Ganga is one of the five most polluted rivers in the world!
Each day, 2.9 billion liters of waste water from sewage, domestic and industrial sources are dumped directly into Ganga. This is wreaking havoc on Ganga’s natural ecosystem, and in many places along her stretches, fish and aquatic creatures are dying. For example, due to this pollution, in one stretch of the Yamuna, practically no aquatic life has been able to survive for the last decade. The pollution is affecting the millions of people who depend on Ganga for all their water needs. Many of these people have no other alternative but to continue to use Ganga’s polluted waters for their very existence, and thus contract waterborne illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, diarrhea and typhoid.
In the sections below we have highlighted some of the challenges and solutions to sewage waste management that have been provided from the thoughtful insights of numerous GAP experts, scientists and members.
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1. Sewage accounts for over 80% pollution in the River Ganga
Each day, 2.9 billion liters of waste water from sewage, domestic and industrial sources are dumped directly into Mother Ganga, of which over 80% is sewage discharge of 50 cities located along the river.
2. Sewage contamination poses a serious health hazard
While a majority of the river’s stretch far exceeds permissible standards of Fecal coliform, there is a rising trend at an alarming rate of fecal coliform contamination all along the main stretch of the river. Coliform are rod-shaped bacteria normally found in the human and animal colon. Its excessive presence in drinking water causes waterborne illnesses and poses a threat to public health.
3. 50% gap between waste water treatment capacity and ‘official estimated’ generation
Currently, sewage generation is calculated based on the assumption that 80% of the water supplied is being returned as waste water. Based on this assumption and according to the Central Pollution Control Board, some 2,723.30 million litres/day (MLD) of sewage are generated while treatment capacity is for 1,208.8 MLD.
- To see the chart of ‘official estimated’ generation of sewage and current treatment capacity of waste water, click here.
4. Sewage generation is miscalculated
Neither the actual amount of water lost in distribution nor the groundwater extracted have been accounted for in the sewage generation calculation in point 3.
5. 80% gap between waste water treatment capacity and ‘actual estimated’ generation
Recent data collected by the CPCB shows actual discharge to be 6,087 MLD from 139 drains discharging into the River Ganga, 123% higher than the estimated discharge of 2,723 MLD. Therefore the gap between generated waste water and treatment capacity is 80%, not 50%.
- To see the chart of ‘actual estimated’ generation and treatment of waste water, click here.
- To see list of drains, click here.
6. Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are expensive and easily overwhelmed
According to CPCB’s 2013 report which had assessed 51 of the 64 STPs, 30% of the STPs were not operational, while in other STPs less than 60% of the installed capacity was being utilized. STPs also become overwhelmed during monsoon season, cannot treat toxic waste of heavy metals, are disabled by frequent electrical shortages, and are frequently defunct due to high operation and maintenance (O&M) costs (discussed later in detail in point 9).
7. Lack of sewerage systems and contaminated water stores
Cities along the River Ganga are not connected to any sewerage conveyance systems, especially in the most populated and heavily polluting cities of Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi. Over 80% of these cities do not have functional drainage systems. What exists in most of these cities are open drains which inevitably make their way into the river.
- To read the challenges that each state and city along the river poses to the health of the river, click here.
The end result: groundwater in almost the entire country has nitrate levels higher than the prescribed levels (Times of India March 2013).
8. Lack of toilets
Nationwide, some 70% of those living in rural areas have no access to toilets, potentially leading to diseases that can turn epidemic. Studies show marked increases in waterborne disease during yatra seasons due to insufficient access to toilets for travelers.
9. Three main costs need to be considered and assessed to build, operate and maintain sewage treatment plants (STPs), which are often expensive:
Capital cost of constructing an STP is expensive: Today the estimated cost of building an STP ranges from Rs 1-1.25 crore/MLD (exclusive of the land cost), much higher than the Rs 30-60 Lakh it was in the year 2000.
Cost of maintaining the entire sewerage network is even more expensive: As most cities are already built and heavily populated, the cost of building new conveyance and treatment systems is not only a challenging feat but an incredibly expensive one. One estimate by the NGRBA estimates Rs. 7.8 crore per MLD in Devprayag and Rs. 2.4 crore per MLD in Begsurai.
- To review the chart of the estimated costs of reworking the sewerage networks in cities along the River Ganga, click here.
Cost of operating and maintaining the STP: With urban and local bodies at a lack for sufficient funding, many of the current STPs fall out of functional condition or are underutilized.
- To view installed capacity and actual utilized capacity of STPs, click here.
1. Waterborne illnesses
Waterborne diseases account for 80% of all health problems and one-third of all deaths in India and the developing world.
In Varanasi alone, 66% of people who use Ganga’s waters each year contract a waterborne illness such as typhoid and dysentery. As mentioned previously, fecal coliform levels are rising all throughout the main stretch of the river, contributing to the continued increase in these illnesses.
