler for the development of the state. We are going to face more severe drought in future.
(The writer is the director, SCMS Water Institute, SCMS College of Engineering, Karukutty)...