Water Woes

Written by Neha Pal | Neha Pal | Updated: Jan 15 2012, 07:51am hrs
Water use across various sectors in India is on the rise. Various estimates and projections indicate an increasing trend in water demand for agriculture, industrial and domestic uses in the coming decades. India is also projected to move into the category of water stressed nations by 2020.

A survey undertaken by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) among its member companies to gauge the importance Indian companies attach to water, its conservation and management, reveals that availability of water is becoming an area of concern for industries. With regard to the current availability of water, while 60% of the respondents agree that availability of water is impacting their business today, the figure rises to 87% after 10 years.

According to Ficcis survey, Water Use in Indian Industry, access to water has become difficult and a major worry for industries belonging to sectors like thermal power plants, chemicals, textiles, cement and manufacturing. While inadequate availability is the major risk facing the industries (37%), others agree that poor water quality is another major risk (14%) in the running of business. Sectors such as pharmaceuticals, power, food processing and agriculture feel the brunt of poor water quality.

Regulatory policies in respect of allocation of water (mainly in the state water policy) is also an important risk that industries see will have a bearing on their functioning in the coming years, with 15% of the industries mentioning it as a major risk. Some industries have suggested a dual allocation system for companies that have undertaken water conservation measures and have shown prudence in water use.

High costs for obtaining water are hindering the business interest of smaller industries and the ones which are located in the drier regions of the country. As many as 40% of the respondents have faced regular seasonal disruptions, highlighting the fact that water availability is becoming an important area of concern for Indian businesses.

The report points out that the water demand for the industrial sector is on a rise and will account for 8.5% and 10.1% of the total freshwater abstraction in 2025 and 2050, respectively. This is a 4% rise from the current level of 6% of the total freshwater abstraction by industries in 2010.

Romit Sen, Ficcis senior assistant director, water division, and author of the report, told FE, Availability of water and poor water quality are becoming important concerns for industry and the problem is likely to increase in the coming years. Companies also face seasonal disruptions of water which have an impact on production.

The findings of the survey reveal that surface water is the major source of water for the industries (41%), followed by groundwater (35%) and municipal water (24%). The use of municipal water is limited to industries located in urban and semi-urban areas. A vast majority of industries use surface and groundwater in conjunction with groundwater being relied as a source when surface water availability is on a decline.

The survey says it is unclear whether there is complete understanding of water use in the supply chain due to the inability to assess or measure the volume and subsequent risks in the supply chain operations of industries.

Around 14% of the respondents also feel that environmental changes over the past few decades have had an impact on freshwater availability. A realisation is gradually emerging that rectifying measures need to be taken by industries to augment freshwater through rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment and reuse.

A small fraction also sees increased competition from other sectors, primarily agriculture, and lobbying by environmental groups and communities as a risk to water availability.

But there is hope too. The Indian industry is also becoming responsive to the fact that it should be the role of every user to undertake measures for water conservation. The respondents see it as the shared responsibility of companies across sectors to join hands with communities and governments to work on programmes for water conservation, recharge and wastewater treatment.

Nearly 80% of the industries surveyed have reported to have undertaken wastewater treatment and reuse in their companies.

As Sen points out, It is encouraging to note that more and more companies are undertaking water audits to better understand the water use patterns in their companies and implementing the findings to plug leaks. He adds that a large numbers of companies are also undertaking water harvesting and wastewater treatment and reuse of treated wastewater. According to Sen, Member companies feel that it is the collective responsibility of all users to manage water judiciously and that Indian industry should take a lead in augmenting water supply through recharge and preventing pollution control.

Companies are also looking towards working with local communities to improve the water availability in the region they are working in, he said.

The industries see economic value in reusing wastewater for purposes where water quality is not an important criterion. Using the treated wastewater for horticulture and gardening is the most preferred choice for the industries. A large percentage of industries (24%) use treated wastewater for industrial process like ash handling (in case of thermal power plants), washing of ore. Treated wastewater is also used for flushing toilets, cleaning, fire-fighting and dust suppression activities.

As many as 62% of the industries surveyed had undertaken water audits to understand the complete water use pattern in their operations and look for water saving measures. In majority of the cases, water conservation measures have been implemented by the companies and the results are being monitored.