Water Smart Mumbai is possible without river links and big dams! Open Letter to CM Devendra Fadnavis

Above: Forested Valley, now lost forever for the Middle Vaitarna Dam Photo: Parineeta Dandekar 

Respected Chief Minister,

At the outset we congratulate you for leading some progressive changes in the Water Resources Department of the State. These include decisions about continuing only with those dam projects which are more than 75% complete[1], appointment of independent people with a clean image like Shri. H.T. Mendhegiri as CADA Chief Secretary, changing norms of Economic Survey Report[2], stating that only hoarding water will not be counted towards increase in irrigation potential, etc.

That said, we were disappointed to read your take on the development roadmap for Mumbai published in 3rd January 2015 edition of Indian Express[3]: while you listed out most of the challenges the city is facing and the solutions that can be devised, you glossed over the most important issue of water! It was mentioned just once in the entire write up! As you know, it is the absence of adequate, clean and reliable drinking water & confidence inspiring water governance that is one of the biggest challenges faced by Mumbai and Mumbaikars: especially the poor.

In the past year, we have analysed Mumbai’s water supply, water availability, demand and access scenario and would like to share our perspective with you.

Please find attached a report Dams in tribal belt of Western Ghats for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region: Unjustified projects when better options exist[4] with a foreword by Prof. Madhav Gadgil which talks about these and other issues in detail.  NDTV had hosted a show based on the findings of this report[5], in which MCGM Commissioner Shri. Sitaram Kunte and MMRDA Metropolitan Commissioner Shri. UPS Madan agreed that Mumbai is not exploiting simpler solutions to its water crisis, that water inefficiency, transmission and distribution losses are major issues and that large dams should not be supported because of their impacts & since better options exist.

Valley to be submerged by Bhugad Dam, part of Damanganga Pinjal Link Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Valley to be submerged by Bhugad Dam, part of Damanganga Pinjal Link Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Tribals affected by Damanganga Pinjal Link Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Tribals affected by Damanganga Pinjal Link Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

As you know, MMR region is demanding more dams for water supply of Mumbai. There are 12 such dams on the anvil in Western Ghats of Maharashtra ( including three dams of the Damanganga-Pinjal Link), which will together displace more than 100,000 tribals, submerge 22,000 hectares of land, including nearly 7000 hectares of forest land and 750 hectares of Tansa Sanctuary!

Forests to be submerged by Gargai Dam Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Forests to be submerged by Gargai Dam Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Surely, this is a huge social, ecological and economic cost to pay for Mumbai’s Thirst. But have we exhausted all available options before barging on this trajectory? Can this be considered as ‘Smart’ by any yardstick?

Please take a minute to consider this reality:

  • There is no actual supply shortfall at source for MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) MCGM is supplied with 3520 MLD water at source and with a population of 12.47 Million, its consumption is 686 MLD for slums and 1297 MLD for non-slum population, which comes to a total of 1983 MLD. Hence the supply of 3520 MLD at source is much higher than the total actual demand! Even if we consider 260 MLD water for commercial and industrial uses and 120 MLD en route supply, there is an additional 1157 MLD water that should be available. In effect, 32.86% of the current water supplied at source is unaccounted for. Even if we assume leakages to the tune of 25% supply at the source (which is very high, should not be more than 5-10%), we still have 7.86% water supplied that is unaccounted for. This means 880 MLD of water, nearly equal to two large dams Mumbai is planning to build!
  • Exaggerated Demand Projections (4240 MLD?!) It is being officially stated (parroted) that the demand of water for MCGM is in fact 4240 MLD and that there is a current shortfall of at least 720 MLD water. This figure of 4240 MLD demand is based on 240 lpcd (liters per capita per day) water supply, used by the Chitale Committee report of 1999. 240 lpcd water supply is unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable and is extremely high even by international standards!
  • MMR Municipal Corporations are wasteful and inefficient in their water use Although the MMR Municipal Corporations are vociferously demanding for more water, the way they are managing the available resources does not justify these demands.
  • With the exception of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, other corporations are not treating even 15% of their sewage. Some Corporations are not treating their sewage at all!
  • Water auditing is in a dismal state in the absence of functioning bulk water meters and there is no credible account as to how much water is actually supplied to the population.
  • The per capita water availability of all the corporations is currently higher than the national standard of 135 lpcd. In places like Thane Municipal Corporation, it goes as high as 251 lpcd! This even as large sections are not getting their minimum water needs.
  • Local water sources are dying and funds are only being used for ‘beautification’ without any thought to use of local water sources. (All data based on City Sanitation Reports)

