Bengaluru makes its water wishlist for 2012

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Wastewater collection and treatment

Wastewater collection and treatment was a rather poor show in 2011. Though underground sewage lines are being laid in the periphery of the city and some decentralised wastewater treatment plants sprang up.

Bellandur lake covered in froth due to pollution. File pic: Meera K

This will be a real tough challenge for the city because the resource recovery from polluters is also very poor since domestic households who send in the sewage to the lines pay the equivalent of 50 paise a day. Fixing and collecting the right price and making the polluter pays principle will be the main challenge.

Saving the storm water drains from sewage

Layouts and apartments are now being mandated to recycle wastewater, use dual pipes and become zero discharge units. This will need to be effectively managed in 2012.

Sewage flowing in the storm water drains was a regular feature in 2011. In 2012 the goal should be to ensure that no sewage flows in the major storm water drains.

‘Honeysuckers’ will play vital role

The ‘Honeysuckers’, vacuum trucks for sewage cleaning from pit toilets and septic tanks, made a decided presence in the city in 2011. These trucks service the households and apartments that are not linked to the underground sewage system of the city.

There is no protocol or legal framework for septage management in the city but a great opportunity arises to abolish manual scavenging and for nutrient recovery.

In 2012 the Honeysucker will become an integral part of the sewage and septage management of a fast expanding system. Closing the loop on water and nutrient flows by putting them back in the food chain, nutrient recovery and linking sanitation to agriculture will become the principle by which the city will manage wastewater and nutrient flows.

In 2012 the Vrishbhavati would not be a foam river and the Bellandur lake would be clean is to dream outrageously but that should be our guiding light.

Pricing

Water and sewage pricing in 2011 was an outright disaster. With electricity bills on the rise and no increase in the water tariff since 2005 the utility is being financially strangulated.

The proposal for a hike has now come from many sources and the bullet has to be bitten in 2012. Both water and sewage prices need to be rationalised to ensure universal access but also to enforce disciplined behavior in consumption.

Each household gets a subsidy of Rs 675/- on water charges

Bellandur lake. File Pic: Meera K.

It costs the city close to Rs 36 /- to bring a kilo-litre of water to the citizens. It gives it to each one of us at Rs 6 and Rs 9 a kilo-litre. If a household consumes 25000 litres of water a month, Rs 675 is the subsidy each family will receive every month. This subsidy reaches out to the relatively well off sections of the city while the poor pay Rs 2 to Rs 5 for a pot of water.

This anomaly will need to be rectified and prices rationalised. It is possible that in 2012 that the connections will be universal for all families and citizens irrespective of their place of residence. That the first 6000 litres per month per connection will be free and that there will be a sharp increase in the price of water thereafter to recover at least the cost of Operations and Management.

Institutional reform

The city utility is moving from being a water supplier and sewage collector to more of a manager of resources. Through rainwater harvesting, wastewater recycling, groundwater management, water literacy and water pricing it is trying to involve the citizens and consumers of water as part of the solution. Much more will need to be done in 2012.

In 2012 the city utility hopefully would have a full-fledged hydro-geological wing manned with the respective expertise. The funds for this could easily come from the money being collected on bore-wells. The utility will also have a full-fledged wing for community outreach and ensure that all slums and low-income areas have access to water and sanitation.

That in 2012 there would be a Bangalore Urban Water Management Institution merging the role of surface water, storm water, ground water and waste water along with piped water would be to dream but perhaps we will see the first movement along these lines.

Perhaps also in 2012 a Arkavathy river basin institution would have been created to plan and manage the river with equity and ecology as serious goals to be achieved.

The city utility and others would be well advised to come out with a yearly report card and also the next year’s plan for water management. Perhaps a promise for 2012?

 

About Vishwanath Srikantaiah 7 Articles
Vishwanath S is a Bengaluru-based water expert.