Reviving lakes in Delhi is a worthy pursuit, but DJB must first address the city’s poor sewage treatment capacity.
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) plans to revive as many as 159 dying and dry lakes, spending around Rs 376 crore. It will also create five ‘mega’ lakes in Rohini, Nilothi, Dwarka, Najafgarh and Timarpur. As per media reports, treated water from small, decentralised sewage treatment plants will be used to feed smaller lakes in the city, and floating wetlands with aquatic flora and mechanised aeration systems that support further cleaning up of the water will also be part of the project. While this is a worthy pursuit, and the Delhi government deserves kudos for acting on a vision that got stuck in policy lethargy for years, the DJB needs to also focus on the larger problem of inadequate treatment capacity and leakage and pilferage losses—both of which contribute to Delhi’s water shortage.
While DJB hasn’t released any estimate of its pipeline leakage and pilferage losses, various studies peg this at nearly half the supply. The demand for water in the city far outstrips supply. While it needs 1,200 million gallons per day (mgd), this summer, the DJB managed to release just 860 mgd against a planned 916 mgd. Poor monsoon makes the shortage problem worse. To that end, the DJB did well to announce plans to emulate Singapore’s sewage reclamation project NEWater and improve availability by 15-20% over the next couple of years and 50% in the next five. But even these goals are hardly ambitious—against a generation of over 1,000 mgd of sewage, Delhi has treatment capacity of just 700 mgd. Adding the 150 mgd visualised under the NEWater-emulation plan will mean matching the current supply levels. At the same time, the Yamuna would continue to get polluted, with the sewage left untreated flowing into it. Lakes are undoubtedly a great idea, but DJB must move on waste-water reclamation for household supply concurrently.