THE EFFICIENT MANAGEMENT OF SCARCE WATER RESOURCES

Statistics show that the scarcity of water affects over 40% of the world’s population and this value is only going to rise as the temperature rises. Currently, more than 1.7 billion people live in river basins, where water consumption exceeds water recharge. For this consumption to be sustainable, we have to seriously think about the efficient management of our water resources. 

Water Down the Drain

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A study done by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that almost 25-30% of India’s piped water is going to waste. This is a startling figure for a country that has several drought-stricken states facing an ongoing water shortage crisis. Civic body officials say that not only does leakage from pipes waste water and money, but it also wreaks havoc in the overall management of the water network. Presently, leakages tend to go unnoticed as the pipes carrying the water are buried deep underground. Companies and governments are working on various technological advances to prevent this water from being wasted. 

One such management technique is Helium Leak Testing which has an accuracy of about 90%. In this technique, helium gas is introduced to the water pipes. If the pipe has leakages, the helium carried by the water will rise to the surface, since helium is lighter than air. As the concentration of helium in the atmosphere is very small, it can be detected accurately. 

Another method adopted by a Spanish company ACCIONA, in Madrid, is the use of carbon fibre pipes to help reduce leakages. Their idea was to build a new carbon fibre pipe inside an existing damaged water pipe. 

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The technique enables water mains to be upgraded without the need for excessive digging and traffic disruptions. This system not only halves the time taken to repair a pipe but also reduces the environmental impact on the surroundings since no heavy machinery is required. Carbon fibre pipes are known to have greater resistance than normal pipes and have a useful life of about 40 years.

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Groundwater Overexploitation

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Overexploitation occurs when water is mined at a rate that exceeds its recharge rate. India, the biggest user of groundwater, has seen a decrease in groundwater levels by 61% as stated by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) in 2017. This is mainly due to the rapid population expansion, industrialization, urbanization, and to make matters worse, inadequate rainfall that cannot replenish the groundwater sources. The overexploited areas are mostly concentrated in the northwestern part of the country including parts of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh, the western part of the country, particularly in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the southern part of peninsular India including parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. However, the government is actively working on management practices like groundwater augmentation and conservation measures like rainfall harvesting and desalination to improve the groundwater situation.

Water Scarcity

As more and more countries are facing water scarcity due to droughts and desertification, the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems are essential. The United Nations (UN) has reported that by 2050, at least one in four people will suffer recurring water shortages.

This has led to the formulation of their Sustainable Development Goals, which include the need to substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors, and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity. With these goals in mind, they came up with the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) policy—a method for the efficient, equitable, and sustainable development and management of the world’s limited water resources. Using its carefully crafted development objectives, IWRM will use a holistic approach towards promoting the development and management of water with social and economic welfare in mind without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

Unpredictable Rainfall 

The monsoon season in India delivers about 70% of rainfall to India’s farmland. For the past five years, different regions have been suffering from a lack of rainfall leading to delayed planting of summer-sown crops by farmers. Of the 36 states and union territories in the country, 31 were facing a rainfall deficit increase of 25%. Further, 16% were facing a rainfall deficit of 40%. Among the states, Manipur, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra were suffering from the greatest deficits of 61%, 60%, and 57% respectively. 

Although, this year, India has witnessed plentiful rains in August which have helped breach many rainfall records. The problem, however, lies in the fact that states like Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh received above-normal rainfall in which 200 people lost their lives due to various rain-related incidents in August. This is especially troubling since Himachal not only received above-normal rainfall, but it received the highest 24-hour rainfall in 70 years on the 18th of August

This is a troubling trend that is showing us a variability in terms of extreme rainfall events. We will now have to learn to adapt to this “new” normal. The main way to do that is through an increase in water conservation efforts.

One such conservation effort is the collection and storage of rainwater at the surface or sub-surface aquifer before it is lost as surface runoff. This is commonly known as rainwater harvesting and is a vital resource that can help us artificially recharge our groundwater reservoirs in water-scarce areas. At the moment, only 8% of all the rainfall in India is being utilized or harvested. Although cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad have laws regarding rainwater harvesting, authorities have failed to regularly check on-ground implementation.

Rainwater harvesting will be useful in the prevention of soil erosion and flood hazards. In urban areas, rainwater harvesting can be done either as rooftop rainwater or storm runoff harvesting through a recharge pit, recharge trench, tube well, or recharge well. In rural areas, rainwater harvesting can be done through groundwater dams, recharge shafts, or percolation tanks. By popularizing rainwater harvesting through drives that will increase awareness and giving incentives for housing societies that comply with rainwater harvesting policies set by the state, more people will be drawn towards its importance and necessity.

Farming Habits

The Water Footprint Network is an interactive tool that can help you see your water footprint and the footprint of your country. India, as a whole, has a total water footprint of 1,100,000 million m3/year, and the average consumer in India has a footprint of 1089 m3/year. With 91% of our freshwater used in the agricultural and farming sector, we have to understand the potential impact of farming on water productivity. The table below summarizes the water used in litres for the production of 1 kilogram of crops and meat. 

ProductLitre per Kilogram
Sugar Crops197
Vegetables322
Starchy Roots387
Fruits962
Cereals1644
Oil Crops2364
Pulses4055
Nuts9063
Milk1020
Eggs3265
Chicken Meat4325
Butter5553
Pig Meat5988
Sheep/Goat Meat8763
Bovine Meat15415

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This data will help us understand the need to transition to better crop irrigation techniques like drip irrigation, and organic mulching to utilize water more consciously. As individuals, we have to do our part to stop water wastage and overexploitation and manage our scarce water resources effectively.

It is up to us to conserve water, small lifestyle changes can go a long way to help preserve this finite commodity. Check pipes and faucets in your kitchen and toilet regularly for leaks. You can also install water-saving showerheads or flow restrictors in your house to reduce your water consumption. Support local and international initiatives that stress the importance of water management and conservation. Invest in rainwater harvesting techniques in your house and neighbourhood. Try and source your food locally and raise awareness about the need for using better irrigation techniques. Vote for political parties that insist on implementing efficient water management policies. Because it is only when each of us comes together to support a cause that we will be able to achieve our desired results.

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