The wars of the 21st century, futurists say, will be fought over water. Tarun, a father of two in South Delhi, thinks the wars have begun. He points to his bi-monthly water bill as evidence.
"Until about 18 months ago, we used to pay Rs 300-Rs 400. Now, it is around Rs 3,000; once we even got a Rs 6,000 bill," he says. A mid-level manager, Tarun did not want his second name taken because his employer doesn't permit him to be interviewed by the media.
It is not quite apocalypse yet, but there is less and less of water available to India's fast-expanding cities. The water table in urban India is dropping scarily as water is sucked out from the ground by apartment blocks, and at a bigger scale by industrial consumers. There are large pockets of water-stressed areas in our cities and more than a few incidents of violence have been reported in recent times.
There are multiple fronts on which this problem is being attacked: water conservation, recharging groundwater, rainwater harvesting, revival of lakes, and community efforts. One effort that has received less public attention is water reuse. Simply explained, take the water and excreta that you flush out or bathe with every day and treat it to a level of purity fit for consumption - for bathing, washing, cleaning, gardening or other uses.
Sounds gross? Water recycling and reuse has been on for many years among factories - Madras Refineries in Chennai and Maruti Suzuki in Gurgaon being prime examples - and large consumers like the Willingdon Sports Club. For the first time on its scale, Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the largest water utility in South Asia, plans to recycle 40 million gallons of sewage a day into drinking water at one of its plants being upgraded with part-funding from Singapore's Temasek Foundation. That is almost five per cent of the water supplied to the city.
DJB does not plan to supply this sewage-turned-towater to its 17 million consumers, yet. The utility's CEO Debashree Mukherjee says it plans to release the water 30 to 40 km upstream into the Yamuna for now. Not the best solution but a start for mass-scale water reuse in this country, certainly.