In order to protect, preserve and conserve the remaining water bodies in Mysuru, the district administration has proposed to study a report titled “Evolving sustainable conservation strategies for water bodies for Mysuru-Nanjanagudu local planning area’ prepared by Environment Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) under the Forest Department of Government of Kanataka, as reported in the media. It appears EMPRI has recommended that sewage/untreated waste water flowing into the water bodies must be completely stopped for conserving the remaining water bodies.
While it is a good solution to stop flow of waste water to arrest the decaying lakes and other urban and peri-urban lakes and water bodies before they become dumping grounds for various kinds of debris, ultimately to be usurped and converted into real estate, the recommendation that waste water from sewage must be completely stopped needs to be examined on the following grounds:
Water in the atmosphere of the earth is millions of years old and keeps circulating. Every drop of water falling on earth is good water, evaporates, goes up into the atmosphere, gets condensed, forms into cloud and depending upon the local atmospheric pressures on land, rains and gives us clean water. Therefore, there is nothing like fresh water and all water is good when it pours on earth but some water may become useless for consumption due to our polluting/contaminating it with toxic materials.
It is found that one hour of heavy rain in an area of 10 km, if harvested and preserved, can supply water to 1000 households for 3 months. Therefore, it has become inevitable to harvest all rain water and allow flow of that much of water required by the sea for maintaining its water level for geographical purposes.
Double whammy: At present, due to global warming, glaciers are melting faster than expected, thus resulting in flooding. The flooded rivers are changing their course and carrying with them enormous quantity of fertile land, crops, coconut plantations along the sea shores and unloading into the sea thus resulting in rising of sea water level. This is creating a certain amount of vulnerability in availability of land for future generations.
It is reported that by 2070, people living on sea shores and in coastal areas of Mumbai and Kolkata may have to move to higher grounds due to inundation of coastal areas by rising sea water; Udupi and Coondapur areas in Karnataka are daily witnessing of huge waves gobbling up fertile land and sea water erosion of land mass is happening with every wave hitting the shores. Maldives is already marked for submergence of its land area; two Esturian islands – Lohachaara and Locharabhanga in Sunderbans in West Bengal have already disappeared under water and another island Sagar is also expected to be submerged in due course.
The vulnerability is likely to result in movement of people to urban/peri-urban areas; it is likely that by 2030 more than 50 per cent of population will be living in urban areas; they are sure to produce waste water and solid waste that will be a mega problem for the urban areas. The present sewage disposal infrastructure in most mega cities is woefully lacking in their qualitative and quantitative achievements and is forcing authorities to let the untreated water into water bodies.
But this huge quantity of waste water cannot be taken for granted because, it is still water. If this huge quantity of flow into water bodies is completed stopped, then, where will it be diverted or how will it be used and for what purpose. As it is, there are no takers for the treated water being produced by available water treatment plants in Mysuru, of course, with few exceptions. Secondly, if it is decided to drain the available murky waters of a lake (if there are proposals) for cleansing the lake bed from muck, hyacinth, algae and other pollutants and if there are no rains in future years also, from where will the authorities bring water to fill the lakes when they are cleaned? All the 7 taluks of Mysuru have been declared as drought affected areas due to failure of successive annual monsoons.
The domino effect has created a history in Mysuru – lowest rain fall in 60 years – as against the expected average annual rainfall of 640 mm, Mysuru had hardly 230 mm of rains in 2016. In subsequent years also, if we are faced with such natural calamities due to vagaries of nature, how will the lakes survive? Most of the catchment areas and Raja Kaluves that supply water to lakes have been encroached upon and storm water drains are blocked due to building activity, dumping of various kinds of wastes, etc. If this scenario continues and availability of water for human consumption gets drastically reduced, then automatically, production of waste water will also be reduced, since there will not be much water available for people themselves to use.
In view of the above imperatives, it would be prudent to allow waste water flow into water bodies in mega cities until such time that proper efficient mega waste water treatment plants are set up under a special purpose component financed by Governments or by borrowings from World Bank or Asian Development Bank or Japanese Bank Consortium or funds from local industries under Corporate Social Responsibility. This way, at least some water will be available in the lakes for future use by human beings, animals, birds, flora and fauna.
Suggestion: Transport sewage to arid, semi-arid and waste/dry lands to enrich soil : If it is not possible to establish required number of waste water treatment plants due to cost factors but decide to completely stop flow of waste water into urban lakes/peri-urban water bodies, here is a suggestion to manage the untreated 24X7 Sanitary Sewerage Overflows (SSO) and/or Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO):
- The untreated excess sewage overflow/waste water/sludge may be loaded into tankers (akin to Petrol tankers) with due diligence and checks and balances and transported to identified arid, semi-arid and wastelands and unloaded in the open.
- Once the sewage is spread out, the heat of the arid zones will take care of the physiological process of aerobic biodegradation/biomineralisation of the various nutrients/ chemicals etc., and will hasten the process of enriching the soil contents with micro-organisms, moisture and other nutrients.
- Thereafter, the enriched soil will be fit for adopting agro-forestry measures for planting saplings or sowing endemic seeds of various species of greenery for carbon sequestration.
- This climatic resilience suggestion will help in meeting the aspirations of Green India Mission.
Benefits: Implementation of this suggestion with its contents, variables, and deliverables would result in doable, replicable, sustainable, economical actions aimed at reclaiming lost arid zones, increasing forest cover/greenery and humidity of arid zones with food and fodder availability for poor desert/wasteland/dryland inhabitants. The plan will go a long way in reducing the carbon footprints from arid/semi-arid/wasteland regions, help in carbon sequestration and for claiming carbon credits. In addition, this suggestion is the long term solution for India’s mega problem of sewage disposal in urban/peri-urban areas even beyond 2020.
Another suggestion: A day may come when, like Singaporeans, Indians may also have to change their mindset and even start using the treated waste water for drinking and potable purposes since they will be left with no choice. (How Singapore converts its waste water into usable water up to 25 per cent of its water needs, can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWWU-8_4wu0). Otherwise, due to vagaries of nature, climate change and global warming the extreme hot weather condition is hasten increased water evaporation and result in drastic reduction of water availability in lakes paving way for converting them into debris dumping grounds and subsequent encroachments of even the available water bodies in urban areas.
– Vasanthkumar Mysoremath