April 15, 2019

As summer arrives, Urban Odisha gets scared about water

With a projected population nearing 9.40 lakhs, as per India Population 2019, Bhubaneswar has the reputation of being the hottest city of the country. With the monsoon trend delaying by almost one month, the worry for the urban dwellers of the state is the possible water scarcity they have to face soon as they have been facing for many years

Summer has arrived in Odisha. Most of the state now experiences temperature above 35 degrees. In between mercury in Bhubaneswar crossed 39 degrees. Parts of the state experience temperature above 40 degrees even before middle of April. According to weather forecaster SkyMet, there has been a rising trend in temperatures in April and its continuation in May is likely to pave way for intense heat before the onset of Monsoon.

Basing upon the past experiences, the Odisha government has issued an advisory and implemented a state level Heat Action Plan (HAP) to combat any situation of extreme heat this summer. The government has instructed all concerned departments to see that drinking water facilities are in proper condition to avoid any issue in this regard.

“These are all short term measures taken by the government every year when the summer comes,” says Tapan Kumar Padhi, Director of Water Programme at Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC). “Bhubaneswar facing increasing water stress year by year, the question is, where from the water is to be drawn to supply to the growing population in the city? The primary water sources are under severe stress!”

Water-stressed Bhubaneswar

Understanding Water Flows in Bhubaneswar, a report jointly published by Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBF) and Development Alternatives says, “The city is surrounded by rivers- Dayanadi in the South, Kuakhai in the East, and Mahanadi in the North. The rivers Daya and Kuakhai are not perennial and hence have low discharge during summers, thereby necessitating supplementation from Mahanadi or groundwater sources.”

Contributed by experts from various government departments with their inputs on water situation in the capital city, the report also points out that the city has a High Baseline Water Stress (BWS) of more than 80 per cent, meaning 80 per cent of the total water available is being withdrawn annually for human consumption. Given that there is a lack of sufficient ground water recharge to meet the requirement of depleting ground water table, as the aforesaid report mentions, the water scenario is going to be worse in coming years.

The quality of water is another issue. Water quality monitoring of river Kuakhai in Smart City Bhubaneswar, observes that “water quality of this river in all seasons conformed to class-D.” Such quality of water is unfit for human consumption even after disinfection but can be used for fish culture and wild life propagation, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) norms. A 2018 letter from the State Pollution Control Board, Odisha, to the Housing and Urban Development Department also marked the quality of water flowing through Kuakhai, Daya and Gangua rivers as unsuitable for human consumption. When water sources like rivers and water bodies do not remain reliable for supply of drinking water, this usually leads to overexploitation of ground water sources in order to fulfil the demand. According to the DA-HBF report, 209.1 MLD (Million liters per day) of surface water and 56.9 MLD of ground water is extracted for consumption in Bhubaneswar.

Further exploitation would lead to acute water crisis as, reports say, the trend of groundwater level between 2006 and 2015 showed a decrease in the level during pre-monsoon season, between January and April. In parts of the city, the depletion is by close to one meter during the given decade. On the other hand, with the surface of the city transforming into a concrete floor, “there is a lack of sufficient ground water recharge to meet the requirement of depleting ground water table,” says the DA-HBF report.

Measures initiated

In order to deal with the issue of increasing water stress and to ensure supply of safe drinking water, piped water supply network is expanded up to a length of 1,133 km under nine major zones and 88 sub-zones. Total daily water supply in the city comprises 209 million liters of freshwater and 56.9 million liters of ground water keeping average supply per capita per day between 218 and 248 liters. But this seems to be insufficient in cases of non-availability of adequate water at sources.

While one of the goals of the Smart City Proposal of Bhubaneswar focuses on adequate water supply including wastewater recycling and storm water re-use, this is yet to see proper execution of plans to ensure that. For effective management and consistent supply of water, Bhubaneswar plans to reduce the average supply of 248 lpcd (litre per capita per day) to 135 lpcd by bringing down the current level of 35 per cent non-revenue water to 15 per cent through municipal reforms under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) programme.

Besides, in order to ensure supply of safe drinking water in the slums, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation has facilitated setting of water ATMs under an agreement with Piramal Sarvajal for a period of five years. However, with only 40 such automated water vending machines installed in equal number of slums where uptake possibility is high, rest of Bhubaneswar’s 437 authorised slums are still deprived of this facility.

Provisions of Odisha’s state urban water supply policy 2013, which envisions to provide universal access to potable piped water supply on 24/7 basis at an affordable price are yet to be fulfilled

Situation in other cities

Water situation in other major urban dwellings is equally disturbing. As rivers and water bodies are under tremendous threat because of human activities as well as global warming induced climate change, dwellers of almost every small and big town of Odisha are facing water scarcity. Water supply system in Brahmapur is in a state of disarray. During summer, people have to live 2-3 days without any supply of water. The long awaited Janibili water project meant to address the water issues of Brahmapur is yet to deliver the benefits even though it is inaugurated before completion, said Aniruddha, a city based hotelier highlighting that “when there is no water for days together, we don’t have any choice but to use and consume any quality of water we get.”

With a number of hotels, guesthouses, dharmshalas to accommodate thousands of visitors every day and lakhs during important religious occasions, Puri, the city of religious pilgrimage for being the place of Sri Jagannath temple, has to toil under acute water scarcity during summer and other seasons as well. Depending on two major sweet-water aquifers for potable water, Puri may exhaust all the water stored for human consumption in a decade, apprehends Priya Ranjan Das, a journalist who has worked on city’s water situation.

In general, provisions of Odisha’s state urban water supply policy 2013, which envisions to provide universal access to potable piped water supply on 24/7 basis at an affordable price and in an equitable, sustainable and eco-friendly manner with verifiable service level benchmark for citizens in urban areas of the state, are yet to be fulfilled in almost all the urban dwellings of the state.

Despite the fact that water scarcity during the summer has been a regular affair across the state, measures to deal with the issue have always been of short term vision, says Tapan Padhi underlining that the priority should be on restoring and rejuvenating the sources wherefrom the city draws the water. “Unless the rivers are in good health and ground water sources are recharged properly, the issue is going to gather more energy and people are going to face terrible water scarcity in the coming days.” Proper management of water extraction and distribution as well as educating people on fair and judicious use of the resource are equally important if we want stay safe in terms of water security across urban Odisha, Padhi insists.

This article first appeared on Urban Update.

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