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Colossal man-made disaster

Krishna Raj, Jan 11, 2017 23:13 IST

WATER SCARCE BENGALURU : Water woes persist as the city has lost its natural watersheds and depends fully on Cauvery to meet its drinking water needs

Bengaluru is set to experience a serious drinking water crisis much before the onset of the summer season.

The physical water scarcity is originated with the failure of the South-West monsoon reflected in poor storage of water in the KRS dam and much worse is the release of scarce water to Tamil Nadu on the directions of the Supreme Court.

Both natural and judicial factors were virtually not in anybody’s control except managing now the available scarce water to meet the city’s drinking water needs for the next months till the onset of monsoon in June.

Urban drinking water issues mainly concerned with spatial and temporal dynamics of water demand, water supply and water prices indicate that the city faces serious water scarcity in the absence of demand-side management (reduction in water demand), alternative sources of water and efficient water pricing. The urban water policy of the BWSSB is highly twisted towards supply enhancement of drinking water by laying additional pipelines which extract water from the Cauvery river.

However, the demand side management consisting of efficient and equitable supply of water by reducing water loss, theft and inefficient use of water has not been yielding good results. The main reason is that the current drinking water pricing policy of BWSSB is based on average cost of water supply rather than its marginal costs.

Further, water tariffs are subject to political consideration causing a huge difference between the cost of water supply and revenue generated through water tariff. This has negatively impacted on the performance of the BWSSB in terms of water supply efficiency and financial sustainability.

Drinking water woes persist as Bengaluru continuously lost its natural watersheds and now completely depends on Cauvery to meet its drinking water needs. Arkavathi has become a dead river. The two water supply reservoirs, Hesaraghatta and T G Halli, reached dead storage level caused by reduction in green belt areas and change in land use pattern in catchment areas.

The economic cost of water is observed through vanishing of Arkavathi and huge investment made on the Yettinahole water supply project to divert water from Western Ghats to the plains.

The city lakes and ponds have vanished because of rapid development, illegal encroachment and increasing level of water pollution. The city receives 1,400 MLD (million litres per day) of water through various stages of the Cauvery Water Supply Schemes.

Allocation of 19 TMC FT (thousand million cubic feet ) of water by the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal for drinking water needs of Bengaluru has reached its maximum limit with the implementation of the stage IV Phase II in 2012 having installed capacity of 500 MLD.

Meeting additional water needs for the starving city has either come from different water source at high cost or reduction in the water demand in the city through rationing and arresting unaccounted for water (UFW). About 48% of water is UFW which is the highest among the Indian metropolitan cities.

Of the total 1,400 MLD water received, 700 MLD is UFW which needs to be treated as colossal man-made disaster for Bengaluru. The current water availability at 1,400 MLD for city’s 8.5 million population is sufficient to meet the standard of 150 litres per capita daily (LPCD) even if 10% of UFW is taken into consideration.

The economic consequence of the towering UFW is that the average per capita water availability varies from 75 to 80 LPCD which is far less than the WHO stipulated 150 LPCD for cities like Bengaluru. The 48% of UFW is lost during the supply of water to different localities within the city causing a huge financial deficit for BWSSB as non-revenue water. The water coverage in newly added BBMP areas is still a distant dream.

Per capita consumption

The data on ward-wise per capita consumption of water among BBMP wards shows that posh areas like Jayanagar, Malleshwaram, Sadhashivanagar, Banashankari, HSR layout, Vasanth Nagar, Gandhi Nagar receive more than 300 LPCD, whereas many wards on outski-rts of the city receive less than 25 LPCD.

Water theft and unmetered connections are squarely blamed for this unequitable distribution of water among various socio-economic groups in the city. This also indicates that the water subsidy is enjoyed by the rich who consume more than 150 LPCD rather poor who hardly get any water in their taps.

Of the total 5,81,341 water meter connections, 32.2% of connections consume less than 28 LPCD, whereas, 60% connections consume water between 129 and 287 LPCD and the remaining 8% consume whopping more than 500 LPCD. This clearly indicates that cross-subsidisation is not really helping the poor rather the water tariff based on average cost of water supply is enjoyed by the rich. Therefore, fixing of water tariff on marginal cost of water supply for the consumers beyond 150 LPCD will help in improving the financial efficiency of BWSSB.

Further, the demand side management of water by reducing water demand among high water consuming households will help water availability in the water scarce zones or wards. The water rationing and efficient water pricing will ensure efficient water management in terms of reducing water scarcity and preventing potential water conflicts during the summer season. The demand-side management of water policy has been successful in New York city with a paradigm shift in production and consumption patterns.

The production system should use less water input for more output with the provision of water recycling. Production of water-saving taps and toilets will help reduce water flow and save water. The consumption system should use products which consume less water including less foam soaps.

Most importantly, change in behaviour of people towards water as economic and conditionally renewable good will help people use water rationally through slowing the flow of water in taps.

(The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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