Meeting with Prof. Mohan Kumar

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Prof. Mohan Kumar, http://cistup.iisc.ernet...., Civil Engineering Dept., IISc

Participants: Shekhar Mittal, Deepak Rajanna, Manjari Vishnoi

The agenda of this meeting was to share the vision and approach of the Praja Water Index project with Prof. Mohan and to get his feedback and guidance. The feedback from Prof. Mohan was as follows

  • Out of the areas identified for metrics collection, prioritize and concentrate on two categories. His recommendation was to focus on "Pipe water" and "Ground water".
  • For the metrics collection, narrow down on one or two of the BWSSB zones for the initial pilot instead of targeting the entire city.
  • Work on an approach that aims at partnering with the BWSSB, such that the data analysis and the index calculation can serve as constructive feedback to the authorities.
  • Employ statisticians and economists to draw inferences from the raw data and to assign appropriate weights to the individual metrics that constitute the index. In this regard, contact Prof. Parthasarathy from CiSTUP, who is understood to have been working on a similar project related to water supply in Bangalore.
  • BWSSB has 7000 wells all over Bangalore under its control. The quantitative metrics from these wells (which may not be in digitized form, currently), may serve as good seed data for the ground water analysis.

Other interesting pieces of information that he shared with us 

  • Given the rapid expansions that Bangalore has seen, BWSSB has actually performed commendably in keeping pace with the growing demand. From an objective view, they have been quite visionary in their planning of the various Cauvery distribution stages.
  • The problems of pollution and mismanaged water that we see in Bangalore are not unlike those faced by the US and Japan in the 70s, and by Korea in the 80s. Given the increased prosperity, know-how and public participation, there's no reason we won't set our in house in order very soon.

Some trivia that he sprinkled into our discussions, that I think merit a mention

  • There are an estimated 1.2 million wells in Bangalore
  • Almost 90% of the water supplied in the Bayern region in Germany comes from underground sources.
  • Australia is one of the countries experimenting with a dual-supply system where recycled water is circulated in a parallel distribution system to be used for non-drinking purposes.

Folks, please add if I've left out anything.


Sewage in Storm water drain issue

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I have known for some time that Sewage going in storm water is one serious issue we face. But it was a black box for me. I had a lot of questions.

1. Is my sewage going in storm water drain(SWD) ?

2. When people construct new houses do they just drain their waste in SWD instead of Sewage infrastructure.

3. Why is it so difficult to fix? Why dont we just penalise the culprits!

In my own words, this is what the Prof explained.

If we think about it, it is the area around these huge drains that stays vacant/empty when the rest of the city is undergoing rapid construction. Isn't it obvious that therefore, this will be the area where urban slums will come up. In a lot of the cases, these slums share one of their boundary walls with these SWDs. So where will all the waste which these slums generate go?

For me it was a Eureka moment!

@Deepak: Anything else you want to add?




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 2. When people construct new houses do they just drain their waste in SWD instead of Sewage infrastructure.

In most layouts there are sewage pipes and houses will connect their sewage outlets to these pipes. BWSSB is agency which has to maintain these pipes and the sewage that flows through it. As noted by Mr. Thippeswamy, sewage treatment was not given much importance until sometime back and as a result the sewage treatment capacity in the city is very low. BWSSB has no other option but to directly discharges the sewage into storm water drains, which inturn enters the lake/river systems. 

In spite of the low treatment capacity, i strongly suspect that the current capacity is grossly underutilized. The sewage treatment plant near Nagawara lake on ORR is not being used to it full capacity (or probably is not being used at all) for many years now. The sewage that flows right next the plant (again in an open storm water drain), partially enters the Nagawara and Hebbal lakes. 

We should definitely file an RTI to get the utilization details of this plant. 

Reg slums and SWD

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 I think slums get a bum rap for sewage flowing in storm water drains.  I agree with the fact that some slums that come up along the SWD do put their sewage into these drains.  However, there are other acknowledged reasons that you can find in BWSSB documents themselves.

1. The sewage network in Bangalore is restricted to the core areas.  Where I live, majority of the areas except for some pockets do not have sewerage facilities.  In such areas, people pour sewage into the storm water drains.

2. Sewage pipeline, where they exist  in Bangalore are gravity driven (not pumped).  They have also been laid right besides the storm water drains which are along the natural valleys in our topography.  The sewage pipeline unfortunately get blocked, backup, leak and in some sections are not buried with the required slope resulting in backflow or a stagnation point.  When these pipes leak, let out sewage - everything spills into SWD.

3. To fix this problem is not really that difficult - but it will need an enormous investment of money along the scale of what we are spending for flyovers and such.  There is a need for new and upgraded sewage pipelines in the old areas, new sewage network in the new areas, treatment plants, adjusting the billing to cover the cost of sewage treatment that is inadequately covered in the current scheme.

Unfortunately, sewage like garbage is an unsexy topic; and most poeple are unaware and do not care. Fix the sewage problem and half the problems with our lakes will go away.

Measuring vulnerability.

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Not sure if it was Prof Mohan who suggested this - but an interesting exercise would be to quantify how vulnerable our present infrastructure and system of production, distribution etc are  to elements beyond our immediate control - such as rapid expansion leading to greater stress on water sources, pipe bursts, etc.

Assigning a cost to these 'what-ifs' is a proactive way to uncover the underlying fragility of our system and work towards preventive solutions. Should certainly work out cheaper than a reactive approach in the long run, shouldn't it?

My thoughts exactly

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 We should have a method to quantify (1) Reliability /vulnerability of supply.  The recent disruption was proof enough. (2) Also, a method of factoring in quality of infrastructure / transport and distribution.