A new water policy: let’s get it right

In December 2017, the Karnataka Knowledge Commission announced that a task force would be set up for a new state water policy. It was a welcome move but in the backdrop of the fact that the state announced three new policies and strategies impacting different parts of the water cycle in 2017 alone. The Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Policy, the Urban Waste Water Reuse Policy and the State Sanitation Strategy of Karnataka, all look at waste-water management and re-use, but are different policies.

The upcoming state water policy thus has the opportunity to provide an overarching umbrella to establish complementarities between existing policies, strategies and planning instruments such as those mentioned above. It is crucial that the new policy aligns with the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach.

The IWRM approach stresses on aligning plans and activities for water resource management with ecosystem services for human settlements, industrial, agricultural and other economic water usage. It also plans for land and natural resource management at a river basin level.

The approach advocates a strategy that is cognisant of the multiple stakeholders in a watershed and also stresses on laying down mechanisms that clarify who, at what level, and how water management strategies need to be implemented. Implementing IWRM is one of the targets under the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water.

A cursory look at Karnataka’s current policies and institutional paradigms indicate well-intentioned policies but with visible gaps, especially in implem­entation. For instance, the State Water Policy (2002) recommended the establishment of a State Water Resources Board, the role of which would be to facilitate IWRM. Such a board has not been constituted yet.

More recently, the State Urban Waste Water Reuse policy (2017) explicitly advocated the preparation of Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) plans by urban centres. However, it does not clarify multiple aspects, such as whether these plans would complement a river basin-level IWRM plan and the agency responsible for plan preparation.

This lacuna can be found across regions. For instance, all the states adjoining Karnataka, except Telangana, have state water policies with multi-sectoral, integrated and river basin-level planning as a key objective. However, none of them specify institutional mechanisms or planning considerations in case of inter-state river basins such as Cauvery and Krishna. This has led to differential planning by various states over the same river
basin, ultimately defeating the essence of an IWRM approach.

An IWRM plan is specifically significant under the National Water Policy 2012, which suggests preparation of a river basin plan to guide water management in all settlements in a river basin. Achieving the objective of both national and state-level policies essentially entails convergence of all relevant policy mandates, clear institutional responsibilities and coordinated interventions by different agencies. Given these imperatives, the new state water policy must prioritise constitution of a State Water Board that will provide overarching guidance to water resources planning and management in the state.

Further, it needs to create a clear hierarchy of water plans at different regional scales (state, river basin, IUWM at city/town scale, water security plans at village scale, etc), along with suggesting an integration mechanism between them.

An integrated water-management approach for a river basin should consider the regional scale of a circular economy. This would ensure economic feasibility of recycle and reuse of both liquid and solid waste generated from sanitation systems, especially for smaller cities. Similarly, at the city-level, the IUWM plan can be the overarching guiding document for urban water supply, sanitation, solid waste, storm water and waste water management for a city.

The Master Plan is the only statutory plan document for a city. From an implementation perspective, revisions in relevant acts and regulatory guidelines can help embed the IUWM approach into the Master Plan.

Lack of periodic data on water demand and waste water generation by different sectors is a major drawback in understanding the impact on water resources. Such periodic data can also help to identify cross-sectoral synergies within an urban area and also in a watershed, which can play a role in checking water-stress.

Mandating periodic measurement of these parameters in the new state policy can be a step towards bridging these gaps. This data can also directly feed into water balance studies for different spatial units, which is an essential component of sustainable water planning. The new state policy can provide for the development of a State Water Observatory where this data can be fed and show spatial analyses of water resources vis-a-vis water demand in a region.

Competing priorities of multiple stakeholders concerning water need to be managed while working towards a common vision of a water-secure future. Integrating the IWRM approach to the new state water policy will help achieve this objective and ensure that water management is efficient and sustainable.

(Gayathri is Research Analyst and Shrimoyee, Senior Research Scientist, CSTEP)

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A new water policy: let’s get it right

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