2. Nitrate contamination in groundwater
The ultimate result of groundwater contamination with mismanaged sewage is nitrate levels higher than the prescribed levels for almost the entire nation (Times of India, March 2013).
3. Contamination of food and water lead to malnutrition and stunted growth
According to data from the highly-regarded Demographic and Health Surveys, an international effort to collect comparable health data in poor and middle-income countries, high rates of open defecation in India statistically account for high rates of stunting in both socially advantaged and disadvantaged families living near sites of open-defecation. “International differences in open defecation can statistically account for over half of the variation across countries in child height” (The Hindu, March 2013).
4. Massive human rights violations
Lack of access to clean water, right to worship and right to life are just some of the ways that the sewage waste pollution in Ganga is wreaking havoc. “If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice. But this is precisely what happens every single day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)” (UNICEF).
5. Subject of national disgrace
Sullied waters do not just pose a serious public health and human rights crisis but also are an aesthetic insult that has become not only a national but an international disgrace to what Indian’s regard as their most sacred Ganga River. This leads people from all over the world to regard many aspects of the rich Indian culture and tradition as confusing and contradictory.
1. Complete separation of river from sewer
River water should never be mixed with any type of sewer water, whether treated or untreated.
2. Mandate reuse of treated water
All waste-water should be treated and reused to meet the city/state’s irrigation and industrial needs and requirements.
3. Mandate separation and reuse of grey water and black water
Waste water discharged from household (grey water) and toilets (black water) should ideally be separated into different drainage lines, as they require different types of treatment. This will likely not be possible for old constructions but can be done for new constructions and green buildings.
Household waste water that is discharged can be used in gardening and irrigation, waste from sanitation (sewage) can be used for bio-energy production, and remaining treated water can be reused for irrigation.
4. Tackle the sewage treatment capacity by accounting for each drain
Assess individual problems and challenges of cities, and handle waste water at the site of the drain, especially tailoring appropriate solutions to each of the high pollution loaded drains falling into the River Ganga.
5. Inspire a new vision and dream
Turning a bane into a boon, India can become a world leader in turning waste into wealth, rather than letting it contaminate sacred river bodies and drinking water sources. Sewage and other forms of waste can be converted into biofuel and fertilizer.
By scaling the technology on a massive level, our pollution problems can largely be solved, and India will have a powerful new tool for the production of energy, which all other nations can emulate.
Combining and complementing centralized and decentralized solutions – exploring in situ waste water treatment options to lead to comprehensive solutions. Read below for several solutions that have been presented which can be utilized and implemented to treat sewage waste-water.
6. Zero-discharge technologies
Several zero-discharge technologies exist and can be explored to process all waste on-site at the household, village and colony levels. These should be considered as standard models for future rural and urban development and retrofitting.
7. Rigorous observation and monitoring of waste-water
Regular effective and transparent monitoring of river water quality to prevent waterborne diseases must be done, which should be made accessible to the public via media and educational institutions.
8. End public health violations
Holistic health of the river must be priority for any plan as Ganga’s health is India’s health, therefore compounding threats to the river must be managed in an appropriate manner. For example, sewage waste and industrial waste management in conjunction with restored ecological flow will be key to a more holistic and sustainable solution for the River Ganga.
9. Strict penalties and regulations for polluters
If cities continue to be heavy polluters not heeding the strict standards for protecting the National River, they should be mandated to get their water supply from downstream discharge points, therefore becoming responsible for ensuring that their polluted waters do not become the next city or town’s disease.
10. Open sharing of solutions
Invite, encourage and record all ideas and solutions
Involve local participation and ownership in the implementation of these programmes
11. Comprehensive River legislation
Implement comprehensive legislation that incorporates and mandates the points mentioned above, as well as plan for the execution of this legislation on the ground level. See the Solutions section for more on comprehensive legislation.
12. Improve development practices
Comprehensive city and urban river management must put the river line ecosystem at the center of its planning.
1. Restoring 51% ecological flow
According to the CPCB, so much water is being extracted from the Ganga that “in absence of adequate flow, unabated discharge of treated sewage, even with 100% treatment… cannot bring the river water quality to bathing level in lean season flow.” To read more about restoring flows, click here.
2. Multi-pronged approach to restore the health of the river
The 2013 Kumbha Mela provided a good example of how multi-pronged actions which ensure flow while reducing pollution ensured the health of the river and protected the health of nearly 100 million people that came during the festival, recorded as the largest gathering of humanity. To read a special story on the Kumbha Mela, click here.
3. Decentralized, on-site treatment systems
- Bio-digester toilets: as they can process sewage waste on-site at the household, village and colony levels, bio-digester toilets should be considered as standard models for future rural and urban development and retrofitting
- Natural Biological Solutions (NBS): This is a totally natural and sustainable solution, based on Phytotechnology – keeping the ecological balance with specific species of plants. NBS technology is one that can be implemented quickly, with results achieved and revealed in a short time, especially as the number of systems develop. For fast beneficial outcome, a number of demonstration sites should be designed and constructed. They can be located at extremely polluted areas, or each one can be located on a site with different environmental and pollution challenges for its effectiveness to be seen. To see a presentation of such a technology implemented by Ayala, an Israel-Based Company, click here.
