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While paying tributes to the phenomenal efforts of our corona warriors, the article focuses on a few aspects of water supply during this period of economic despondency.

By Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd)

The COVID-19 pandemic with its roots in Wuhan; China, shocked the world with a humongous blow. The global community reacted hesitantly at first thinking of it as a Chinese problem, coming as it did in the context of the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Later, however, every country on the planet Earth woke up to the realization of the all-encompassing enormity of the virus spread and tried to impose containment measures. Even as the governments scrambled to declare and enforce country-wide lockdowns and formed national bubbles preventing entry of foreign nationals, the water, power, and sanitation utilities functioned near-normally. This was simply astounding. Given the complexity of living a new-normal life with personal protective apparel and equipment and social distancing, the pandemic age water, power, and sanitation warriors successfully managed water on taps, power in homes, and waste into its receptors. While paying tributes to the phenomenal efforts of these warriors, the author wishes to focus on a few aspects of water supply during this period of economic despondency pervading our morbid biosphere.

The Lockdown Effects
The lockdown effects have been considered only to understand their implications on water supply on tap within the communities. The metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Jaipur, other Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities in the country had imposed full lockdown effective from 22nd March 2020. During this period, all residents were to be confined within the four walls of their homes.

All government offices, private offices, all commercial establishments, all shops and malls, all manufacturing units, all industries, trade and commerce, all modes of local, national, and international travel were fully closed and suspended. All transport came to a grinding halt. Airports, seaports, bus, and train stations were closed.

All construction activity, infrastructure projects, military establishments, were closed. Some establishments started Work-From-Home (WFH) facility for their employees.

Schools, colleges, all educational institutions were closed. All examinations were suspended and re-scheduled.

All religious establishments were closed. All public religious rituals, celebrations, congregations, meetings, and prayers were banned across the country.

All indoor and outdoor sports, games, tournaments, events were scrapped, all gymnasiums and other fitness centers were shut down.

All public parks, recreational areas, playgrounds, beaches, party locales, hospitality and hotels, eateries, and restaurants were closed down.

The Migratory Workers Exodus
At the end of the Lockdown 1.0, the announcement of the continuation of lockdown resulted in chaotic situations in metro cities. The migratory workers living in sub-optimal conditions were anxious to reach their homes in remote areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Andhra, and Telangana. Equally, the residents living in these states were eager for reverse migration to their homes.

Several measures like the introduction of Shramik Special Trains, special bus transportation arrangements were initiated during the Lockdown 2.0 onwards. Millions of skilled and unskilled workers were transported to and fro.

While about 12.00 lakh migrant workers left the city by trains another 8.00 lakh left by buses. A total of about 2.2 million has been accepted all around. Of this total, over 1.7 million can be safely considered having left the MCGM jurisdiction.

Water Supply Case Study
For the purpose of this article, Mumbai City administered by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has been considered. The relevant details of the city are reproduced here.

Mumbai, also known as Bombay is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. According to the United Nations, as of 2018, Mumbai was the second most populous city in India after Delhi and the seventh most populous city in the world with a population of almost 20 million. As per the Indian government population census of 2011, Mumbai was the most populous city in India with an estimated city-proper population of 12.5 million living under Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Mumbai is the center of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, the sixth most populous metropolitan area in the world with a population of over 23 million. Mumbai lies on the Konkan coast on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbor. In 2008, Mumbai was named an alpha world city. It has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires among all cities in India. Mumbai is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, and the city’s distinctive ensemble of Victorian and Art Deco buildings.

Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM)
The formal establishment of Municipal Corporation with 64 members. Taxpayers have the right to vote (Mumbai Act No. 3-1872).

This municipal body which is almost 150 years old is now the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

Among other duties and responsibilities of the MCGM water supply and wastewater management are listed.

The pipe water supply is one of the earliest civic services provided by the Hydraulic Engineer Department, one of the oldest departments of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. It was established under Section 73A of the MMC Act 1888. The main objective of the Hydraulic Engineer department is to operate, maintain and provide water and related services to the citizens of Mumbai. It is also committed to the important task of constantly improving and upgrading the Water Distribution system of Mumbai. The water supply for Mumbai is sourced from 7 different lakes and is treated at 4-Water Treatment Plants as per drinking water standards specified in IS 10500:2012 before being distributed to the citizens. The water is distributed from 2 Master Balancing Reservoir, and 27 Service Reservoirs across the city of Mumbai, and through the maze of 6000 km long distribution network spread all over the city. The complex water supply system of Mumbai has another unique feature that almost entire water supply distribution is by gravity due to typical terrain geography.

The Mumbai Water Supply system is one of the largest in the World and perhaps second-largest in Asia after Tokyo. The Bhandup Water Treatment facility is the largest (capacity) such facility at a single location in Asia. MCGM uses under-ground water supply tunnels ranging from diameter 2200mm to 5500mm totaling in the length of about 100 km to convey raw/ treated water. Daily more than 1000 valves are operated to regulate water supply in 250 water supply zones.

The Citizen Services provided by the Hydraulic Engineer department of the MCGM include distributing water to the population in the MCGM operational limit as per National norms to ensure that the quality of water supplied to Connection Holders each day is in compliance with Indian Standard ISI 10500:2012.

