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KC Valley project: A costly experiment on people

Water in Lakshmisagar Lake at Narasapura in Kolar taluk has already turned green. An excavator removes hyacinth from the water on Friday. dh photo/chiranjeevi kulkarni

Dasappa, the 72-year-old waterman at Rajakallahalli in Kolar taluk, said he can’t wait for the treated wastewater from Bengaluru to reach the village tank. “No matter how smelly it is, we want it. It becomes pure when it goes into the ground,” he said.

The waterman is responsible for supplying water to about 800 houses. The village has a lone reverse osmosis plant which gets water from the borewell in Doddaagrahara, 1.5 km away. “Only 20-30 people get water. Others go to neighbouring villages and some wait for the borewell to pump again after a gap of several hours. When water doesn’t come, they get disappointed or angry. I’m tired of seeing all this and hope that our tank will be filled soon,” he said.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Supreme Court lifting the stay on the release of secondary treated sewage water to Koramangala and Challaghatta Valley (KC Valley) has brought a sense of victory to officials in Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Minor Irrigation Department. They have also got a letter of appreciation from Speaker of the
Legislative Assembly K R Ramesh Kumar, for their efforts.

In between, those who expressed doubts about the quality of water were silenced. Indian Institute of Science (IISc) professor T V Ramachandra faced the risk of personal attack for his report which exposed that the water released from the sewage treatment plant is contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals. In Kolar, protests were held and an effigy of Anjaneya Reddy of Shashwatha Neeravari Horata Samithi was burnt for questioning the government’s claim that the water is fit for groundwater recharging.

The move to recharge groundwater by filling tanks of two districts, Kolar and Chikkaballapura, rendered dry by a truant monsoon has been welcomed by all. However, the lack of a policy framework behind the design and implementation of the project has been a major concern among activists like Reddy.

Violation of norms

“The only guideline that is closely related to the project is in the Union government’s Manual on Sewerage and Sewage treatment, which has been violated by the project. Groundwater is the only source of water for the two districts. If heavy metals and chemicals contaminate it, where should we go? We want KC Valley water, but it should be treated correctly,” he said.

The guideline stipulates denitrification and tertiary treatment to remove inorganic compounds. It proposes running of the treated water “over 20 km and a 65-metre fall in a river course”. Thereafter, it will be put through dual media and activated carbon filtration followed by ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis membranes.

Over the last five months, the officials had come under pressure when the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court stayed the release of treated water. In March, a report from two IISc scientists, led by Prof H N Chanakya, played a major role in lifting the stay.

The two scientists based their opinion on the reports of tests on “single grab sample” of the water given by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board. They ruled out pollution from heavy metals, which were at “permissible levels”.

However, they noted: “In India, there are no water quality standards for indirect recharge (of groundwater) from secondary treated water.” Prof Chanakya also recommended that “periodic monitoring, lab testing, documentation and reporting mechanism needs to be implemented through credible third-party observers.”

People who were caught between doubt and desperation have finally embraced the latter, which is reflected in the fact that villagers of Mallasandra in Kolar taluk refused to vote on April 18 unless the government promised to fill their tank with treated sewage (see Page 4). Dasappa is a mild example of people who are ready to take ‘any kind of water’.

The present setup of the sewage treatment plants is not equipped to filter nitrogen and phosphate. “The nutrients in water can turn into nitrates and nitrites, whose variants have been classified as carcinogenic. The proliferation of phosphate in the recipient lake will lead to eutrophication, where plants like hyacinths and other weeds occupy the lake,” sources in KSPCB said. BWSSB officials, however, said the water from the sewage treatment plant (STP) conforms to the standards set by KSPCB. “We are ready for an inspection at any point of time. The results will prove that the STP’s water is clean,” a senior official added.

The KSPCB official termed it a “blunder” to take water in a pipe and release it directly into the Lakshmisagar Lake. “If they had taken the water in an open channel, the chemicals would have been reduced by the natural process,” he added.

Faecal coliform

Sources said the reports submitted by the government to the Supreme Court did not specify how they plan to treat faecal coliform.

“Faecal coliform is a tricky matter, which can lead to complications. The government has set a limit of 200 Faecal Coliform per 100 ml. However, slightest changes in chlorination process will lead to multiplication of the bacteria. When it is pumped to Kolar in pipes, the water may cause health problems. Continous checks are needed to ensure the quality of water is not compromised,” the source said.

BWSSB stopped pumping water to KC Valley following reports of froth in water. “We took a voluntary decision to stop flow of water to ensure there is no contamination. Water from Bellandur lake breached the STP wall. The pipes have been cleaned now and water is clean too,” an official said.

Asked whether there is risk of another breach, the official said the Minor Irrigation Department, which looks after the lake, was building a wall to ensure no such incidents happen in the monsoon.

Asked why an environment impact assessment, including long-term effects, was not carried out before going ahead with the project, BWSSB chairman Tushar Girinath pointed out that they were responsible only for the STP, which was operating as per the guidelines laid down by the KSPCB.

Minor Irrigation Department Secretary C Mruthyunjaya Swamy said the Union government has given a circular clarifying that groundwater recharging projects do not require such studies. “No heavy metals have been found in the latest test report. The nitrate and phosphate will be removed after water starts flowing from Lakshmisagar Lake to Uddappanahalli and then to other tanks on the network,” he said.

Some of the officials in Kolar refused to speak on the issue. Most of those who did speak said the water will be purified during the percolation process.

The few who didn’t believe in the government’s words said Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy had promised to release water after tertiary treatment. Sources close to the chief minister could not confirm the statement but said a meeting will be called to address the issues.

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