Smart, cheap options for Mumbai’s Water Security

  1. Sewage treatment: Currently barely 12-13% of sewage generated in the entire MMRDA region gets treated and nearly none of it is reused. About 1689 MLD of untreated sewage clogs Mumbai’s Rivers and coastline daily. If only 50% of this was reused after being treated, Mumbai will gain 844 MLD of water, nearly equals 2 Middle Vaitarna Dams! It will also have cleaner rivers and coasts.
  1. MMR region has several traditional water bodies, which are existing and still supplying water. (For example, Thane has 35 lakes, Navi Mumbai has 25 such lakes, Kalyan Dombivali has 29 such lakes, etc). Many of these still supply water informally and ones like Varhala are actively used. However, cosmetic beautification plans do not appreciate the water supply potential of these systems, which is a cheaper, suitable and reliable option for many cities. There is a need to protect such local water bodies, rivulets and streams and rejuvenate those that have died.
  1. Rainwater Harvesting and groundwater recharge: The condition of Rainwater Cell of Mumbai Municipal Corporation is pathetic. RWH exists on paper, but there is no conscious support and encouragement for the scheme from government. Despite this, citizens have demonstrated remarkable success stories like Sea Line Apartment, Khetwadi Slum and Jago Mumbai Movement. Rejuvenation of Rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge (Groundwater is played down by many reports but bore wells continue to be a key part of Mumbai’s water reality, for example, nearly 60% of Ulhasnagar depends on groundwater!) are easy, affordable and excellent solutions to local water crises, especially for a region that receives more than 2000 mm rain and faces urban flood every monsoon!
  1. Distribution losses and absence of water auditing or discipline: As per our assessment, present distribution losses run to about 30% of water supply. Even a modest 15% reduction in these losses will mean 941.36 MLD saved water!

These are indicative examples, which are being implemented by vibrant metros around the world to reduce their reliance on far flung water sources[6]. There are several other options like dual plumbing, using sea water for some uses etc., which too can be explored easily for Mumbai. Modest desalinization at local level can be a better and cheaper option than building more dams.

Depending on new large dams far away is not only fraught with huge economic costs, environmental and social concerns, but is also unwise and unreliable in the current Climate Change scenario. An agile and resilient metro stands proud on smart, decentralized and local options, not on far away projects which displace tribals who add to cultural diversity or submerge forests which protect watersheds!

We hope you will lead Mumbai to be not only an economically attractive metropolis, but also a sustainable, innovative and inspiring hub which demonstrates the best in efficient and equitable water use! Large dams like Kalu and River links like Damanganga Pinjal for Mumbai’s water supply[7] which will come up on forests that protect Mumbai, are not smart, but dumb and destructive options.

Mumbai deserves to see a new dawn, like one envisioned by Mumbai lovers like कवी बा.सि मर्ढेकर:

न्हालेल्या जणू गर्भवतीच्या, सोज्वळ मोहकतेने बंदर

मुंबापुरीचे उजळीत येई, माघामधली प्रभात सुंदर

We would be happy to be of any help to you in this endeavor.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Yours Sincerely,

Parineeta Dandekar, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP

END NOTES:

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/90-dam-projects-that-are-75-ready-to-be-expedited/articleshow/45526666.cms, incidentally another article by your party colleague and Mumbai MP, Poonam Mahajan in the same paper on January 13, 2015 is slightly better as it mentions Mithi river and need to involve all citizens and stakeholders: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-city-is-the-solution-not-the-problem/99/

[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/maharashtra/economic-survey-will-adopt-new-model-for-irrigation-growth/

[3] http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/heres-looking-at-you-again-mumbai/

[4] http://sandrp.in/Dams_in_tribal_belt_of_Western_Ghats_for_the_Mumbai_Metropolitan_Region.pdf

[5] http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/myth-of-mumbai-s-water-crisis-561537

[6] http://www.saws.org

[7] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Govt-plans-river-inter-linking-to-meet-water-needs-of-Delhi-Mumbai/articleshow/45863837.cms

2 Comments on “Water Smart Mumbai is possible without river links and big dams! Open Letter to CM Devendra Fadnavis

  1. Water supply plans are generally based on projected future population, that is after 25 years. Smart decentralized local alternatives would suffice to meet even future demand. Present and future water demands by businesses and industries need to be taken into account.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Mumbai, India to Receive Water from Potentially Disastrous River Inter-Linking Project | The Grid | Global Site Plans

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