Other services include new connections, billing and bill payments, customer services, disconnection and reconnection, services to slum areas, resolving complaints, disputes, and inquiries related to the water supply department. The water supply requirement of the city is around 3,900 Million Liters per Day (MLD). Currently, only 3,100 MLD of water is supplied for domestic, commercial, and industrial purposes.

Of this quantity, the industrial supply is about 600 MLD. The commercial, institutional, hospitality, business houses, shops and malls, restaurants, public utilities, open areas, and recreational facilities, and all other activities in the city may be considered to consume about 500 MLD water. Railways, transport business, and construction industry consume about 75 to 100 MLD water.

The MCGM population figures are expected to increase to 15.61 million in 2021 as per the Chitale Committee Report. Corresponding to this the demand for water is supposed to increase to 5388 MLD. The gap between demand and supply in 2011 was 680 MLD and is said to increase to 1100 MLD by 2021.

Pandemic Effect on Power Sector Utilities
Diverting temporarily to the power sector, the effect of the pandemic on power consumption and its consequence on power generation and distribution is given in the following account.

The country-wide peak power demand reduced by an average of 20% during the lockdown period.

Delhi’s peak power demand reduced by about 49%.

A spokesperson of Adani Electricity Mumbai said energy consumption has declined by around 30 percent since the lockdown. Of its nearly 30 lakh customers, 80 percent are residential, and the rest commercial and others.

These are indicative trends that were replicated in the other urban centers, metro, and non-metro cities, and other industrialized centers in India. It was widely acknowledged in the public domain that the power generation had gone down to match the reduced consumption.

Water Sector Effects
The water sector utilities involved in operations like the abstraction of water from various sources, the transmission of raw water to treatment plants, operation & maintenance of water treatment plants, treated water pumping and storage in balancing reservoirs and finally, distribution to the bulk and non-bulk consumers were also affected during the pandemic for the same reasons as the power utilities.

The complete closure of industrial production across industrial sectors, complete halt to the educational activity, commercial activity, markets & sales industry, transport & logistics, commerce, trade, and almost all human activity except the fulfillment of basic human sustenance has also had its impact on water consumption.

It can be safely surmised that the entire gamut of operations in the water and wastewater management sector had parallel and similar effects as the power sector. However, in percentage terms, the reduction in treated water production and consumption would vary depending on the local settings and characteristics.

In the metro cities, it can be therefore reasonably assessed that the daily water production and consumption reduced by over 20 to 30%. Correspondingly the wastewater treatment load also reduced by a similar percentage. This reduction would lead to corresponding impacts on the operation and maintenance budgets. It can be safely stated that there was hardly any reduction in the manning and staffing of the utilities during the pandemic as water and wastewater management come under the ESMA.

More light on this aspect can be thrown by the state water supply/ sewerage regulatory bodies and boards. Their inputs will be valuable to assess the overall outcome.

The reduction in expenditure will be pronounced in the cost of consumables and power utilization. The reduction of power consumption of over 30% includes this component of water and wastewater related power saving.

On the revenue side, some reduction in revenue due to non-supply to the high tariff industrial consumers is anticipated. However, this should be quite low as compared to the overall potential savings.

Unintended Consequences
As a result of saving in water consumption, the supply side stocks became less vulnerable to the annual summer woes of mismatch of demand and supply. The water stocks in the sources have been conserved to last longer.

The pristine nature of the water at sources has been restored in many locations. The enhanced bio-diversity has immensely benefitted during the pandemic.

Stock Taking
About 80% of the freshwater stock is utilized annually for agriculture in India. It is the remaining 20% which goes for all other beneficial uses. The Jal Shakti Ministry has embarked upon an ambitious project of Water on Tap for every household. This project requires a national audit of water availability across regions and seasons. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in huge savings in the available water stock in the country.

A beginning can be made in this direction by conducting a rigorous audit of the amount of water saved in metros and non-metro cities, other industrial centers, and by all the bulk water consumers during the pandemic. The audit should also translate into monetary savings accrued to the utilities. The next budgets should be accordingly pruned and the funds may be diverted to the Water on Tap project on a regional and state basis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial savings in available water stock across the country. An audit of such savings and its fiscal and monetary implications should be conducted state-wise. This will provide insights into the water and wastewater management strategies employed by all the water and wastewater utilities. The savings accrued may be utilized to offset the costs of new and augmentation projects in the water sector.

About the Author

Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd) is the Technical Director at Tandon Urban Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai. An army veteran and a Civil Engineer from VNIT Nagpur with a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering (with Honors) from IIT Roorkee, he has over 45 years of professional experience. His 22 years stint in the Army, Corps of Engineers, included the construction of water treatment plants and the design of several sewerage and sewage treatment projects for military, naval and air stations.

Later, he has worked on many projects in water and wastewater management including design and execution of rural and urban water supply and sanitation schemes, the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project (1998), construction of the BWSSB Water Treatment Plant of 300 MLD (2000 -01) and the first Chennai Metro-water Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant of 100 MLD (2007). He has led design teams for several industrial wastewaters to recycle projects for automobiles and textiles industries.

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