Water scarcity in India is mostly a man-made crisis caused by increase in consumption, overuse of available water sources, wastage, contamination, and severe mismanagement. We know that though 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water, less than 0.5% of all the water on earth is actually accessible to us as freshwater. UN data indicates nearly 1/3rd of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, and this figure is 50% for India. And with rapid urbanisation, water scarcity is only expected to increase in the coming years. So, it is essential to conserve this precious resource and ensure that the accessible freshwater is not contaminated.
The best way to achieve efficient water management is to implement the 4 R's strategy—Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, and Rainwater harvesting. Let us see how individuals and corporates can adopt this strategy and play their role in conserving water and achieving good water management.
Water-efficient fixtures like aerators for taps, low flow faucets and showers, and dual flush low water use Water Closets (WCs) can result in 50%–70% water savings. Aerators with a flow rate of 2 liter per minute are commonly available and can be installed in any existing tap. The table below gives a comparison of water consumption between conventional fixtures and water efficient fixtures.
There are several new types of aerators available today like the mist aerators, that can reduce the flow rate to 0.5 liter per minute without compromising the effectiveness of the taps. Other measures that can save a significant amount of freshwater include operating the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are at full capacity, utilising RO reject water for prewash of utensils, collecting leftover water from drinking water glasses and using it for gardening, rectifying leaky taps, etc. (Water leakage of 1 drop a second can lead to a wastage of 1500 liters in a year!). Family members, especially children, can be educated on these simple initiatives, resulting in a much larger impact for the society.
Additionally, in a corporate scenario, sensor-based taps can be installed that can save water and ensure health and safety of staff. Smart water meters installed on piping network can identify leakages on time and helps avoid wastage of water.
Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are important for recycling wastewater and to avoid pollution caused by sewage entering lakes and rivers. Sewage treatment can be done through different technologies depending on its source, quantity, and quality. Domestic wastewater from residences and office buildings can be treated with technologies like extended aeration, sequential batch reactors (SBR),moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR),membrane bioreactor (MBR) among others. A fully functional STP is very important to ensure good quality of recycled water, thereby reducing demand for freshwater and keeping our environment clean. Automation of STPs would ensure best operational parameters and result in good quality treated water on a long-term basis.
Treated water from STP (recycled water) can be used for different applications to reduce the need for freshwater. Recycled water can be used for landscaping, flushing, cooling tower makeup requirement, construction purposes, etc. The primary condition to achieve reuse of treated wastewater is having a recycled water piping network and buildings with dual plumbing lines—one for freshwater and the other for recycled water. Policies to ensure this would be helpful in quicker adoption. Use of recycled water is the way forward to reduce our dependency on water bodies and to improve water access. Many cities across the world have implemented highly successful wastewater treatment and reuse programs. About 30% of the water requirements in Singapore is met through treated wastewater.
Rainwater is one of the most important and clean sources of freshwater, the potential of which is not realised fully. Rainwater can meet a large part of our requirements if harvested effectively with the right strategies. Rainwater recharge pits and rainwater collection into tanks need to be adopted for any infrastructure development. This will reduce dependency on freshwater, improve the groundwater table and prevent flooding in the area, which is commonly seen across cities in India. In a location like Bangalore, it is possible to meet the entire water requirement for a four-member family in monsoon if rainwater is collected from a roof area of about 1200 sq ft. This shows the immense potential of rainwater harvesting and why it is our best bet against water scarcity due to rapid urbanisation.
Such initiatives implemented across Infosys buildings and campuses over the last 12 years have reduced the per capita freshwater consumption at Infosys by 64% from FY2008 to FY2020. Most of these initiatives are simple and inexpensive and can be replicated not only by corporates but also at the household level.
It is still not too late to take committed action towards water conservation as there is expertise and technology available today. It is a matter of awareness and will to understand the true value of water that can lead us towards water sustainability. We should understand the worth of water before the wells run dry.
Views are personal. The author is regional head, infrastructure, Infosys.