- Plant based management/phytoremediation: Using different plant species as vegetative cover along the banks of the river Ganga, consisting of pollution-resistant and abator species that can manage pollution and toxins in the water. Click here to see an image of the technology at CII – Godrej GBC.
- Bio-remediation technology: Bio-remediation is a process for treating contaminants in water by using microorganisms and enzymes (called bio-remediators) to restore the original, clean environment. In this process, bio-remediators either consume or break down pollutants in the area or water in which they are placed. While this process cannot always completely clean up the environments they are placed in, as they cannot break down some pollutants like the heavy metals cadmium and lead, they can significantly clean much of the pollution that currently exists in Ganga and her tributaries. To learn more about bioremediation, click here.
- Enzyme waste water technology: The use of biological catalysts or enzymes to break-down and digest pollutants in wastewater.
- Algae-based waste water pond system: A carbon-negative, four-part pond system [consisting of an Advance Facultative Pond (AFP), High Rate Pond (HRP), Algal Settling Pond (ASP) and Maturation Pond (MP)] is used to screen and de-grit waste water and then ran through the Algae-Based Waste water Pond System AIWPS. In this technology, methane gas that is produced in the process is purified 85-88% and then collected in submerged gas collectors, thus minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide and electricity generated during fermentation is absorbed into the pond system itself. The system is designed to grow under controlled conditions crops of algae and release a maximum amount of oxygen in its dissolved state [dissolved oxygen (DO)] to the surrounding water. This dissolved oxygen in turn is used by good bacteria in the ponds which break down organic waste. To learn more, click here.
- River Bank Filtration (RBF): In this treatment technique, naturally filtrated groundwater is obtained from aquifers that are connected to a river or lake. The surface water is treated by a combination of physical, chemical and biological processes (such as filtration, dilution, absorption and biodegradation) which significantly improve the raw water quality from these aquifers. This process is a low-cost and efficient alternative for drinking water, and has even been awarded the National Urban Water Award 2009. To learn more, click here.
- Ozone-based technology: Wastewater is treated with different concentrations of ozone gas, which is used as a strong oxidant and disinfectant. This method is said to degrade more than 95% of organic materials in the water, and has even shown bacterial disinfection at rates above 98%. To learn more, click here.
4. Strengthen provision of toilets, while providing educational outreach to sustain green schools:
Efforts to provide sanitation for all residents and visitors to the Ganga River Basin should be strengthened through increased financial assistance, an intensification of community education and awareness campaigns.
Employing and encouraging youth and community members to take part in the water quality measurement in a way that is simple and easy to understand.
5. Strengthen the existing STP infrastructure by:
- Augmenting Electric STPs. Off-grind, on-site energy generation, through solar, wind or bio-gas production, should be explored and implemented, so that STPs remain functional at all times.
- O&M for existing STPs and infrastructure must be upgraded and maintained with proper funding, to ensure they are always functioning. Public toilets must be similarly maintained. Operation and Maintenance costs could also be borne by implementation of a strict “polluter-pays” policy.
- Tapping and Rerouting drains that currently empty raw sewage into the Ganga and tributaries to sewage treatment facilities. All people, businesses or organizations that have been found to be repeatedly dumping their sewage into our rivers should be financially and technically assisted in rerouting to sewage lines or in building on-site treatment facilities. Repeat violators should be penalized.
- In addition the examples of Chennai, Pune and Surat, where 70% of their city is connected by sewerage network, can be studied and replicated.
6. Comprehensive legislation
Laws have been enacted since the 19th century to protect natural resources such as Mother Ganga, yet they have largely proven ineffective in curtailing actions which could very well threaten the aquifer’s future existence. For this reason, we present the National Ganga River Rights Act, a proposed legislation which has been drafted to specifically remedy gaps left by previous laws. The draft Act also presents modern modalities and a novel legal framework for the remediation and maintenance of this crucial resource. To read a draft of the proposed act in English, click here and to read it in Hindi, click here.
1. Clean Ganga
Help to alleviate nearly 80% of the insult that the river faces due to sewage waste.
2. Community improvement
Increased decentralized technologies would eliminate the need for expensive trunk-lines, STPs and other infrastructure. It would promote ownership and local involvement in treatment technologies as well as generate livelihoods.
3. Improve Ganga’s rights and human rights
Properly support the Ganga’s renowned biodiversity, dilute toxins and enable people to access water, their inalienable right.
4. Improved recycling
Reuse treated waste water for meeting water needs, therefore reducing over-extraction from the river and its groundwater stores.