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By Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd.)

A well-meaning water professional posed a question on a professional social media platform:

“What could drive the global water industry?

His own answer was: Scarcity, infrastructure investment, and disruptive deregulation.”

He elaborated on it saying that the scarcity drives innovation by powering the technology R&D programs to increase water supply and improve water system efficiency…

Infrastructure investment catalyzes economic development with a Return on Investment of 3.3 to 1 (USA)…

Disruptive deregulation of the water market remains the big unknown yet, the deregulation with an incentive to energize the water industry, freeing the water market, open opportunities to new ideas, infra-solutions and thereby attract private investments.

While being in full agreement with his hypotheses, for a market-driven economy in the developed segment of our globe, I strongly feel that Water is neither a market nor an industry for about 4 billion human beings around the globe. For them, it is a matter of day to day survival. In this realm water is a basic need for living, scarcity is constant, and providing water a welfare issue.

This brings me to my Tale of the Two Worlds.

Can we divide the water innovations into two parts? The first part being the Water Industry of the West and North; and the second part for the Welfare Water of the South and the East.

After all, when the dust settles on the terms like markets, industry, innovations, ROI, regulation, economy (circular or rectangular or linear) we are left either with plentiful water where it is available or with Day Zero (where it is not) and nothing in-between.

Water World #1
The water industry world leaves us puzzled. This world boasts of a free economy water market, adequate and modern water infrastructure, big-data driven, fully-automated fail-safe water utility operations, focused research and development of products, processes, and services to eliminate any and every threatening pathogen, virus, complex long-chain chemicals, and all manner of contaminants to provide safe water for Direct Potable Reuse (DPR).

This same water market also has another side.

Seth Siegel, author of Troubled Water: What’s Wrong With What We Drink; points out that in this world a large number of consumers opt for bottled water. While people do trust their tap water about 24% of people never drink it!

In this developed water world No. 1:

The data provided by reveals that the global bottled market size was around $238 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $349 billion in 2021, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.99% during 2017-2021.

Another source reveals that the revenue in the Bottled Water segment amounts to US$274 Billion in 2020. The market is expected to grow annually by 7.5% (CAGR 2020-2025).In global comparison, most revenue is generated in the United States (US$61 Billion in 2020).In relation to total population figures, per person revenues of US$36.81 are generated in 2020. The average per capita consumption stands at 59.8 L in 2020 and the Average Revenue per Capita (2020) (-7.4% y-o-y) US$36.81!

The report published by says that the total bottled water volume grew 3.6% globally in 2019 to 14.35 billion gallons from 13.85 billion gallons in 2018, according to data released on May 19th by Beverage Marketing Corp. Annual per capita consumption of 43.7 gallons in 2019 was up 3.1% from 42.4 gallons.

So much for this secure water world No. 1, where safe drinking water is available in plenty but is bad for the bottled water business which is growing in leaps and bounds, regardless.

My feeling is that Scarcity, Infrastructure Investment, and Disruptive Deregulation is not likely to make waves in this world!

Water World #2
The water and sanitation status of this world triggered the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goal-6. In this world water scarcity and Day Zero are the clear and present dangers. Water shortages undercut food security and the incomes of rural farmers while improving water management makes national economies, the agriculture, and food sectors more resilient to rainfall variability and meet the needs of a growing population.

Sustainable management of water resources and access to safe water and sanitation are essential to unlock economic growth and productivity in this world. The threatened ecosystems of forests, soils, and wetlands govern water quantity and quality. The resilience of watersheds and investments in water infrastructure is inadequate. Institutional and regulatory arrangements for water access, use, and disaster preparedness do not exist or can’t be enforced. Water ecosystems and biodiversity are under constant threat and affect water purification and quality.

The SDG-6 targets 6.1 to 6.b relate to this water world and countries like India.

A few startling facts about India: In 2015, about 44% population had access to basic sanitation comprising 65% in urban areas and 34% in rural areas. Between 2015 and 2019, the Government of India -in a mission mode -built around 110 million toilets across the country, due to which the basic sanitation coverage went up from 38.7% to 93.3% in 2019.

For the water sector, the Estimates Committee of the Indian Parliament (2015) observed that piped water supply was available to only 47% of rural habitations, out of which only 15% had household tap connections. The Jal Jeevan Mission,2019; of the Govt. of India aims to provide safe and adequate drinking water on individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural India.

The program will also implement source sustainability measures, recharge and reuse through grey-water management, water conservation, and rain water harvesting. The community approach of the mission includes extensive Information Education and Communication (IEC) as a key component.

As of 2nd December 2020, of the total 172 million rural households, over 59.4 million households have been provided safe water on tap (website dashboard). The mission goals are expected to be achieved by 2024. The mission will be realized with a capital outlay of INR 360.00 Billion.

India is thus one country tackling sanitation goals, water scarcity, infrastructure investment, and disruptive deregulation as a package. Local reclamation and reuse of water is a major part of the strategy.

Unfortunately, other developing nations – already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, face severe resources crunch and will have to deal with water crises simultaneously.

As the Water World 1 with Water World 2 lurches in step from 2020 to 2021, tackling the fresh and ferocious pandemic winter assault; our Water World 2 stares at the daunting prospect of empty pockets to overcome the oncoming summer and wide-spread water shortage.

Some alleviation is feasible through wastewater reclamation and reuse projects of what little water is available locally (at a reasonable cost) instead of the CAPEX intensive freshwater projects on the anvil.

But is anybody even thinking about it??

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 many sewerage and sewage treatment projects for military, naval, and air stations.

Later, he has worked on many projects in water and wastewater management including the 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.


Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi will be speaking at the upcoming SWWW Webinar on 12th January 2021 (5:30 PM IST) titled: MasterClass on Smart Water Reclamation & Reuse – Experiences from India & USA.
His session is on: Water Reclamation and Reuse – The India Story.
Click here to register-for-free and attend his session:

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