Keeping rivers alive through Water Wise Communities

By Marcus Lim, Co-Founder & Managing Director of ECOSOFTT

One of its important applications is along the 1,300km-long Narmada River, in Central India. This sacred river, in the Hindu faith, is the main source of water that sustains lives and livelihoods for over 20 million people living along its banks. At almost every populated town along the river source, untreated sewage was entering the river and contaminating the water so the river and its related ecosystems were severely under threat. 

In 2015, a pioneering project was initiated in the holy town of Omkareshwar, a conurbation of over 20,000 inhabitants; however, during religious festivals, an influx of up to 500,000 people, per day, could be expected. 200 open drains carry over two million litres of sewage, every day, into the holy river where pilgrims wash themselves. This threatens the river’s water quality, public health, and the very existence of the river. 

Water Wise Communities is a stakeholder-led transformation programme involving the following:

  • intercepting open drain sewage on the banks of the river 
  • adaptation of technologies and methods to cater to a permanent and a large floating population during festivals
  • recovery and recycling of sewage, as well as replenishment of the river water
  • development of a green belt of wetlands and catchment 
  • rainwater harvesting at the community and building level – to augment water sources

 As part of the implementation programme, 168 open drains were diverted to channelise sewage to five locations, by gravity. The Bioremediation with Recirculating Reactor Sewage Treatment system was custom-designed and all sewage is now treated and then reused for non-potable purposes such as public toilet flushing, road washing, landscaping and green belt development. The surplus treated water is discharged back into the river to replenish it but without causing any pollution or contamination. 

Close collaboration between multi-lateral agencies and stakeholders, at the district and state level, was achieved through mobilisation of communities, local urban bodies and the State Directorate Of Urban Administration and Development, supported by the Pollution Control Board, religious groups, educational institutions, and the business community.  

Since its implementation, the total water footprint of the fresh potable water in Omkareshwar has come down by over 30 per cent, with two million litres of water from treated sewage now used to replenish the river and adjoining water bodies. The key achievement is that fresh potable water is now used for potable purposes or related uses, only to optimise water resources; the rest of the needs are met via recovered used water that is treated to be fit-for-purpose.  

With over 66 per cent of the world’s population living in city-like conditions with water-stressed conditions, Water Wise Communities can play a big part in the abatement of pollution and ensuring an ecological balance in both the local and global context.